Meet Courtney: A Young Conservation Professional

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s (TRCA) Young Conservation Professionals (YCP) Leadership Program is a year-long personal and professional development program designed for conservation and environmental professionals looking to take their next career step — like Courtney!

Courtney was working as an administrative assistant at a land trust while looking for an opportunity that would advance her career. She heard about the YCP Leadership Program and decided to apply. Although she wondered if she had enough experience in the conservation sector and wasn’t sure what her career goals were, she felt eager to explore new opportunities.

Courtney takes part in Young Conservation Professionals Leadership program winter retreat
Photo: Joelle Burnie

Courtney set off on her first YCP retreat at Albion Hills Field Centre in March 2020, just as the pandemic was sweeping across the globe. The retreat offered a wonderfully supportive safety net — a chance to spend all day and night with a small group of people away from the chaos that was emerging around them.

We asked Courtney to chat about her experiences in the Young Conservation Professionals program. This is what she had to say (our conversation has been edited for length and clarity):

When did you attend the program?

My program was extended because of the pandemic. We began in the second week of March 2020. The retreat was a wonderful supportive safety net. We emerged from that retreat to a changed Ontario. Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t have regular retreats and met virtually. We continued to meet late into 2021.

What were you doing for work before attending the program, and what are you doing for work now?

Before the program, I was the part-time administrative assistant at the Couchiching Conservancy, with all the regular duties you would assume for that role. I am now in the same position but have advanced in my role. I am now full-time and have taken on our acquisition file, one of the most important files for a land trust.

How has the Young Conservation Professionals Leadership Program helped your career development?

It has helped me in so many ways! I would say that I am certainly more professional. I learned a lot about my leadership style. I listen more. I am better at taking notes, hosting meetings, reflecting on my work, and taking time to analyze. I never considered goal-setting before the program, which seems silly now because it has become important in different aspects of my work.

Courtney at work with the Couchiching Conservancy
Courtney at a cleanup event for the Couchiching Conservancy
Photo: Stu Burnie

What were the goals you set for yourself at the retreats?

I certainly didn’t have a goal in the first retreat other than not being found out as an imposter! By the second retreat, my goal was to have had my “coffee break challenge” done. This was where I asked someone to mentor me, and I had a great meeting with a former president of our board. She gave me a lot of great guidance on women in leadership, which is why I am a better note-taker and meeting facilitator.

Through the retreats, I moved into being more comfortable in my field and community, became better personally at specific aspects of my job, and completed a large project that will have a considerable monetary return for my organization.

How do you apply what you learned at the retreats to your work and everyday life?

One of the biggest gains I had from the retreats that flow through all aspects of my life is that I can rely on myself more. I worry less because I trust myself to get done what needs to be done. I prioritize [tasks] and seek help and opinions when I need them. I ultimately take care of whatever needs to be sorted out. I think it’s a mix of new skills and confidence.

“I learned a lot about my leadership style. I listen more. I am better at taking notes, hosting meetings, reflecting on my work, and taking time to analyze … It’s a mix of new skills and confidence.”

What did you learn about yourself during the retreats?

Well, I learned a lot, but for a specific item, if you know me, you know I am an agent of chaos, and I learned it isn’t something I have to work to hide or be ashamed of.

As an administrative assistant, I felt like I needed to fake being type A, but my unique nature is a big part of me that I can embrace and work with as it’s my strength. It’s a benefit to my interactions with donors and the public because I am more energized when I am fully myself, and my passion for my work comes across naturally.

Ultimately finding ways to be me in a professional setting gives me more verve for my work.

Do you keep in touch with other professionals you met through the program?

Yes, we email around if we have job postings and reach out with questions; most of us follow one another on LinkedIn. My cohort also made a social media group so we can still chat, ask questions, and enjoy our friendships.

Is there anything else you want to share about your experience that future participants should know?

I want my community to know that the Young Conservation Professionals Leadership Program has benefited me immensely. You get out of life, and of programs like this, what you put into it. I highly recommend it.

young conservation professionals program participants take part in winter retreat at Albion Hills Field Centre

TRCA is now accepting applications for the 2023 Young Conservation Professionals Leadership program!

Please download a copy of the application form and complete all fields. Once you are ready to submit your application, update the file name with your name and email the pdf to

The application deadline is February 6, 2023.