Experiential learning project trains and pays students to identify mosquitoes

Two Brock Biology courses created a buzz on campus last term as students learned a unique skill and were paid for their efforts.

Undergraduate and graduate students in the Introductory Insect Biology (BIOL 3P64) and Containment Level 3 Techniques (BTEC 5P70) courses were trained on all aspects of Public Health Ontario’s West Nile virus surveillance program.

Thanks to funding from the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Integrated Learning Initiative (IWIL) and Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada’s Innovation Hub (iHub), they received financial compensation for their in-class learning.

In total, $39,996 was distributed to the courses’ Biological Sciences and Biotechnology students, who used their newly acquired skills to help process samples for a research project run by company partner, Entomogen Inc. The local entomological consulting and scientific research and experimental development firm also supported the project by donating mosquito samples and materials for the collection, processing, analysis and storage of the samples.

During training, students identified and safely processed the samples to collect data while gaining the necessary experience and skills to apply for surveillance positions across Canada, all while earning up to $1,800 each for their efforts.

Jason Causarano, Experiential Education Co-ordinator in Brock’s Faculty of Mathematics and Science, said the CEWIL Canada funding can significantly enhance experiential learning at the university level by providing financial support for a wide range of initiatives, from research opportunities and internships to service learning and technology development.

“These experiential programs enable students to gain practical experience, develop critical skills and better prepare for their future careers,” he said. “The funding is unique because it is used to provide financial support directly to students participating in experiential learning, making these opportunities more accessible to a wider range of students, including those who might not otherwise afford to participate.”

Third-year Biological Sciences Student Natalie Bakker said she appreciated the compensation for her time learning to set traps and identify mosquitoes.

“Doing the CEWIL Canada project was quite exciting, and the funding was an unexpected bonus that further legitimized the importance of our research,” she said.

While she continues to hone her skills identifying mosquitoes to the species level, Bakker said the benefits of the project go beyond the immediate financial gain.

“As someone who is considering going into graduate research, the hands-on experience in the project is directly applicable to my goals,” she said. “I value the responsibility that the project required, as the data from it is potentially relevant to public health.”

Brock University Professor of Biological Sciences Fiona Hunter, who is also president of Entomogen Inc., oversees the participating courses.

Hunter said she is “pleased the company will be able to use the downstream research that arises from the project,” and she hopes “students will consider applying to Entomogen and similar companies for summer jobs now that they are trained in mosquito identification and viral testing protocols.”

Hunter also believes the funded in-class activities exemplify the benefits experiential education exercises can have for students.

“Experiential education is at its best when we can connect community partners, research data and curricular-based learning,” she said. “This project had all of those elements and allowed students to develop the hands-on experience to get a head start on their careers in biology.”

With the exercise now wrapped up, Causarano is hopeful that more students can take part in future funded projects.

“It helps students see the broader applications of classroom/theoretical knowledge, motivating them to continue their studies and make meaningful contributions to these disciplines,” he said.

More information about Brock’s experiential learning options can be found on the Co-op, Career and Experiential Education website.

This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Integrated Learning Initiative.

This project is funded by CEWIL Canada’s iHUB.

Read more stories in: Community, Mathematics and Science, News, Teaching & Learning
Tagged with: , , ,