ACER Alumni: Julia Bilas

Part three of ACER’s Where Are They Now? series, a celebration of our wonderful former employees, interns, volunteers, and other folks who have made our work possible. Written by ACER executive board member Elizabeth MacLean.

ACER Alumna Julia Bilas stands smiling next to a tree in the woods.
ACER Alumna Julia Bilas stands smiling next to a tree in the woods.

Julia Bilas says she always leaned toward the sciences — she grew up helping her mother tend a large garden in Mississauga and absorbing the interesting scientific facts that peppered her father’s conversation. In school, she excelled in sciences, and eventually, she entered the work world with a University of Toronto degree in Physical Geography and Environmental Sciences.

In 2019, her final year of university, Julia entered ACER’s year-long student internship program. This, she said, was where she put into practice the instrument skills and mathematical formulae needed for tasks such as tree measurement. She prepared worksheets on this and other subjects for students and volunteers that are available on the ACER website. She was sent out to schools involved in the Planting for Change program to assist teachers and students in learning to plant, care for, and monitor their plots. 

But she was learning, too — “skills that school might not teach you,” like training students, and collaborating with teachers and community workers.  At the same time, she enjoyed the responsibility of solving problems on her own.  “I learned to think on my feet,” she says, noting that ACER encouraged initiative and independence.  “I noticed that my confidence grew.”

A scientist by training, Julia says, “My love is in a community engagement field.” Now, more than a year after her ACER internship, Julia is happily employed by the Mississauga Public Library. She acknowledges that in the unusual work conditions imposed by the pandemic, the ability to work independently and efficiently is really helpful in her work, as the library maintains the services permitted under lockdown. 

With her science education, ACER experience, and community-based occupation, Julia is making environmental changes in her own life — adopting a more plant-based diet, buying local foods, and avoiding excessively packaged items, such as the peeled oranges in plastic containers she’s seen in the supermarket. She’s willing to pay more for sustainably sourced clothing items. “I’m not a big fan of fast fashion,” she says. 

Julia is optimistic about the future after the pandemic recedes and feels that just as governments and corporations are espousing environmental causes, her millennial generation is becoming more focused on sustainability. “I hope they recognize that they don’t need as much and that there is beauty in imperfections.”

She says she enjoys the outdoors more. “When I go out on nature walks, I take the time to look around me, to slow down and enjoy my surroundings more.” She is encouraged by growing corporate and government participation in progressive environmental causes.

At present, she is not engaged professionally in either of these fields. But she is thriving in her current occupation in the Mississauga Public Library, and she attributes some of her success to a 2019-20 internship with ACER.