Community involvement a driving force for teen UBC graduate

Iva Jankovic deserved a drink as much as anyone. It was the summer of 2017, and Jankovic was taking a break from her internship at a downtown planning firm to join colleagues for a staff party at a nearby pub.

Iva Jankovic

Iva Jankovic.

Iva Jankovic deserved a drink as much as anyone.

It was the summer of 2017, and Jankovic was taking a break from her internship at a downtown planning firm to join colleagues for a staff party at a nearby pub. For weeks, she had been transcribing notes, categorizing survey responses and analyzing data from community consultations that would eventually shape UBC’s new strategic plan. It was thirsty work, and her workmates were understandably puzzled by her reluctance to imbibe.

She explained that she was only 17. That caught them by surprise.

“That was a really good bonding moment,” recalls Jankovic, who on May 31 will become the youngest-ever graduate from the global resource systems program, part of the faculty of land and food systems at UBC. “I think people respected that even though I’m young, I can be professional and do the work.”

Jankovic has been doing the work for a long time. In preschool, her parents arrived at an open house to discover an intricate seven-foot sculpture made of plastic rods, connectors and bricks, towering above the modest Lego forts of her peers. The teacher approached and asked if they knew their daughter was gifted.

“They had no idea,” Jankovic says with a laugh. “I was their first child, so they probably thought all kids are like this. But I’ve never felt gifted. Other people have said that, but I’ve never felt different from other kids. Maybe more studious.”

Jankovic is a big thinker, but she’s an even bigger doer. At age eight, she coached five-year-olds in T-ball near her home on the edge of campus. At age 11, she started a charity that brought kids together to raise funds for BC Children’s Hospital. She played tennis, basketball and piano, among other things. And just in case she wasn’t squeezing enough in already, she learned in Grade 7 about UBC’s University Transition Program, which enables 20 gifted students per year to squeeze five years of high school into 24 months.

Two years later, she entered university at age 14.

Jankovic’s basketball-friendly frame didn’t betray her age, and she was comfortable among the young adults who were now her classmates. Having spent two years laser-focused on math and science with the same tight group of kids, she found it inspiring to meet different people from different countries who had followed their own paths to UBC.

She started out in arts, but was later drawn to the global resource systems program. It allowed her to pursue wide-ranging interests through a variety of courses in arts and sciences. She continued running her charity, which earned her UBC’s top award for student volunteer leadership in 2016.

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The summer of 2017 brought the planning internship, followed by a visit to her birthplace of Belgrade, Serbia. It wasn’t a typical summer vacation. Jankovic blogged her way through Europe, recording observations about the urban design, transportation infrastructure, food systems and culture that make great European capitals tick. She produced five videos, and was delighted to learn that her efforts could qualify for academic credits — although she would have done it regardless.

Jankovic is most proud of her Buddy Up! project, conceived at CityStudio where post-secondary students work together on urban challenges related to sustainability, reconciliation and civic engagement. She has installed “Buddy Boards” at community gathering places to connect people with complementary skills and interests. You can pin your profile card on the board, and you might find a buddy to help you build a bike rack, run the seawall, or can peaches.

“I really crave being involved in communities,” Jankovic explains. “When I see an issue, I want to be there, doing something. That’s how I want to define my life — by the things that I can do, and not necessarily by a degree or anything.”

This summer, Jankovic will oversee volunteers at UBC Farm, work with an arts/tech co-operative in Chinatown, expand Buddy Up!, and train for a fight. Yes, she’s climbing into the boxing ring at Eastside Boxing Club’s annual Restaurant Rumble, a charity event for at-risk women and youth in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

She intends to eventually continue her urban planning studies overseas, so she can bring back ideas and apply them in Vancouver. She wants to start her own planning firm and fill it with the friends who have helped her conquer her courses and pull off her projects.

“My most valuable experience from university was just going through all these things with a group of people who I know will be there with me in the future,” Jankovic says.

On Thursday, many of them will be there with her as she accepts her degree. They’ll deserve to celebrate, but for Jankovic it may have to be a dry grad. After all, she’s still only 18.

Iva Jankovic is graduating at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, at The Chan Centre for Performing Arts (6265 Crescent Rd., UBC Vancouver campus). She is available for interviews on Tuesday, May 29, and Wednesday, May 30 (from 12:30-1:30 p.m or after 5 p.m. both days).