Horizon scholarship recipient studies how children interact with nature

NOTE: This is one in a series of articles on Brock’s 2023-24 Horizon Graduate Student Scholarship recipients. Read other stories in the series on The Brock News.

Transdisciplinary scholar and Brock graduate student Melody Minhorst leaves no stone unturned when it comes to finding the next step on her research journey.

The PhD student in the Department of Child and Youth Studies says she was “super-excited, relieved and thankful” to receive one of this year’s Horizon Graduate Student Scholarship, which is helping her pair a lifelong interest in how children learn in their environments with social justice theories, including queer theory and disability theory.

“I’m interested in children and how the spaces they’re in affect their experience of learning and exploring and growing,” says Minhorst. “I also have a strong interest in challenging ideas around identity and the inequalities that can get overemphasized for minorities, including children.”

Minhorst, who holds undergraduate degrees in Landscape Architecture and Psychology as well as a Master of Education, has no qualms about pursuing different avenues to find exactly what she’s looking for, whether that’s in the classroom or beyond.

In her youth, Minhorst tried out the Girl Guides and the Air Cadets, but grew frustrated with the nature of the programming. When Scouts Canada announced that girls would be permitted to join the previously male-only organization in the 1990s, she not only jumped at the chance to join — and stuck with it through Ventures and Rovers — but also immediately began volunteering with the Cubs program and in other roles, eventually holding the volunteer position of Youth Commissioner.

Minhorst says her interest in how children and youth learned in outdoor spaces, which blossomed with the Scouts, combined with her work at her family’s garden business in Niagara-on-the-Lake, both played a role in her somewhat unpredictable academic journey.

“In landscape architecture, we looked at what sort of spaces humans feel safe in; and in psychology, we focused on inner mind processes, how people make decisions and why particular things work for them,” says Minhorst. “To me, those clearly interacted, but I was missing some of the human aspect in terms of how people experience their space, especially children outdoors, and that’s how I ended up on the education side.”

Minhorst says she is now excited to work with her supervisor, Professor Rebecca Raby, with whom she shares a determination to let children and youth speak for themselves and have their voices and experiences heard.

“It bothers me that children and youth are not listened to or taken as seriously as they are once they turn into adults. I want to be able to use my voice and my stubbornness and my research to enact change around that,” she says.

Starting out on this next chapter, she wants to encourage others to find whatever works and not feel bound to a linear or expected journey.

“If you have a weird path that doesn’t seem to connect and people don’t seem to get it, that’s OK,” Minhorst says. “Don’t try to structure yourself into what has already been done — just keep going and in the end, you’ll meet so many cool people and learn so many interesting things.”

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