King’s student takes her humanities education to the high seas

King's student takes her humanities education to the high seas

Sometimes, the tumblers just click. They certainly did when King’s humanities student Emily Gilbert met King’s alum Scott Simpson, BA’93, AMC’95. For Gilbert, the result was a summer job that made waves – literally, made waves.

But let’s backtrack. Gilbert, a fourth-year student taking a combined honours in philosophy and Contemporary Studies, was looking for summer employment that would take care of immediate needs and, ideally, open some doors on potential future employment. “I explored the Undergraduate Fellowships in Public Humanities Program and there was a handful of really terrific opportunities,” she says. The program was developed to give King’s humanities students an opportunity to have summer work terms with partnering businesses and organizations in a wide range of professional fields and show what a humanities student can bring to the workplace.

Emily Gilbert

Gilbert applied for several job placements, but one stood out. King’s alum Scott Simpson, a producer at the National Film Board and specifically Ocean School, was looking for an intern to work with him on a number of Ocean School projects. Ocean School, a partnership of Dalhousie’s Ocean Frontier Institute and the National Film Board of Canada, is a dynamic ocean education resource that creates immersive multimedia lessons for classrooms and at home.

For Gilbert, a self-described outlier who has been a singer-songwriter in a rock and roll band, and who studied audio and production design at film school before coming to King’s Foundation Year Program as a mature student, working with Simpson on Ocean School looked like a great opportunity to use her production knowledge and, once again, explore something new. “It was a research and writing position,” she explains. “I was never supposed to go on a boat.”

The shoot wasn’t firmly scheduled, but when it came up and Simpson couldn’t do it himself, he turned to his new intern who had made it clear she’d love to be on an Ocean School shoot. “Emily had a couple of years of film experience and her personality is explosive,” he says. “We got her ready.”

Getting ready meant preparing for two weeks on The Leeway Odyssey, a 38-metre oceanic research vessel that would be mapping the ocean floor for conservation purposes. “I worked with a cinematographer and got a crash course on operating the camera and how to interview. I took the camera home with me for a weekend as well,” Gilbert explains. “I did a domestic vessel safety course, complete with in-pool training, and I did basic first aid. I had two weeks to learn as much as I could about the boat, the camera and the program.”

Dr. Katleen Robert of Memorial University, Emily Gilbert and Dr. Craig Brown of Dalhousie

From there, it was, well, sink or swim. Gilbert was now part of a team of 20, comprising crew and researchers including some Dalhousie students, that would be mapping the ocean floor off the coast of Nova Scotia. “It was an amazing experience that had its ups and downs,” she laughs, referring mostly to the fact that on some days the waves were ten feet. She filmed every aspect of the expedition, capturing the scientists’ excitement as they sent a camera to map uncharted parts of the ocean floor and study the organisms found there. “They were so excited it was contagious,” Gilbert says. “Shooting for Ocean School is a team effort,” Simpson adds. “You have a role to play. We capture the reality of what’s going on. Emily was a part of it all. We heard from the expedition leads that she was fantastic. She had her camera out all the time and she endeared herself to the crew.”

Gilbert loves to laugh and doesn’t mind a few at her expense. “I was so eager to get everything right,” she says. I’d never been out to sea on a boat like this and I applied a patch to combat sea sickness.”

Unfortunately, Gilbert had a reaction to the patch itself.

“I became delirious. I forgot where I was, who I was. Apparently, my shipmates enjoyed watching me try to eat spaghetti in the rolling waves. I put myself to bed for a day.”

Her Ocean School experience has opened new possibilities for Gilbert and made her an enthusiastic ambassador for the Undergraduate Fellowships in Public Humanities Program. “My film experience and my academic experience have merged,” she enthuses. “I never would have expected this. I wouldn’t have considered documentary or educational film making or that I could enter the film world through the academic side.”


Funding support for King’s Undergraduate Fellowships in Public Humanities is generously provided through a gift from BMO Financial Group.

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