Blog

  • SSAS Experiential Learning Field Trip Takes Students Across Niagara

    The SSAS 5P01 course description describes experiential education as “a critical vehicle to enable exploration of the enactment of genuine sustainability science”. On Thursday, November 7th, this year’s cohort of Master of Sustainability students took part in the third and final experiential education component of the course – travelling across the Niagara region to see first-hand how Brock is involved in a number of environmental sustainability initiatives.

    We were welcomed to the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre by Dr. Darby McGrath, Nursery & Landscape research scientist and ESRC Adjunct Professor. Dr. McGrath gave an overview of the research that happens at the Vineland institute, including environmental impact. She then took the students to one of the new greenhouses at the Centre, where everyone was required to put on biosafety gear – including covers for our shoes and sanitizer for our hands. Here, the students learned about biocontrol and how it’s used in the greenhouses at Vineland Research and Innovation. We left the greenhouse with a new appreciation for sustainable pest control, and some souvenir tomatoes! Our last stop at Vineland was the Potting Shed, where we heard from a few researchers about their soil-related projects and how this research affects the Canadian landscape. The students left Vineland with an appreciation for all of the research happening within one centre, and hopeful that their own research could have similar impacts.

    From Vineland, we headed to Charles Daley park, where second year SSAS student Meredith DeCock and Brock adjunct professor and ESRC co-founder Dr. Brad May discussed their work on the MEOPAR-Town of Lincoln Research Community Sustainability Project. MEOPAR stands for the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network, and the collaboration with Lincoln is meant to help the community understand how to deal with the impacts of climate and environmental changes. DeCock’s research involved examining the Lake Ontario shoreline at Charles Daley park, and she shared her experiences with the students.

    Our final stop of the day took us to the Brock-Lincoln Living Lab. There, we met Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton, who officially welcomed us to Lincoln, and spoke to the students about education and professional development. Following this, we heard from Dr. Marilyne Jollineau and Mike Kirkopoulos, who spoke to the students about living labs and what they are, as well as an overview of the Town of Lincoln and their current environmental sustainability initiatives. After a day full of guest speakers and presentations, it was time for us to reflect on what we’d learned. Carolyne Finlayson led us through a reflective practice exercise in which the students addressed their feelings towards environmental sustainability research prior to the trip, and then revisited those feelings at the end. They did this through photos and group discussion, and they all had some very insightful things to say about the day!

    Needless to say, we were all pretty tired when we returned to Brock at the end of the day – but we were also excited for the future of environmental research and the role we all have in these exciting initiatives!

     

    Categories: Blog, Brock Lincoln Living Lab, Collaborations, Experiential Education, SSAS Program

  • Inaugural EESI Partnership Roundtable

    Blog Contributors: Bani Maini & Bridget McGlynn

    On October 23, 2019, individuals from the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) and Brock University gathered at Legends on the Niagara Golf Course for an inaugural roundtable event. The roundtable is the first in a series of events made possible via the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative (EESI), a partnership between the NPC and Brock University. The meeting provided an orientation to EESI, allowed for the sharing of recently completed research findings, discussion the implications of the findings, and allowed for progress to be shared on projects associated with the partnership. Corey  Burant  from the NPC and Dr. Ryan Plummer from Brock co-chaired the event.  

    Angela Mallette, a recent Master of Sustainability graduate from Brock, presented her research on “Understanding Perceptions of the State of the Environment in Relation to Ecological Measures: Intergroup Differences and the influences of Environmental Interpretation”. Through ecological assessments, and visitor and expert surveys, Angela observed ecological health as well as perceptions of ecological health. Her research provides a holistic approach to environmental assessment which includes ecological measurements as well as social perspectives.  

    The discussion Angela’s presentation provoked stimulated not only more research questions but also suggestions for potential NPC initiatives to better achieve their stewardship goals. Her research has important ecological and cultural implications for the NPC and the sentiment resonated with everyone present at the meeting. One of the aims of the partnership is to mobilize evidence-based research and suggestions in order to help with the management of resources at the NPC. These findings not only help with immediate resolution of existing concerns, but also open avenues for other potential areas of research and collaboration.   

    After Angela’s presentation and a stimulating discussion on the outcomes and implications of her research, faculty and students from Brock shared updates on the ongoing projects which are a part of the partnership. Samantha Witkowski, a current Master of Sustainability student at Brock shared her ongoing research on monitoring and evaluation approaches. Brock University Assistant Professor Dr. Julia Baird presented the early findings of the her latest research, made possible through an Insight Development Grant, which aims at assessing four different methods for evaluating ecological outcomes of environmental stewardship. Dr. Baird and Post-Doctoral Fellow Dr. Sherman Farhad also shared updates on an ongoing social network analysis project which aims at understanding the modes and extent of environmental stewardship knowledge sharing networks at the NPC. Updates were also shared on Dr. Jessica Blythe’s project related to the public’s perception of the NPC.  

    The outcomes of completed and ongoing partnership projects provide insights and opportunities that influence future environmental stewardship goals and objectives. The roundtable was a true reflection of the commitment and the level of engagement that individuals from both the organizations bring to the table. The event perfectly captured the essence of the partnership and underscored the importance of current and future roundtables.  

    Categories: Blog, Conferences, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Event, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Niagara Adapts Holds First Three Workshops

    Earlier this summer, representatives from seven local municipalities in Niagara and members from Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC), met for the inaugural Niagara Adapts workshop at Brock University. The morning began with presentations from Dr. Ryan Plummer and Dr. Jessica Blythe on climate change in Niagara. Next, each municipality gave a presentation on some of the climate change impacts previously experienced in their community as well as some of the actions taken so far. This portion of the day was especially interesting and valuable. It became apparent just how much we can learn from our neighbours. Throughout the entire workshop, there was a recognition of the novelty of the partnership, as well as an appreciation for the fact that we are more effective when we work collaboratively. “Why reinvent the wheel?”, as put by one workshop attendee.

    The second Niagara Adapts workshop, titled “Climate change impacts analysis”, was held on Friday, August 16th. We were joined by Dr. Brad May, a Canadian expert in climate change adaptation and risk assessment. It was a jam-packed, but very informative day. In the morning, we explored key climate change concepts, climate models, and climate change trends and projections (from global to local). Using a new tool (climatedata.ca), we accessed climate scenarios and recorded some projections for 2050 and 2100. Some of the findings were shocking. For example, under one high emissions scenario, it is projected that by the end of the century there could be up to 123 days per year above 30C (City of St. Catharines). That is more than one third of the year, with extreme heat days! In the afternoon, we identified potential climate change impacts and ran through a preliminary risk assessment exercise. Having members from a range of backgrounds (from engineering to environmental services) was exceptionally valuable, and enriched the brainstorming process.

    Most recently, on Wednesday, September 18th, the ESRC hosted the third Niagara Adapts workshop, called “Climate change vulnerability assessment”.  The workshop began with a lecture by Dr. Ryan Plummer, which was designed to provide an overview of the concepts of climate change vulnerability. Dr. Plummer also provided an introduction to climate vulnerability assessments, including how they can be implemented, the data that can be obtained, and the importance of such assessments to informing climate change adaptation actions. Following the lecture, we conducted a working session on ranking vulnerability indicators. This type of participatory approach is important for creating a context-specific vulnerability assessment.

    The outputs from all three workshops are essential components to begin the climate change adaptation process, and we are excited at all that we have learned about climate change in Niagara in such a short amount of time!

    To learn more about this exciting initiative please join us on November 27, 2019 at the official launch of Niagara Adapts at the Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines – tickets are FREE!

     

    Categories: Blog, Collaborations, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership

  • The Climate Strike: A Student’s Perspective

    Blog Contributor: Erica Harper

    Climate March - September 2019

    Photo: Master of Sustainability students taking part in St.Catharines Climate Strike on Friday, September 27, 2019.

    Global Week for the Future took place from September 20th-27th internationally and featured strikes and marches around the globe to bring awareness to the climate crisis.  The attendees included people from all ages who came in impressive numbers to show their disapproval with the direction in which citizens, governments and corporations have taken our planet.  Most had signs made from recycled pizza boxes and Amazon packages with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and Greta Thunberg’s famous “How dare you?” line.  Reading the signs was entertaining, intriguing and sometimes disturbing, but what really captivated me were the speeches at the St. Catharines strike.

    This was my first march, protest or strike of any kind and I truly did not know what to expect, but I was excited to be attending with peers from my cohort in the Master of Sustainability program.  On Friday morning we took our signs and made our way downtown to the St. Catharines library and were surprised by the number of people who came to rally together.  It was a well-organized event with wonderful speeches from Indigenous women, community leaders, young students and people who felt compelled to speak up in the moment.  With each speech that was delivered, I got more and more emotional about the challenges that we and future generations will face.  That being said, the main message throughout the day was to look inwardly and do what you can in your own life to make small differences each and every day.

    Although it can be quite overwhelming, climate strikes are an opportunity to have our voices heard by politicians and large organizations to prioritize our planet in their various agendas.  That being said, a system change unfortunately takes longer than a personal change and it is important to self-reflect and see what we can alter in our personal lives to make our planet a greener place.

    After my experience at my first Climate Strike, I am even more motivated to learn as much as possible about Sustainability Science to make my positive mark on this planet.

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock

  • SSHRC IDG: Brock University Partners with Niagara Parks Commission to Compare Environmental Stewardship Evaluation Methods

    Student Contributor: Seyi Obasi

    It’s no longer news that human actions are seriously affecting the ecological health of our environment. Humans have become such a powerful force on the earth that our choices can make or mar the future health of most, if not all ecosystems on the earth. However, despite being a power broker on the earth, we still depend on it’s environment for our wellbeing. This too, is no longer news. Because of our realization that we need to take care of the earth in order to assure the continued existence of both, the concept of environmental stewardship was born!

    Environmental stewardship includes all the choices and actions people make to care for and protect the environment in order to continue to enjoy it and make it sustainable for future generations. Such choices and actions include everything from individual actions like recycling, to community and organizational efforts to conserve and restore the environment. The number of environmental stewardship initiatives has been growing steadily, with several organizations, communities, groups and residents committing and engaging in stewardship initiatives and practices ranging from habitat restoration to reforestation projects and even to river restoration initiatives. The list is endless.

    But the important question is, are those stewardship initiatives working? Are they meeting the objectives for which they were implemented? Are there any changes that need to be made? These questions are hard to answer because although the number of environmental stewardship initiatives is growing, there are a range of reasons why it may not be possible to carefully and effectively evaluate the outcomes of these efforts after they have been implemented, especially using traditional expertise evaluation methods (e.g., access to financial or human resources).

    Evaluation is key in environmental stewardship, as it is the only way to know if the initiatives are working or not! In a bid to explore solutions to this issue, faculty from Brock ESRC in partnership with Niagara Parks received a SSHRC IDG award to investigate how alternative methods for evaluation such as using citizen scientists, stakeholders and remote sensing, compare with expert evaluation.

    The aim of the project is to compare field data evaluations about both the ecological health and the presence of two at-risk bird species (Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark) at the Chippawa bird habitat grassland site and the Lilac garden site, two recent Niagara Parks stewardship initiatives in the Niagara Region. The evaluations from the expert, citizen scientists, stakeholders and remote sensing will be compared based on accuracy, cost, expertise requirement, and ease of data collection. It promises to be an exciting project.

    The data collection phase of the project was divided into four parts: First, the expert did his field evaluations, followed closely by the citizen scientists and then stakeholders consecutively. The final remote sensing component will be undertaken in the next few weeks. The project characterized stakeholders as people who use the sites or may have a vested interest in the sites (i.e., bird watchers, nature club members, etc.) but were not given further training specific to the project, whereas citizen scientists received resources and training specific to the sites/initiatives we are investigating.

    Data collection for the citizen scientists and stakeholder volunteers happened on two different days in the first week of July, just after the expert data collection. The project’s call for data collection volunteers received remarkable responses from residents of Niagara and members of different nature groups in Niagara. They showed such amazing enthusiasm to be involved, which was surprising given that they were expected to gather at the Niagara Parks office at 6am for data collection – yes, 6 AM! In addition to the volunteers for being ready bright and early, the researchers would also like to extend their gratitude to the Niagara Parks and their staff for their amazing support in recruiting volunteers, site preparation and support in other wonderful ways.

    On the collection day, both the citizen scientists and stakeholder volunteers were introduced to the project, expectations were clarified and questions answered at the Niagara Parks office. The citizen scientists received training and detailed manuals that had pictures of the vegetation and birds they were likely to find on both sites. And as the project team silently hoped that it would not rain, volunteers were excitedly driven to the sites to start data collection.

    The entire data collection process on both days was fun, engaging, exciting, educative and successful. At the Chippawa site, volunteers assessed the presence of the two at-risk bird species (as well as other bird species), while both vegetation and bird species were assessed at the Lilac garden site. Volunteers superbly engaged as they watched and listened to identify birds, and used sight and touch to identify the vegetation. They were deliberate and focused; they came with instruments and tools ranging from binoculars, powerful cameras and bird apps. There were even a few volunteers referring to hard copy vegetation and bird books! Added to that, friendships were struck and phone numbers were exchanged. It was so exciting and refreshing to see!

    And then there were ticks… or not. While the team came tick-prepared with protective suits and bug spray, there was hardly any tick drama, leading the whole team to breathe massive sighs of relief! 

    In addition to the satisfaction of contributing to an amazing project, one lucky volunteer from each group went home with a $500 gift card to Bass Pro Shops in a raffle draw done on the bus ride back from the research sites – another highlight of the day! All in all, it was a very successful, fun-filled two days of data collection. Now comes the fun part – analyzing the data!

    As environmental stewardship initiatives become increasingly important in Canada and worldwide, it is also important to explore a variety of methods to evaluate the success of these initiatives. The findings from this project will help decision-makers and stewards make informed decisions about appropriate, economical, and accurate methods for doing research.

     

    Categories: Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Innovative Partnership

  • Dr. Jessica Blythe, 2019 SSHRC IDG Recipient

    Student Contributor: Noah Nickel

    Dr. Jessica Blythe is an Associate Professor at Brock University with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre. Below is the transcript of an interview that I had with her in regards to the recent announcement of the 2019 SSHRC IDG recipients, which included Dr. Blythe.

    Q1: It was just announced that you were the recipient of one of the 2019-2020 Insight Development Grants. Can you tell us a bit about the significance of research grants, in regards to the facilitation of social science research?

    I’m thrilled to have received this grant.  Funding plays an essential role in enabling academics to undertake high-quality research.  Research grants support a range of research activities, such as field costs, support for graduate students, and dissemination of research findings. 

    Q2: More specifically, what does the IDG mean for your research project in particular?

    This IDG grant means we can take an idea that we’re really passionate about and bring it to life.  Without the grant, this project would not be possible.

    Q3: According to the release from the Government of Canada about your new SSHRC IDG, the title of your research project is “The Role of Virtual Scenarios in Realizing Ocean Transformations” can you elaborate on this, what exactly is the scope of the project?

    Our oceans are running out of time.  Climate change and overfishing, among other stressors, are pushing the oceans past their breaking point.  So, we need solutions (or transformations of current systems) and we need them quickly.  Realizing the kind of transformations that are required to secure safe and fair futures requires radically new ways of thinking.  Based on this idea, we will use our grant to bring future ocean scenarios to life.  Then, we’re going to measure whether experiencing the virtual futures changes the way people think about protecting our oceans. 

    Q4: What further or “real world” applications or implications could your research potentially have? Will it leave questions unanswered? Future avenues for research/questioning? Etc.

    This project represents a first step in exploring how virtual reality might change the way people think about the future of our oceans.  The next step is to explore whether changing the way we think changes the decisions we make about ocean governance.  If we can show that VR changes the way people think – and make decisions – the research applications are endless. 

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog

  • Summer 2019 SSAS Student Spotlights

    Blog Contributor: Noah Nickel

     

    Jocelyn Baker, Master of Sustainability Candidate.

    We wanted to check in with our SSAS Students to see how their co-op work terms were going this summer, and what exactly it is that they were up to. In their own words, here is what they are doing!

     

    For her co-op work term this summer, Masters of Sustainability Candidate Jocelyn Baker is working with the Niagara Restoration Council in collaboration with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority on the finalization of the procedural process for securing a global wetland designation for the Niagara River Corridor called a Ramsar designation.

     

     

    A call for photos of the Lincoln Shoreline from Meredith DeCock, Master of Sustainability Candidate.

    Master of Sustainability Candidate Meredith DeCock is in the thesis stream of the program and is spending her summer working on her thesis research and data collection. “My name is Meredith DeCock. My thesis research is focused on using historical photographs to help us tell the story of the evolution of the Lincoln coastline over time. I have made a few trips out to the shoreline to get a better sense of the system. The other day I went out to 16 Mile Creek with a local resident Brian Jaworsky, who photographed our kayak trip. The shoreline analysis will reveal areas and time frames of the shoreline where there was a higher change rate. From there I will look at climatic and non-climatic data to help provide a possible explanation of why some of these changes may have occurred. In addition, I am just getting ready to launch my call for photographs to the public! This is an opportunity for the community to participate in the research project by submitting historical photographs of the shoreline that I will then replicate to create photograph comparisons along the shoreline.“

     

     

    Master of Sustainability Candidate, Connor Thompson, pictured left.

    For Master of Sustainability Candidate Connor Thompson this summer has included a work placement in Toronto with the Great Canadian Shore Cleanup. “I’m a co-op student working as an Educator with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, a national conservation partnership by Ocean Wise and WWF-Canada. My primary job is to engage in outreach at local events. We’ve set up tables, and in one case gave a speech, at farmers markets, delivered programming to youth summer camps, and I’m on my way down to West Virginia to present and facilitate discussion at World Scout Jamboree. We’ve been told that there will be around 50,000 Scouts age 14-17 from around the world in attendance.” – Connor Thompson

     

     

    Master of Sustainability Candidate, Emma Baker.

    Another Master of Sustainability Candidate, Emma Baker, was successful in securing a unique co-op experience in Hamilton. “My name is Emma Baker. My research is in urban water resilience and policy, but currently I am in co-op as the Camp Director at the Royal Botanical Gardens Discovery Camp in Hamilton, Ontario. The RBG Discovery camp is a nature-based camp for children ages 3-15, where we see approximately 1,800 campers through the summer. We emphasize experiential, outdoor learning and write our programs to focus on various elements of environmental education, biodiversity and conservation. Some of our weekly themes include dendrology, ethology, geology and ornithology as well as developmental aspects of leadership, communication and creativity. I absolutely love the time I have spent at camp with the campers and staff and think the RBG’s mission,connecting people, plants and place for the purpose of nurturing and preserving healthy growing life on our planet,perfectly aligns with why I am pursuing further education.”

     

     

    Master of Sustainability Candidate, Jessica Zugic, completing field work.

    Lastly, summer for Master of Sustainability Candidate Jessica Zugic has included thesis research. Jessica recently completed her field work at a red pine plantation in the St. Williams Conservation Reserve, where she and several field assistants collected tree core samples from 600 trees. The goal of this research is to determine how carbon sequestration has changed over time as well as in response to a harvesting technique called variable retention harvesting. Currently, she is working to process and analyze these cores in Brock’s Water and Environment Lab under the supervision of Dr. Michael Pisaric.

     

     

     

     

    Categories: Blog, Co-Op, Experiential Education, SSAS Program, Student Contributor

  • Launch of the Resilience Collaborative

    Earlier in June, a group of influential researchers gathered at Theal House for the inaugural meeting of the Resilience Collaborative. The Resilience Collaborative is an initiative of the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC). The primary goal of the collaborative is to develop insights about resilience and build the capacity of individuals, organizations, and communities to navigate complexity and change.

    The collaborative brings together scholars who share a deep commitment to resilience as essential for sustainable futures. Resilience, in the context of social-ecological systems, is the ability to maintain and persist, to adapt when needed to changing conditions, and to transform when persistence and adaptation are no longer feasible. Resilience is a way of thinking that recognizes the complex interactions between society and our ecosystems. It embraces the idea of change and acknowledges uncertainty.

    This new group includes researchers from the ESRC as well as partner organizations including the Vineland Research & Innovation Centre and the Healthy Headwaters Lab at the University of Windsor. Given that resilience is an approach that encourages broad and meaningful participation by stakeholders, learning from feedbacks, and taking action for biosphere stewardship, the inaugural meeting included the development of a vision for the first community-based project to be executed in the Town of Lincoln.

    Stay tuned for exciting updates on the Resilience Collaborative and the inaugural collaborative project!

    Resilience Collaborative - June 2019 Resilience Collaborative - June 2019

    Categories: Blog, Collaborations

  • Congratulations to the Master of Sustainability Class of 2019

    SSAS Class of 2019

    Pictured from left to right: Dr. Julia Baird, Yuka Kataoka, Ben House, Leaya Amey, Zach MacMillan, Sylvia Hussein, Dr. Ryan Plummer, Alison Feist, Emilie Jobin Poirier, Tasnuva Afreen, and Dr. Marilyne Jollineau.

    On Tuesday, June 11, 2019, the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) graduate program celebrated the graduation of ten students.

    The Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) would like to extend congratulations to our newest Master of Sustainability graduates. The 2019 graduating class included: Tasnuva Afreen, Leaya Amey, Ben House, Zach MacMillan, Emilie Jobin Poirier, Alison Feist, Jessica Williams, Sylvia Hussein, Salima Medouar, Yuka Kataoka.

    The ESRC would also like to congratulate Emilie Jobin Poirier, who was named the 2019 recipient of the Distinguished Graduate Student Award – Sustainability Science and Society for achieving the highest overall average in the program.

    “This is the largest group of SSAS students we’ve seen at a single convocation ceremony and I could not have been happier to hood them – it was an honour to witness the conferring of their degree of Master of Sustainability early last week. Their hard work has had impact on scholarship, the environment, and on different communities in Canada, including the Niagara Region. This is an important milestone in their lives and I am extremely proud of them,” said Dr. Marilyne Jollineau Graduate Program Director of SSAS.

    “I am confident that these individuals will continue to make a positive impact on society and the environment as they pursue their future goals. We wish them all great success in their future endeavours!”

     

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Program

  • Mapping the New Knowledges Graduate Student Research Conference: Oral Presentation Session

    Blog Contributor: Connor Thompson

    One of the early issues we discussed in the Master of Sustainability program concerned where we fit within the academic landscape. I contend that this degree is what you make of it, in the sense that we are all able to choose our areas of specialization as we see fit. Education, policy, and environmental science immediately come to mind, but the beautiful thing about sustainability science is that it can (and should!) be incorporated into every facet of modern life. I was reminded of that early discussion after seeing the program for Mapping the New Knowledges (MNK) 2019, Brock University’s graduate student research conference. I found myself delivering a presentation on motivations and barriers to living off-grid, in a session themed “intersections of power and identity negotiations”. It was not exactly a perfect fit but I did my best to keep an open mind.

    MNK was my first opportunity to share my research publicly and it really was a great learning experience. I chose to open with an icebreaker on how my research was substantially different than the presenters who came before me, which drew a laugh across the room and helped set the tone for an engaging 12 minute spiel. By committing my presentation to memory I was able to make eye contact with the audience and play to their non-verbal cues, making sure to emphasize important points and elaborate when confused looks washed over the crowd. Though I initially laughed at my misfortune in being literally the last presenter of the conference, I was enormously lucky to be in that final timeslot. My presentation had all of the academic rigor that this sort of event demands, but I was also able to inject some personality and life into the end of a very long day for everyone in the room. I was told early on at Brock that knowing your audience is critical to your success, and it was absolutely true at MNK. The most successful presenters I saw were those that thoroughly knew their material, engaged with the audience, and were able to smile while discussing their work. Should you find yourself in a presentation room at MNK 2020, leave your PowerPoint slide notes in your bag and really make an effort to show your passion. The audience is there to see you, so make it interesting for them!

    Categories: Blog, Conferences, SSAS Program, SSAS Student Contributor