SSAS Student Contributor

  • 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

  • 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

  • Marilyn I. Walker – A Sustainable Gem in Downtown St. Catharines

    Blog Contributor: Connor Thompson

    Marilyne I Walker Building

    The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts(MIWSFPA) is an absolutely gorgeous building full of natural light and art, located off Brock’s main campus, in the downtown core of St. Catharines. Having been renovated from the Canada Hair Cloth Company building in 2015, its construction offered Brock University the ability to do what it does best – research! Facilities Management took the opportunity after renovations to install a piece of software called the Earthright Energy Dashboard. Earthright monitors water, gas, and electricity trends and charts them on a public-facing dashboard for all to see.

    Earthright serves two purposes, the first of which is to inform students, staff, and visitors about utility consumption rates at Marilyn I. Walker. There are a couple of screens that display statistics in relatable and interesting terms, like how many swimming pools worth of water have been saved from one month to the next. By showing people how utilities are consumed over time, it may influence them to change their habits as a group and see what impact they can make!

    The second function is to provide feedback to staff on how the building is operating. Facilities Management has been able to tailor automated systems around occupancy and seasonality requirements, which ensure that utilities are only used as they are actually needed. For example the lights are generally shut off at 11:00 pm and turned back on around 6:00 am, but there are also offices on motion sensor systems, and photocells are used to ensure that lights automatically dim as sunlight becomes available.

    The Earthright Energy Dashboard is a simple way to inform the public about how consumption habits impact the spaces where they learn and work. Newer buildings like MIWSFPA are sustainable by design, but we as occupants have the final say on how much water, gas, and electricity gets used. The next time you are walking along St. Paul Street, stop in and check out part of what Brock is doing to carry out its commitment to stewardship and environmental sustainability!

    Categories: Blog, Experiential Education, Innovative Partnership, SSAS Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock

  • Earth Day: a time for reflective action

    Blog Contributor & Artist: Meredith DeCock

    Earth in Watercolour

    Earth Day has been observed by millions and now billions of people worldwide since the 1970’s. Back then, people were starting to see and feel the impacts of the industrial revolution and they wanted to do something about it. It’s because of courageous activists that took a stand and fought for the health of their people and their planet that brought about change.

    The fight is far from over. Our western idea of economic growth and our consumer culture continues to be a driver of environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity, effecting the health of our planet. What people often forget is that we are an intricate part of this planet, and when the Earth is unhealthy, our systems become unhealthy.

    I understand the people who reject Earth Day, as the common phrase notes: “every day is Earth Day”. However, I choose to use Earth Day as a time to reflect on my current life choices and consider how, in the upcoming year, I can make personal changes in my life to live more sustainably. You may have noticed that North America is not the focus of either world map shown in my painting. As part of my reflective practice this year, I wanted to shift my perspective, highlighting that this is a global issue and how each decision I make does not only affect the people in my immediate surroundings.

    Reflection is an important practice and increasing your awareness is a crucial step to inspire action. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

    • If you love to read, check out When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pearce, Wolf Nation by Brenda Peterson, or The Song of Trees by David Haskell.
    • If you love documentaries, there are a wide range of informative films from The True Cost, Virunga, Cowspiracy, to Plastic Paradise, and the list goes on.
    • Consider carpooling more, flying less, or buying items in bulk.
    • Try to buy items second hand, and if you do buy new, buy local, fair trade, and ethically sourced items.

    Happy Earth Day everyone, and I hope that this post has encouraged you to reflect on how you might make changes in your personal, family, or work life to better take care of our planet.

    Until the next Earth Day.

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Student Contributor, Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock

  • Meet SSAS Alumnus: Nicholas Fischer

    Blog Contributor: Meredith DeCock

    For our first instalment of the ‘Meet SSAS Alumni’ series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Fischer, a former Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) master’s student who entered the program in September of 2016. As a current student in the program, it was a pleasure to hear about where he came from, his time in the program, and what he is up to now.

    Nick Fisher

    Photo: Nicholas Fisher, SSAS Alumnus who is now working as a Policy and Planning Officer for Conservation Ontario.

    Q1: What path did you take to end up in the Brock SSAS Master’s Program?

    I decided to attend Trent University for International Development Studies and Political Studies. I really wanted to take the opportunity to participate in an interdisciplinary field of education, which broadened my understanding of the social, economic, and political dynamics of our modern world. In my third year, I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador, and I jumped on it! While our first semester was regular classes, the second involved an intensive four-month placement with a local agency. Luckily, I was accepted to work with an incredible organization named Kallari (Kay-yar-ri) (best chocolate of my life, Google them!). Deep in the Amazon, I worked with local communities who participated in a cooperative-structured chocolate company and I received a great education in polyculture crops, community sustainability, effective resource management and overall respect for shared natural systems. Upon my return to Trent for my fourth year, I made sure to fill my timetable with as many environmental courses as I could to further develop my knowledge and passion for the sector. The SSAS program at Brock seemed like a natural next step to further develop my knowledge and passion for the environmental sector in an interdisciplinary setting.

    Q2: What stream of the SSAS program did you complete and what was the focus of your MRP or Thesis?

    I decided to enter the Co-op and Major Research Paper option at Brock. It is hard enough for a young graduate out of school to be competitive in the environmental field, so I knew I wanted to take advantage of the work experience during my education. As for my MRP, I was lucky enough to work with Dr. Tim Heinmiller and Dr. Marilyne Jollineau. With Dr. Heinmiller’s guidance, we settled on assessing the impacts of the Greenbelt Plan to the Niagara Region agricultural community and support network. I have always enjoyed local advocacy work and wanted my MRP to be reflective of my time in Niagara, hence focussing the impact assessment to the Region. I set out to identify key impacts or barriers posed to the agricultural community in Niagara as a result of the Greenbelt legislation and used my project as a means to identify potential areas of improvement to future iterations of the Plan to protect the agricultural industry, a cornerstone in many rural economies. Both Dr. Heinmiller and Dr. Jollineau were incredible mentors to me throughout the process. Both encouraged me to use completely new methods of analysis for my project and provided me with the resources I needed to succeed.

    Q3: How would you describe your overall experience in the SSAS Master’s Program at Brock? And is there a particular highlight that comes to mind during your time in the program?

    I would say my overall experience in the SSAS program at Brock was positive, although challenging at times. The incredible nature of an interdisciplinary program is that you are exposed to members of your cohort who come from vastly different educational backgrounds. This diverse mix allows you to have some really interesting conversations and address environmental issues from an array of angles, but also poses challenges when you are asked to work in a group setting. Of course, this is a mirror to the realities of the workforce, so I came to appreciate the practical application of this style of education. There were many highlights during my time with the SSAS program; however, the one in particular which stands out is being able to present my Three Minute Thesis in from of the staff and students of the ESRC. In the MRP stream, you don’t defend your final body of work, so the 3MT gave me a small taste of an academic defense. Don’t get me wrong, it was the most vulnerable I had felt during my whole time at Brock since I was putting my research out in the open for criticism and comments, but at the end I was so proud of how it went.

    Q4: What is your current job? Please provide a job description of what you get to do in your current role.

    I currently work at Conservation Ontario as a Policy and Planning Officer, and I am absolutely loving it! I have been in my position for 8 months now and have learned so much along the way. Conservation Ontario is a not-for-profit environmental association which represents Ontario’s 36 Conservation Authorities. In my capacity, I am responsible for advocating on behalf of the Conservation Authorities on all applicable provincial proposals, such as those related to Climate Change, Development, Provincial Growth, Drinking Water, Great Lakes Protection, and Endangered Species and Fisheries. I work with Conservation Authorities to develop key messaging to the province to ensure that the core mandate (to ensure the conservation, restoration and responsible management of Ontario’s water, land and natural habitats) can be effectively achieved. In addition, I work with Conservation Authorities to address questions related to our Class Environmental Assessment process and represent Conservation Ontario at a number of conferences and on provincial working groups. The most interesting thing about my job is that I get to work alongside some of the brightest people in the environmental sector who are challenged with balancing population growth with protection for natural resources and drinking water across Ontario.

    Q5: How do you feel the SSAS program helped prepare you for this position?

    Aside from the interdisciplinary setting which I already spoke to, my co-op placement is most likely largely responsible for my success in this new role. I was fortunate enough to complete my work placement with the Ministry of Transportation’s Environmental Policy Office in St. Catharines. There, I worked on files related to Environmental Assessment reform, and assisted on a number of other projects and initiatives, such as the provincial biodiversity strategy and road ecology. Much like my team now, the team with the MTO needed to incorporate planning decisions into their policy work, which allowed me to gain an understanding of the interrelated nature of the two fields. I will always be thankful to the SSAS program for this opportunity because, not only was able to apply my education in a practical context, but I have maintained some amazing professional and personal relationships with the staff from my co-op placement.

     

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

  • Thinking Sustainably is Thinking Strategically

    Blog Contributor: Connor Thompson

    Brock Strategic Plan 2018 to 2025

    Brock University closed out 2018 by unveiling a new Strategic Plan titled “Brock University: Niagara Roots – Global Reach”. Meant to serve as a guide to planning and decision-making processes through 2025, you should not be surprised to see environmental sustainability as a focal point of the Plan!

    “Sustainable, accountable, transparent stewardship” is listed as the eighth and final guiding value that the University is committing to over the next seven years. Brock recognizes its position as a steward of public and private resources, which is especially important as the school exists within a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve on the Niagara Escarpment. Understanding how the institution operates and the effect it has on human, financial, and environmental resources will be critical to achieving sustainable outcomes across all three categories.

    Additional focus is given to environmental sustainability in regard to meeting societal expectations and demands. As Brock is a publicly-supported institution, the University is obligated to meet and ideally exceed all legislative requirements including those pertaining to environmental protection and sustainability. The University is in a prime position to serve as a benchmark for other institutions to try and meet, and this new Strategic Plan affirms a willingness and desire to improve our sustainability efforts across campus and into the greater community.

    You can read through the entirety of Brock’s new Strategic Plan: “Niagara Roots – Global Reach: Brock University Institutional Strategic Plan 2018-2025”

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

  • Life in the Master of Sustainability Program – First Semester

    Blog Contributor: Connor Thompson

    While trying to write the opening to this post on a snow-covered December morning, Dr. Jessica Blythe visited our space on the second floor of Theal House to say hello. After a brief chat on how things were going that week, she shared the following:

    “I realized I was working from four different to-do lists and I needed to amalgamate them.”

    That sentence accurately depicts life in the program. I can confirm that scheduling is a juggling act, the readings are complex, assignments are intense, and new tasks fall in your lap just as you become comfortable with your impending deadlines.

    I would also wager that any grad student on campus can relate.

    The Master of Sustainability program will challenge you, but you can handle it if you keep your head down and an agenda in your bag at all times. With the first semester in the books, here is a quick recap of the courses I took within the co-op stream:

    SSAS 5P01 – Foundations of Sustainability Science and Society

    Dr. Plummer’s course set the tone for the program by broadening our understanding of sustainability science through interesting readings, thought-provoking discussion, and an extraordinarily demanding research paper. 5P01 also had an experiential education component that helped connect our research to real-world outcomes.

    SSAS 5P02 – Methods for Environmental Inquiry

    The focus of Dr. Baird’s course was a multi-submission group research project that cumulated in the individual writing of a research note. Building a strong group dynamic was a critical part of the class, and I particularly liked how well my group and I got to know each other over the semester.

    SSAS 5P04 – Transdisciplinary Seminar

    5P04 brought researchers and professionals in to speak with us from across disciplines, which was incredibly useful in bridging sustainability research, policy, and practice. These events are open to the public and you can see past seminars here:

    https://brocku.ca/esrc/transdisciplinary-seminars/

    SSAS 5P11 – Water Resource Economics, Management and Governance

    Dr. May’s lectures drew on his vast career experience and were supplemented with presentations from outside experts, which made for an interesting class every week. Students were also given the opportunity to facilitate a seminar and discussion during the semester. The class had five total students, so calling it intimate would be an understatement.

     SSAS 5N90 – Co-op Education Professional Preparation Course

    As a co-op student I also took 5N90, which was a refresher course on the entire process of seeking employment. I can honestly say that my interviewing skills and resume have never looked better, and I have this course to thank.

    As much as I am enjoying the holiday break, I cannot wait to get back on campus and dig into my research. How many students can say that and mean it?

    For more information about the Master of Sustainability program here at Brock, please visit:

    https://brocku.ca/esrc/ssas/

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Program, SSAS Student Contributor

  • We Can All Be Washroom Warriors

    Blog Contributor: Shelby McFadden

    Dual Flush Toilet Handle

    We all visit the washrooms while on campus, but how often do we pay attention to the environmental impact we’re having during these short visits? In 2016’s waste audit, washrooms were the fifth largest generator of solid waste on campus. Paper towel made up most of the waste, and while Brock has reduced this impact by removing paper towels from many of the washrooms, there are a few washrooms where they still remain. Instead of using paper towel or toilet paper to dry your hands, take a few extra seconds to take advantage of the hand dryers.

    A lot of organics are also thrown out in the washrooms, which is an issue we still need to work on. Rather than putting all your waste in a single garbage bin, make your way out of the washrooms to an area on campus that provides bins for recyclables and organics.

    Another common wasted resource in the washrooms is water. While water use is inevitable, we should all do our part to minimize the amount of water we use. This can be as simple as making sure to turn taps off all the way after washing your hands. Many of the toilets and urinals on campus now have low flow flushers, where you can either push the switch up or pull it down depending on how much water you need. This technology can help save water, but only if we take the time to use it properly. Take an extra second to read the instructions before flushing in order to reduce your footprint.

    These actions may seem small, but small actions can create big change. Let’s be creative and proactive, and do what we can in all areas of campus to be more sustainable.

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

  • Let’s Talk About Waste

    Blog Contributors: Kaitlin James & Shelby McFadden

    Guernsey Market

    Did you know that the most waste on campus comes from Schmon Tower? The area otherwise referred to as “Tower” produces almost double the amount of waste as the area ranked second in waste contributions on campus.

    This is something to think about when you’re eating your meals in Market. A way to help reduce this is by using the conveyor belt system in Market properly. In fact, many Brock students don’t know how this system works, and as a result do not use it.

    Did you ever notice that there are no garbage bins in Market? This is because all “garbage” products are to be placed on the conveyor belt. The only items to not be placed on the belt are plastic recyclables, or containers that can be recycled in the blue bins which are located adjacent to the conveyor belt.

    This means all leftover food, napkins, and paper products can be left on your plate and placed on the conveyor belt without having to think about what bin to place them in. These products are then sorted properly in the back, with food and paper waste being put through a pulper, before being sent to be composted. The pulper reduces ten bags of garbage down to one, reducing the amount of waste Brock is sending to landfills, and reducing the frequency of waste pick-ups.

    Brock’s current Master of Sustainability students recently toured the kitchens in Market and got to see the sorting operations and pulper in action, to better understand the current sustainability initiatives taking place at Brock.

    “It’s really cool to see such a simple but effective process being utilized to reduce waste, especially considering that organics represent the largest category within Brock’s waste stream. That being said, the system only works if people use it properly, and it seems like there’s a lot of students, staff, and faculty who are unaware of the proper process,” reflected Shelby McFadden, one of the students on the tour.

    So next time you’re in Market, dispose of your waste using the system that is meant to divert items from going to the landfill, which will help increase our diversion rate from 67% to even higher!

    This system is meant to ensure proper sorting of all products into their appropriate streams; landfill, compost and recyclables. Be conscious of this and read the signs in place to help you dispose of your products properly!

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Student Contributor, Sustainability at Brock

  • Getting to know the ESRC

    Blog Contributor: Shelby McFadden

    Theal House

    Photo: Theal House at Brock University is home to the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre.

    You know that quaint white house by Zone 2 Parking Lot on your way out of Brock? Many of you in the Brock community have no idea what I’m talking about, but take my word for it—there’s a building there alright, and this building in question is known as Theal House. Named after Samuel Theal who is believed to have built the house, where his family then lived for decades, Theal house is the oldest building on campus and one of the oldest in St. Catharines.

    As its been around since the 1800’s, it has served many roles and housed many tenants over the years, but most recently, it became the home of the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC), as they officially settled in by February 2018.

    As a centre within the Faculty of Social Sciences dedicated to environmental sustainability, the building was renovated in a way that incorporated sustainability within its walls. The floors were acquired from Interface, a company known for its commitment to sustainability, which represented 3 tonnes in emissions reductions. Used furniture was acquired from antique stores, and live edge desks produced by Brock carpenters with certified sustainable timber. LED lighting was installed, with dimmer and daylight harvesting light switches, and sensors to save energy. An integrated system that controls HVAC, lighting, and monitors real time energy use is also present in the building.

    But Theal House does so much more for sustainability than its physical features.

    Similar to how there’s many people at Brock who do not know about Theal House, there’s also many people who do not know about the ESRC, or only vaguely understand what it is, and what it does.

    The ESRC is dedicated to research and education advancing environmental sustainability both locally and globally, and runs several initiatives, all made possible by the supportive base that is Theal House.

    As one of five transdisciplinary hubs on campus, the ESRC has had the capacity to do some great work since 2012.

    But what exactly are these great things that the ESRC does?

    Well, the ESRC has created a highly productive research culture and impressive output, with 392 peer-reviewed publications meant to resolve complex environmental/social problems being published between 2012 and 2017.

    They also carry out several projects and programs to support this research, such as their seed grant funding program started in 2013 that supports projects related to the ESRC’s mandate. There is also a postdoctoral fellowship that creates opportunities for faculty and fellows to carry out research. Theu also run a visiting scholars program that brings high level scholars engaged in research on the environment, sustainability, and social ecological resilience to interact with ESRC members and SSAS students.

    They have also formed research partnerships with community groups to pursue projects of mutual benefit, conducting valuable research, while also engaging communities.

    One example of this is the Brock Lincoln Living Lab which was created in 2017, and will continue for the next five years. In this partnership with the Town of Lincoln, students contribute to the community through experiential education, putting more resources into municipal planning and research to investigate local needs and policy development.

    Another important partnership is with the Niagara Parks Commission, which created the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative in April 2018, which will last until 2020. The partnership is meant to inform and enhance practice, improve the NPC’s capacity to make evidence-based decisions, and advance understanding of environmental stewardship.

    But beyond research, the ESRC also offers academic opportunities within sustainability. This includes a minor program in environmental sustainability that can be recognized in conjunction with any major degree program, and which offers courses in 15 units across campus.

    A Masters program in sustainability science and society was started in 2014, where students can gain problem solving skills through enriching research and applied experiences, in one of the two following schemes:

    Scheme A- Major research project and co-op (16 months)

    Scheme B- Thesis (24 months)

    As a part of this program, transdisciplinary seminars are held bi-weekly, which anyone is welcome to attend.

    Finally, the ESRC also offers a PhD program in sustainability through an agreement with the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, where a scholarship allows a student to study in both places under the supervision of researchers from both universities.

    All of this is beneficial for Brock, but the ESRC has recently taken on an additional exciting role alongside Facilities Management.

    The two departments signed a charter in February, which outlines their agreement to work together on Sustainability at Brock. The charter provides an important bridge between the academics and operations sides of campus, creating a partnership where the two can collaborate on projects of mutual benefit and create mechanisms to communicate sustainability initiatives and progress with the Brock community.

    The two agreed to contribute cash and in-kind contributions over an initial 5 years, and the ESRC has been working hard on providing administrative support to meet the goals of the charter this summer, partly through the work of summer students hired through the Charter. In fact, these blogs and the Sustainability at Brock social media channels they are posted to are part of this important work!

    So, the next time you’re near Zone 2 parking lot, look for the cottage-like white building that is Theal House, and when you see it, now you’ll know what it’s for and what kind of work is going on inside.

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