• First week at the ESRC: An introduction to what we’re working on this summer

    Blog Contributor: Shelby McFadden

    Summer Student Assistants 2018

    Summer student assistants (from left to right): Kaitlin, Shanen and Shelby working in Theal House.

    From the moment my parents and I pulled up to the quaint wonder that is Theal House during a tour of campus, I knew that I would get along perfectly at Brock. I immediately decided to accept my offer for the Masters of Sustainability program for fall 2018. I made the important decision in Swiss Chalet over lunch, as my family and I went over all the benefits of attending Brock.

    Little did I know then, but I would later be offered the Special Projects Assistant position within the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) for the summer. And so on the evening of May 6th, I moved to St. Catharines, and by the next morning, I was sitting in Theal House and starting training. Some of you may have a vague recollection of hearing about how the ESRC renovated and moved into Theal House back in February and how the Centre is partnering with Facilities Management on sustainability initiatives through a formal charter.  These milestones mark an exciting time for sustainability at Brock, and this summer is no exception, as we are working hard in the Centre on sustainability planning.

    To help carry out this new work on sustainability at Brock, three students, including myself, have been hired for the summer to work on both sustainability planning and communications. This is a really exciting opportunity for me, as I get to familiarize myself with Brock and the ESRC before I start my Masters in the fall. I will be able to gain valuable and relevant experience in the field of sustainability, and help contribute to something meaningful and positive in the Brock community.

    To be able to have a job you enjoy often feels rare to find, and so I am beyond thrilled to be joining the passionate and skilled staff dedicated to sustainability in the ESRC. I think the most amazing part is that staff, faculty, and students are all coming together to share their insights and skills, to engage with issues surrounding sustainability, and help to share Brock’s future directions.

    In the week and a half I’ve been at the Centre, I feel like I’ve gotten a good grasp on what’s currently happening at Brock in regard to sustainability, and I am optimistic for what is to come in the future. I am convinced there is a lot of good work being done at Brock, but that there is also a lot of room for growth and improvement. I want people to be aware that even though the Centre is tucked away in its own private space on campus, we are very much an active part of campus, and that there’s a lot of good and promising work being done here. I encourage faculty, staff, students, and visitors to pay attention to sustainability initiatives and efforts throughout the year, and to come visit us at Theal House and see what the ESRC is doing. We will be around all summer working hard on these exciting initiatives. Stay tuned to find out additional information and initiatives in our weekly summer blog series.

    Categories: Blog, Innovative Partnership, Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock

  • Brock Master of Sustainability student heading to Cambridge University for PhD in Zoology this Fall

    Blog Contributor: Samantha Morris

    Lydia Collas - Cambridge University

    Lydia Collas graduating with a BA (Honours) Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge. Photo credit: Aiden Chan

    Master of Sustainability student, Lydia Collas, is headed back to Cambridge University to start her PhD in Zoology under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Balmford this September. Building off her master’s research, which focuses on decision-making in agriculture, Lydia’s PhD research will explore “reforming agricultural policy to safeguard biodiversity: Are farmers willing to adopt land sparing?”

    The Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) is also pleased to announce that Lydia is the recipient of the ‘Cambridge International Scholarship’. This scholarship is awarded by the Cambridge Trust to the 250 highest ranked students undertaking PhD studies at Cambridge University. The ESRC would like to congratulate Lydia on this accomplishment and wish her all the best with her studies at Cambridge this Fall!

    Before heading back to the UK, Lydia will defend her Master’s thesis titled “Decision-making in agriculture: Why do farmers decide to adopt a new practice?” on May 23rd at 1pm. The defence will take place in the Cairns Building Room 209M (the Biolinc Boardroom), Brock University, and everyone is welcome to attend.

    Categories: Blog, Thesis Defense

  • Congratulations to the 2018 winners of the sustainability poetry contest

    On March 21, the UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: From Local to Global, and the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre hosted the annual UNESCO World Poetry Day Celebration in St. Catharines. Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate with us at Mahtay Café!

    The theme for this year was “The Future We Want.” We would like to thank to everyone who submitted poems to the annual sustainability poetry contest and congratulate the 2018 winners:

    * Hannah Johnston, Elementary Student (Poem: “Now”)

    * Emily Lizbet Fulton, High School Student (Poem: “Do we have to die before dessert”)

    * Danielle Izzard, College/University Student (Poem: “My feet are damp”)

    * Liz Bonisteel, General Public (Poem: “Two worlds”)

    * Victoria Vieira, College/University Student, French (Poem: “Les cris d’univers”)

    We would also like to say a big thanks to the contest judges: Gregory Betts, Adam Dickinson, Neta Gordon, Nigel Lezama, and Catherine Parayre.

    Visit the UNESCO Chair website to learn more about the sustainability poetry contest.

    Categories: Blog

  • Master of Sustainability students receive multiple research awards

    On Friday, April 6, 2018 four Master of Sustainability students were recognized with the FOSS Student Research Award. This award is a new initiative housed in the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences. The intention of the award is to recognize student research that contributes to and advances research and scholarship in the Faculty of Social Sciences, in broad terms.

    Each student was awarded $1,000 to assist with the cost of their ongoing education.

    FOSS Research Award Winners

    From left to right: Dr. Ryan Plummer (Director of the ESRC) and Master of Sustainability students Brooke Kapeller, Dana Harris, and Yuka Kataoka. Lydia Collas was also an award recipient but is not pictured.

    Categories: Awards, Blog

  • Attending the Student Conference on Conservation Science 2018

    Blog Contributor: Lydia Collas

    At the end of the March 2018, I attended the Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) at the University of Cambridge. I was glad to have given myself a bit of recovery time after arriving in the UK from Canada because the conference consisted of three days which were totally action-packed with amazing talks, poster sessions and networking.

    As a second-year student in the thesis stream of the SSAS program, I sometimes find my work quite isolating. I’ve being working on my thesis research for the last year or so and whilst I interact with those in my program and my lab group, they’ve heard a lot about my research. So the experience of spending several days amongst 210 students who from all over the world (55 different nationalities were represented at the conference) and whom I had never met before was incredibly eye-opening. These students were in various stages of their careers – from Master’s to PhD to those that were taking some time out of full-time study to work for NGOs. I talked to people that were doing research ranging from studying the Fishing Cat in India, conserving lions while increasing agricultural yields in Zimbabwe, and planning renewable energy infrastructure in the UK. I learnt so much from just talking to these other students and being around such passionate people made me extremely proud of the work that we collectively do.

    A personal highlight for me was a Plenary Lecture given by Paula Kahumbu, the CEO of Kenyan Conservation NGO, Wildlife Direct. Paula spoke passionately of her efforts to support the conservation of Kenya’s wildlife whilst ensuring the country continues to develop and provide for its people. Paula spoke of how the wildlife documentaries broadcast in this part of the world that widely feature Kenyan wildlife are never actually made available to watch in Kenya. So one of the many things that Paula had done to engage people in the need to look after the environment was to get a team of people together to make a wildlife TV series in Kenya, for the Kenyan people. Paula also spoke on tackling ivory poaching, addressing conflicts between farmers and wildlife, and the need to improve food security alongside environmental conservation.

    I left the conference feeling more inspired, informed and hopeful about the future. I would highly encourage other SSAS students (or any other students that might be reading this!) to apply to attend the conference either in Cambridge or in the other locations around the world where sister conferences are held – these include New York. You can find more information on the website here

    Cambridge - The River Cam

    Exploring Cambridge before the conference started: Photo of the River Cam from which Cambridge takes its name. Photo by Lydia Collas.

    Categories: Blog, Conferences, SSAS Student Contributor

  • “Co-op Student of the Year” Meghan Birbeck reflects on 8 months with the Town of Lincoln

    Blog Contributor: Lydia Collas

    Each year, students in the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) graduate program embark on their co-ops between May and August. Since the SSAS program was established in 2014, students have worked in extremely varied industries, including eco-tourism, public transportation and town planning, and in locations from Niagara to Nicaragua!

    This year, SSAS student Meghan Birbeck was awarded the title “Co-op Student of the Year” – an honour given to just two students annually. Meghan spent an extended co-op working as a Sustainability Intern at the Town of Lincoln and was instrumental in securing the Living Lab Partnership between the ESRC at Brock University and Lincoln. I recently met up with her to find out more about the experience and what’s in store for the future.

    Meghan, what did your work as a Sustainability Intern involve?

    At Lincoln, I worked with a wide variety of departments that included planning and development, public works, community services, economic development and communications. My role was to bring a “sustainable” lens to issues that they were tackling. This was the first year that they had taken on a co-op student so the role was quite diverse and I applied myself to whatever task was most pressing.

    During your co-op experience, is there a project that you worked on that was most interesting/ enjoyable?

    The pilot public transit project that I worked on was really great. I was involved in reviewing current public transit services and I worked on exciting new developments. This involved drafting new transit routes as well as community outreach and education to connect with the local community about sustainable public transit.

    Now that you have returned to your studies in the SSAS program, what impact do you think your co-op experience has had?

    My co-op has really complemented my studies in the SSAS program. The experience allowed me to see how some of the underlying theories of sustainability have such broad implications – such as to the municipal projects that I was involved in!

    And did the co-op have a lasting impact on your future goals and plans?

    Definitely – I was invited to extend my co-op so I stayed on for eight months in total. I’m now doing my MRP but I have plans to go back to Lincoln this summer as well. Through the planning projects that I worked on, I developed an interest in becoming a professional accredited planner. My plan now is to combine this planning work with my education in sustainability.

    Is there anyone that you’d like to thank for their part in this experience?

    I am grateful that Brock had an established relationship with the Town of Lincoln that led to this co-op placement being established. I am very thankful to Melissa Beamer in the Co-op Department for her support during the application process and for acting as my Senior Employer Development Manager. I am also extremely grateful to Carrie Beatty at the Town of Lincoln for her unwavering support, ensuring that I was exposed to challenging projects and for making work and inviting and fun place to come to each day.

    Meghan receiving the “Co-op Student of the Year Award” after the official awards ceremony on 22 March 2018. Photo by Michelle Lesley Annett.

    Categories: Blog, Co-Op, SSAS Student Contributor

  • St. Catharines Launch for Adam Dickinson’s Anatomic

    Blog Contributor: Dr. Adam Dickinson

    I have just published a book of poetry that involves the results of chemical and microbial testing on my body in order to look at how the “outside” writes the “inside.” Structured like a hormone, the book, Anatomic, is in part about the link between the metabolic processes of human and nonhuman bodies and the global metabolism of energy and capital. I looked into my blood, urine, and poop, and saw the Anthropocene staring back at me.

    Please spread the word to others you think might be interested. I have included some more information below about the book.

    As part of the launch, I will read from the book and talk a bit about how it was created.
    I hope to see you there!


    Saturday, April 14 at 4 PM – 6 PM
    Niagara Artists Centre (NAC)
    354 St. Paul St. E, St. Catharines L2R 3N2
    We talk a lot about what we’re doing to our environment, but what is our environment doing to us? 

    Adam Dickinson decided to find out. He drew blood, collected urine, swabbed bacteria, and tested his feces to measure the precise chemical and microbial diversity of his body. To his horror, he discovered that our ‘petroculture’ has infiltrated our very bodies with pesticides, flame retardants, and other substances. He discovered shifting communities of microbes that reflect his dependence on the sugar, salt, and fat of the Western diet, and he discovered how we rely on nonhuman organisms to make us human, to regulate our moods and personalities. The outside writes the inside, whether we like it or not.

    The result is a book of poetry called ANATOMIC, an ambitious, autobiographical, and anxious plea for us to consider what we’re doing to our world – and to our own bodies.

    Free event | Books for sale 

    More info about ANATOMIC here:
    Categories: Blog, Faculty Contributor

  • Master of Sustainability student presents research at Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention

    Emilie - Fruit & Vegetable Conference

    Master of Sustainability candidate, Emilie Jobin Poirier at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Niagara Falls, ON.

    Maser of Sustainability student Emily Jobin Poirier recently had a poster presentation accepted at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention. Her poster presentation, based on her Master’s research, was titled “Doom, gloom or boom? – perceptions of climate change impacts amongst Canadian winegrowers.” Emilie is currently working on her Master of Sustainability thesis with supervisors Dr. Gary Pickering and Dr. Ryan Plummer. Congratulations Emilie!

    Follow Emilie on Twitter: @ejobinpoirier

    Categories: Blog, Conferences, SSAS Student Contributor

  • First Year SSAS students impress with ambitious research proposals

    Blog Contributor: Lydia Collas

    SSAS 2017 Cohort

    Master of Sustainability 2017 Student Cohort, September 2017

    March 9th saw students in their first year of the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) program present preliminary proposals of the research that they will undertake in the coming months. Being in my second year of the program, I delighted in the opportunity to sit back and watch others undergo what I myself had done a year earlier. The ten students did not disappoint as they spoke with passion and excitement of the research questions they hope to answer.

    Sustainability is an interdisciplinary subject by nature: it brings together aspects from natural science, social science and economics. This was very much reflected in the students’ presentations which covered a vast portion of what can be considered sustainability science. No two students plan to study even remotely similar areas. Lyn Brown presented her plans to investigate invasive species – a major biological and financial issue – in the Niagara Region. Contrast that to Qurat Shahzad whose interest lies in the concept of a de-growth economy and presented her plans to investigate the factors driving consumer behavior across Canada.

    The students’ research was also impressively broad in terms of the geographical area covered. Sylvia Hussein plans to investigate water management in Lake Erie and identify the lessons learned which would help in the management of water resources in her own country, Ghana. Other students are looking closer to home: Leaya Amey plans to conduct her study right in Brock University. Leaya will build on her undergraduate degree in Communications Studies exploring the most effective way to inform Brock University students about sustainability initiatives on campus.

    One of the great strengths of the SSAS program is the variety of programs that students have studied at undergraduate level. This diversity allows students to learn from one another as they each hold their own unique knowledge and skill set. The questions asked by other students, as well as faculty, following the students’ presentations will hopefully have helped them to clarify their thoughts or identify alternative approaches to investigating their research questions.

    All students can be highly commended for their ambition and drive to push the bounds on what is known in sustainability science. Director of the SSAS program, Francine McCarthy, was somewhat lost for words as she spoke after the presentations, Francine said “I feel somewhat like a proud mum today, you’ve all come so far from where you started in September and I could not be more proud.”

    I too would like to add my congratulations to the students and I wish you all well as you set out to conduct this research. My one piece of advice, as a student one year down the line, is to think about scope. The time is going to fly. Think long and hard about whether you’ve got the time to do what you’re aiming to achieve. And then go for it – I can’t wait to hear about what you find!

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Student Contributor

  • Welcome to the ESRC’s new home! Here are some of our favourite features of the Theal House

    Blog Contributor: Samantha Morris

    On February 28, 2018, the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) opened the doors to our new home; the Theal House.

    We are excited to tell you more about this new (and old) space. Here’s a quick tour of some of our favourite features:


    The Theal house has a history dating back to the 1800s. For many years the house was called Symphony House, this for the St. Catharines Symphony, which was a tenant in the 1970s. Before that it was variously known as the Turney House, Wright House or Field House. But it is now officially called the Theal House — appropriately so, for it was almost certainly built by one Samuel Theal, and the Theal family lived in the house for several decade. Read more about the history of the Theal House by the late Alun Hughes.

    Johnston Map - Brock Lands

    Detail of Colonel Johnston’s map of 1822 showing lots 18, 19, and 20.

    Theal House Gibson 1964

    The Theal house in 1964.

    Exposed brick in Theal House.

    On your next visit to the Theal House look for this bit of exposed brick from the original house.

    2. FLOORING 

    Floors throughout the Theal House were acquired from Interface, a company internationally known for their focus and commitment to sustainability.

    Theal House Carpet Certificate

    Cool Carpet certification from Interface displayed in the upstairs office.


    Sustainable furnishing can be found throughout the Theal House. From the furniture from Creighton House Antiques, a local company in Niagara, to the live edge wood desks made from certified sustainable timber and created by Brock University carpenters.

    Antique furniture in Theal House.

    Antique furniture from Creighton House Antiques.

    Theal House Faculty Space

    Upstairs offices featuring live edge wood furniture and a carpet made from recycled fish nets.

    4. LIGHTING  

    LED lighting has been installed throughout the Theal House. Dimmer and daylight harvesting switches reduce energy consumption.

    LED Lighting in Theal

    One of our many dimmer switches that will reduce energy consumption in the Theal House.


    An integrated system within the Theal House now controls HVAC, lighting and monitors real time energy use.

    Theal House - Upper Level

    Our upstairs offices feature new energy efficient lighting and HVAC systems.

    Theal House Monitoring System

    Our entryway features a monitoring screen that showcases energy use in the Theal House and across campus.


    We can’t forget to mention how much we love our new views. From the trees that surround Theal House to the view of the Tower, there’s always something to look at.

    Theal House, 2018

    The Theal House, 2018.

    View of the Schmon Tower

    View of the Tower out of the boardroom window.

    1. PEOPLE

    Last, but certainly not least, no building on campus would be complete without dedicated and hardworking faculty, staff, and students.

    Francine McCarthy, Ryan Plummer and Marilyne Jollineau

    Master of Sustainability Graduate Program Directors, present (Dr. Francine McCarthy), past (Dr. Ryan Plummer), and future/past (Dr. Marilyne Jollineau).

    Theal House Grand Opening

    Faculty, students, and Brock Administration cutting the ribbon at our Open House on February 28, 2018.


    Is there a feature of the Theal House that you find interesting? Please share your thoughts and photos with us at or on Twitter/Facebook @BrockUESRC.

    Categories: Blog