Nature centre site of hands-on learning for Goodman students

The bond between Brock University and Heartland Forest continues to grow.

The Niagara Falls nature centre, which hosts more than 20,000 visitors each year, has strengthened its ties with the University through a series of experiential education opportunities for students.

Heartland Forest annually welcomes students from Brock’s Goodman School of Business to participate in service-learning projects that assist the organization with many of its behind-the-scenes administrative needs.

The not-for-profit organization provides an interactive nature experience for people of all ages and abilities with a variety of programming on its extensive property.

Heartland’s Executive Director Elisabeth Graham praised the various Goodman project teams for their contributions to the organization in the last six years, from working on an accounting audit service to creating a human resources plan.

“We have had incredible growth,” she said of the nature centre, which now employs 31 people. “And Brock students, through our service-learning projects, have come alongside us to be very involved in that growth. Having the students and their expertise available to us is incredible and is a very important part of our history.”

The positive effect of the partnership has not been exclusive to Heartland’s team. Graham also highlighted the diverse experience that working for a not-for-profit organization has provided the Brock students who have participated.

“All of a sudden, from the environmental or accessibility side, there is a spark of excitement that they are part of an organization that is making a difference,” she said. “They are able to participate in a small way in what is happening while also seeing what they have worked on being implemented.”

With Brock’s ongoing focus on experiential education continuing to gain national recognition, the University’s lengthy partnership with Heartland — which has seen more than 84 student participants — showcases the many benefits that experiential education can provide.     

“Our numerous projects with Heartland Forest serve as an incredible example of what service learning can bring to an organization and to our student participants,” said Goodman’s Experiential Education Co-ordinator, David DiPietro. The organization has “taken full advantage” of the services offered by Goodman, he said, while showing the school support throughout the years-long partnership.

In addition to experiential education students from Goodman, the Heartland Forest team has also employed three Brock co-op students for summer placements. The nature centre is beginning several new partnerships with additional Brock University Faculties, allowing other students to gain similar experiences while continuing to serve the needs of the organization. Recreation and leisure students are now involved in Heartland’s homeschool program and Nursing students are helping to design an intergenerational fitness program.

Most importantly for Graham, the partnership with Brock allows Heartland to work with more members of the community in an experiential way.

“What Heartland is all about is experiential learning, whether it’s with our own crew, our school groups or our day camp, and it makes sense for us to be partnering with Brock to extend that same opportunity to the students as well,” she said.

More information about visiting or volunteering at Heartland Forest, 8215 Heartland Forest Rd. in Niagara Falls, is available online.

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