What if we could work together towards a sustainable future?
By Amelia Hamfelt
The 2014 WatIF conference encapsulates this inquiry in both meaning and origin. The entirely student-run conference was meant to encourage collaboration and communication amongst Canadian students across multiple disciplines by giving them an opportunity to share their research.
The name itself is the best representation of this subjunctive imagining. After pitching their idea for the conference to Walutions – a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable water practices – the conference co-chairs, Sarah Thompson (Civil Engineering) and Donya Danesh (Biology), were told their original name, a mere acronym, had to go. Nearly a month later, the nameWatIF emerged from a collaborative effort that included all 20 members of the organizing committee.
The 2014 WatIf Organising Committee
"The name is really a combination of the best of everyone’s ideas” says Donya, “which, appropriately enough is exactly what the conference is about.”
If the success of the conference was measured by the interchange and amalgamation of ideas that took place, then the whole three-day event can be considered a triumph. In the days that followed one participant tweeted his thanks to WatIf for saving his PhD, while others credited the conference for their renewed sense of purpose when resuming their research.
What was even more poignant was the participants’ response to the closing statement made by Sarah and Donya. As the co-chairs voiced their thanks for the commitment and cooperation of the all attendees and contributors, each and every person rose to his or her feet for a standing ovation.
“The energy was vibrant, hopeful and inspired” says Donya, “In that moment I knew we had made a difference. We were able to share our passion for water, witness the realization of a vision through hard work and empower others to work towards a common goal.”
Sarah similarly attests to the potency of that moment, but is quick to add that the whole conference was composed of moments where inspiration and enthusiasm were tangibly felt.
“Every conversation and activity that occurred throughout the conference is endowed with a precious memory or feeling,” says Sarah. “We witnessed people become inspired – that is something unforgettable.”
Despite their own dedication and hard work, both Sarah and Donya acknowledge the instrumental role Queen’s University played in making the conference a reality. In addition to the guidance, resources and funding provided by the university, the student-run committee was given full discretion and decision-making power when promoting and organizing the event.
“Queens took a stand in support of collaboration and emerging leaders,” says Sarah. “Their involvement and willingness to co-operate with student leadership makes a statement about the university’s priorities. Queens is truly a place that puts the education of their students first.”
WatIF will continue on as a biannual event at Queens sponsored by the Water Research Centre. The 2016 conference may be under different leadership, host different participants and discuss different issues, but the sentiment will remain the same – a cross-disciplinary symposium for the preservation and proper management of water resources, that is, an event to become inspired.
(L-R) Watif student delegates and poster session