Dr. Andrea Olive is the Chair of the Department of Political Science at UTM and an associate professor in the Department of Geography. Her work encompasses both fields as she researches environmental issues within a social science context. For this issue, The Medium interviewed Olive about her journey to UTM, her research, and her role as a department chair.
Olive competed her undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Calgary in 2002. During her undergraduate degree, she also took political science classes and eventually realized that she was interested in political science and that it would be more practical in terms of impact. She decided to pursue political science further and completed her Master’s degree at Dalhousie University and her Ph.D. at Purdue University.
Olive then joined UTM in 2012, specifically because UTM at the time needed an individual whose research involved tackling environmental issues from a political science perspective—exactly what Olive was interested in. In terms of how she was introduced to geography, Olive says that “[she] got the job and then sort of realized [that] there [was] this whole other field where people [we]re interested in the things that [she was] and [we]re having conversations about the things that [she] care[d] about.” After learning more about geography and discussing with colleagues, she delved into the field. “I have come to see myself as a geographer, even though I think what I’m still most interested in is the policy that’s made at the provincial and federal level that impacts land,” she says. Currently, Olive teaches and publishes research in both the political science and geography departments. She was appointed Chair of the Political Science Department in July 2019.
Olive studies how humans interact with and manage the land along with how their activities impact wildlife. One of Olive’s current research projects—titled “The Transformative Politics of the Wild”—examines the loss of biodiversity and the relevant policies. She explains that climate change is one of the factors causing the mass extinctions of wildlife, but not the only reason: “[Climate change and biodiversity loss] are interrelated with each other. They are equally as devastating, and even if we solve climate change, [biodiversity loss] won’t fix on its own.” She adds that the “science is very clear about [what we need to do] but [the] policy is not catching up.” Alongside her research, Olive and her colleague at Dalhousie University are organizing various workshops for scholars and non-governmental agencies (NGOs) such as the World Wildlife Fund to discuss solutions and the political barriers. More recent workshops focused specifically on Indigenous contexts and the policies around conservation in Indigenous protected areas.
Olive’s other research project is based on the grasslands of Saskatchewan, the province where she was born and raised. “The grasslands are actually the most endangered major ecosystem on Earth,” she states. Land alteration, often for agriculture, and more recently for oil and gas, is creating a significant impact on the land and the life that lives on it. Olive explains that because of the stereotype of Saskatchewan being empty, flat land, the grasslands and its biodiversity are often left out of the larger narrative about environment and policy. Last year, Olive wrote about the environmental history of Saskatchewan and a biography about a farmer and environmental minister in the nineties who worked in conservation. “I really do think I’m always going to continue to write about my home and be thinking about Saskatchewan politics,” reflects Olive.
In her personal life, Olive makes a significant effort to minimize her impact on the environment and maintain a connection with nature. She divulges that learning about climate change and biodiversity loss can be very depressing, so focusing on action is very important for her. Recently, she has decided to reduce her consumerism, cut back on social media, and commit to spending more time in nature. Olive says that “just keeping that connection to the land, to where she’s from, why this is important, and why [she] value[s] it, helps [her] in her research.”
The transition into the department chair position has been a major one for Olive. While the position leaves less time for teaching and research, it allows Olive to work with students in a different capacity, such as being more involved with the Political Science and Pre-Law Association. Olive also gets to work with new faculty members: “It’s exciting because we have so many young professors…and seven professors who are sort of new to the department. Mentoring them and helping them become tenured professors is maybe one of the more rewarding parts [of being Chair].” As Chair, Olive plays a large role in developing the political science program and diversifying the courses and the type of research being conducted. She explains that the department recently introduced a thesis course, which Olive teaches, and the department will also soon be introducing an internship course.
In the future, Olive hopes to continue her research on the transformative politics of the wild and Saskatchewan’s grasslands and create new opportunities for students and faculty in the political science department at UTM.