Catalina Belalcazar: Exploring Community Development Across the World


While traveling to Cape Breton for work, Catalina Belalcazar, originally from Colombia, had an opportunity to visit the CBU campus and see all that it had to offer. While touring the campus, she found information about the Bachelor of Arts Community Studies program offered at CBU. Four years later, Catalina has graduated from her BACS degree, with area majors in political science, environment and communication.

For Catalina, the choice of which program to take was simple. “Since I was already working towards a degree in International Development at another academic institution, the components of the BACS program really spoke to me. The program allowed me to shape the area majors to my interests, and it also gave two opportunities for placements. It was all that I had been looking for in one place!” Says Catalina.

Within weeks of touring the CBU campus, Catalina completed her application, received her acceptance letter and began to plan for her Cape Breton experience.

During her time at CBU, Catalina made sure to stay involved with campus life and took on every opportunity that came in her direction with eagerness, professionalism and an open mind. She has been involved in many different areas on campus, such as the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and the CBU bookstore. She began working at the bookstore in 2014 and quickly worked her way to a senior student staff position. Her responsibilities included coordination of events, organizing merchandise, helping customers and setting displays.

As for her creative journey, Catalina held the title of event coordinator and video producer of the performance project “Cut My Dreads”, an art based project produced to raise money for the Cape Breton Cancer Care Fund. Her involvement in various projects did not stop there. She was also the student assistant for planning and successfully running the 7th International Outdoor Education Research Conference (7IOERC), held for the first time in North America here at CBU.  Further, Catalina has taken part in numerous research presentations, some in collaboration with faculty members and others presenting the research on her own, as well as being the student representative in a range of university committees and initiatives.

The highlight of Catalina’s many accomplishments was being a co-author on her first peer-reviewed publication as part of a collaborative team. This team consisted of Dr. Root, Assistant Professor in Community Studies at CBU, Dr. Snow, Teaching and Learning Chair for Open, Online and Blended Learning, and Dr. Callary, Associate Professor of Community Studies. Dr. Root’s research explores intercultural relationships and Indigenous education; Dr. Snow focuses on educational reform from a holistic position, and Dr. Callary’s research includes lifelong learning and coach education.

Their vast areas of expertise combined in the creation of the paper entitled Playing Naturally: A Case Study of Schoolyard Naturalization in Cape Breton. It can be found in the Coalition for Education in the Outdoors (CEO) journal, Research in Outdoor Education.

Catalina is extremely thankful for the support that she continuously receives from her mother, the BACS program and the University itself. She says faculty and staff at CBU empower and guide students on a daily basis. The guidance they provided made it possible for her to travel internationally to Colombia, where she helped to implement a development program through environmental education. She also traveled to Kosovo and Romania during her years of study to complete courses on UN development and change management. Following graduation, she will be travelling to India for a course at Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation Farm – Earth University.

To a future student who is considering CBU, Catalina’s advice is simple, “prepare yourselves for an experience like no other. At CBU, you are a member of a community rather than a number. You have options to explore your curiosity, to have experiences in your work areas and to receive mentorships from wonderful educators.” Says Catalina.

In her next steps, Catalina will be travelling to India in order to continue to gain hands-on experience, to learn and to grow. Following her travels, she hopes to begin the Master of Business Administration in Community Economic Development program here at CBU. Catalina looks forward to further experiencing the unique academic options that CBU has to offer.

“My time at CBU has been memorable in various levels, my professors and the BACS program supported me while I opened the doors to explore the world, I have had the chance to work with our local community and have also had the honour of representing us in different countries. That is something that I am forever grateful and will never forget,” says Catalina.