Fascinated by the interplay between human activities and the environmental condition, Denise Lee, is a steadfast champion of endangered species, the beautiful North, and clean energy policies. Denise has been named a BP Scholar, an NAAEE Top 30 Under 30 Environmental Educator, a Greenbiz Emerging Leader, and one of Canada’s 2020 Top 25 Under 25 Environmentalists. 

Porpoises think she’s pretty great too!

Driven by her love of marine mammals, Denise is a founding member of the Porpoise Conservation Society, an organization with international reach that aims to protect porpoises and their habitats through research and education. 

The 2016 Arctic Expedition was an awe-inspiring and prodigious experience that Denise will not soon forget. Her love for cetaceans only grew deeper as she drifted through the Arctic waters in a zodiac, surrounded only by the sounds of humpback whales exhaling and the gentle lullaby that her fellow shipmates sang. Even after researching marine mammals for years, Denise’s perspectives on marine life and environmental protection were challenged and expanded as she connected with Indigenous leaders, other scientists, advocates, and the diverse group of youth journeying with her.

“Everything was shocking, which exemplifies why it was so impactful on my pre-existing views. I thought I knew plenty about nature and how we needed to change to protect it. Instead, I was exposed to 200 new perspectives.”

Shortly after becoming enamored with the Arctic, Denise joined forces with other SOI alumni to co-found Our Poles, Our Planet. The organization hosted a 4-part cross-Canada conference series in 2017 to inspire youth advocacy to protect our planet’s beloved poles. Bringing her passions for public engagement back home, Denise went on to chair the Vancouver School Board Sustainability Conference, a forum that brought high-school students from over 10 school districts in B.C. together to discuss advancing climate action in their communities.

That same year, she also delivered a TedTalk about Canada’s past transgressions against Indigenous Peoples and the path to reconciliation at Hamber School. Watch here or at the bottom of this post!

“Students on Ice showed me how broad problems and solutions could be, and I have carried that principle with me long after the expedition ended.”

Denise translated her expedition experience into many inspiring initiatives, including traveling to the Amazon with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to research Ecuador’s petrostate and the success of its past divestment policies. Once back home from the Amazon, Denise formed a research team of her own to study different ecotourism models in Latin America. The project was a massive success resulting in the team presenting their findings at the 2018 Flacso International Conference in Quito, Ecuador.

More recently, Denise has been drawn to the world of green economies and policy. She is now studying carbon capture technology at the University of Toronto as a Laidlaw Scholar. While the future is still untold, Denise is eyeing post-grad opportunities in economic policy or environmental strategy. Whatever the years ahead hold for her, Denise looks forward to taking the plunge and will be forever grateful that SOI helped her learn how to swim.

“Ultimately, the greatest impact of SOI was reminding me of why we love these places and peoples, and of the infinite number of ways we can act to ensure they’re cared for.”