News

  • TATI Partnership Update: 2021 Lessons from the Last Year

    The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant implications to the outdoor recreation and tourism industry, as many parks and protected areas experienced significant increases in visitors as Ontarians looked locally for their recreation. As a result, the Trail Assets and Tourism Intiative (TATI) partnership, which is comprised of members from Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre, the Niagara Parks Commission, and the Ontario Trails Council, focused their efforts on addressing issues relating to visitor experience and safe access to outdoor recreation spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Parks and protected areas agencies experienced significant increases in visitation due to travel limitations that saw Ontarians turn domestically for their vacationing and recreation needs. For example, the Niagara Parks Commission experienced a 43.9­­­­% increase in visitors in 2020 in comparison with the previous year. Other agencies, such as Ontario Parks, have experienced such high levels of day-use visitation in 2020 and 2021 that they have instituted a new day-use reservation policy to reduce crowding and enforce capacity limits at 17 provincial parks.   to reduce crowding and enforce capacity limits at 17 provincial parks.

    In 2020, the TATI partnership published a list of best-practice principles for visiting parks and trails during COVID-19 for the public to consider when engaging in outdoor recreation. These recommendations are still highly relevant to all visitors, as it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to a safe and enjoyable experience while protecting natural areas for future users. As parks and trails continue to experience high levels of visitation in 2021, the TATI partnership team has updated the recommendations made in 2020 to best address the current issues facing protected areas. These areas are environmentally sensitive and require the assistance from all park and trail users to ensure they remain enjoyable for generations to come.

    These guidelines are as follows:

    1. Follow current public health advice
      1. Maintain physical distancing (2 meters) from individuals outside your household and wear a mask or face covering in crowded areas where physical distancing may not be possible. Even if you have received a full vaccine series, following this recommendation is important to keep both yourself and those around you safe.
      2. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, stay home and self-isolate. Get tested and do not visit parks or trails.
      3. Follow directions relating to outdoor gathering limits and avoid crowded spaces. If you arrive at a park or trail and it is too busy, visit another location or return at an off-peak time.
    2. Be prepared.
      1. Whether visiting a park or trail for a day or a week, check the agency’s website or contact by phone to learn about how COVID-19 may have changed their operations. Due to high levels of visitation, many agencies now require reservations for all day users to avoid over-crowding, which causes damage to natural environments and impacts visitor experiences.
      2. Be prepared for limited facilities and services. Some areas may not have the capacity to offer washrooms or garbage services. It is your responsibility to be prepared to mitigate the need for these services.
    3. Follow all rules and regulations.
      1. As a result of high levels of visitation, many areas have implemented new rules and regulations to further protect parks and trails and the surrounding environment. Obey all rules and regulations regardless of whether they’re being actively enforced. Engaging in depreciative visitor behaviour harms both the environment and the ability for others to enjoy their experiences, which often results in further limitations and rules. Remember, it is your responsibility to know and follow the rules and regulations of the area you’re visiting.
    4. Be a park or trail steward.
      1. Our parks and trails serve all of us, and they need our help. Be a park or trail steward by obeying rules, following Leave No Trace principles, and reducing the overall impact of your visit wherever possible. Local parks and trails have helped people cope with the pandemic. We all must do our part to give back to the areas that have been instrumental in helping us to stay healthy during this challenging time.

    This post was written in conjunction with John Foster, a Masters student and research assistant on the Trail Assets and Tourism Initiative partnership.

    Categories: Blog, Innovative Partnership, Trail Assets and Tourism Initiative

  • Congratulations to the Spring Class of 2021!

    While public health guidelines continue to prevent us from celebrating in person, convocation remains one of the most exciting times for the Brock community, including the ESRC. We are particularly excited this spring, as the ESRC celebrates the largest graduating class of Master of Sustainability students to date!

    On June 18th, 2021, 13 of our students will receive their Master of Sustainability (MS) degrees and move on to the next phase of their careers, whether it be the pursuit of another degree, or beginning a new job in the field. We are incredibly proud of these students, and it’s been an honour to be a part of their academic journeys!

    Nic Bruno joined the program in 2019. His previous degree in Political Science from the University of Toronto – Mississauga provided a solid foundation for his major research paper (MRP). The MRP, titled “Sustainable municipal policy, green transportation, climate adaptation and climate resiliency of built and natural environments” was supervised by Dr. Jessica Blythe. In addition to this research, Nic also completed a co-op placement with Dr. Diane Dupont at Brock University as a flood aversion research assistant.

    Abbey Faris joined the program in 2019 after graduating from Brock University with a Major in Public Health and a Minor in Environmental Sustainability. Her educational background played a significant role in her MRP, titled “Impact of the built environment on human health” and supervised by Dr. Jessica Blythe. Abbey secured a co-op position working as an assistant logistics coordinator for NASCAR.

    Pulkit Garg travelled to St. Catharines from Allahabad, India to join the program in 2019. His research was supervised by Dr. Liette Vasseur and examined opportunities for adaptation to climate change in the agricultural system in Lincoln, Ontario. Pulkit’s research proposal earned him a FOSS Student Research Award and in December 2020, he presented his completed research project at the FOSS Research Colloquium. Pulkit also presented his research at the International Conference on Sustainable Development held virtually in New York City in September of 2020. In addition to his research, Pulkit completed a co-op position as a project manager with Royal Bank of Canada and was later offered a full-time position.

    Sam Gauthier joined the program in 2019 after graduating from Nipissing University with a degree in Biology and a certificate in Forest Resource Management and Conservation. Her research was supervised by Dr. Liette Vasseur and looked at how climate change affects conservation and biodiversity. Sam secured an exciting co-op position and worked as a student inspector with Canada’s Food Inspection Agency. She is now working full time for the Ministry of Transportation as an Environmental Planning Assistant.

    Erica Harper graduated from St. Francis Xavier University with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in Marketing, making her research interests compatible with those of Dr. Todd Green. Dr. Green supervised Erica’s MRP, titled “Corporate social responsibility and consumer behaviour”. Erica’s co-op position was with the ESRC, where she worked as a communications assistant in Spring/Summer 2020. Erica is currently working as a research assistant in the ESRC, and we are thrilled that she has chosen to be a member of our team!

    Michaela Jennings has a Bachelor of Arts and Humanities in International Development Studies from Trent University, and brought this knowledge to the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) program in 2019. Michaela’s research in environmental education and community development was supervised by Dr. Xavier Fazio. Michaela completed her co-op placement as a research assistant in the Cool Climate Oenology Viticulture Institute at Brock University, and later worked with Dr. Jessica Blythe as a research assistant with the ESRC’s Niagara Adapts partnership.

    Nolan Kelly joined the SSAS program in 2019 after graduating from Brock University where he majored in Sport Management and completed a Minor in Environmental Sustainability. Nolan’s interest in sports influenced his MRP, which was supervised by Dr. Jessica Blythe and titled “The impact of sports on the environment and how sports can make the transition to become environmentally sustainable”. Nolan completed his co-op position as a sales and marketing account manager with LightenCo and worked with fellow graduate Erica Harper as a research assistant with Amanda Smits in the ESRC’s Charter with Facilities Management partnership.

    Bani Maini travelled to St. Catharines from Rajasthan, India to join the SSAS program in 2019. Bani completed an independent research study about Marine OECMs that was supervised by Dr. Jessica Blythe. This independent research project influenced Bani’s final Major Research Paper, titled “Advancing marine conservation through other effective area-based conservation measures”. Bani also secured a co-op placement as the climate change coordinator with the Town of Pelham, and is currently working full-time in this role.

    Shelby McFadden joined the program after completing a Bachelor of Arts and Science degree at Trent University. Shelby worked with Dr. Ryan Plummer, who supervised Shelby’s MRP titled “Influential factors and interventions to increase recycling behaviours: a program evaluation of the Niagara Region’s residential curbside recycling program”. Shelby worked as a research assistant with the ESRC’s Charter with Facilities Management partnership and completed a co-op placement as a special projects assistant with Brock University.

    Doren Otung joined the SSAS Program in 2019 and travelled from Nigeria to begin her studies. Doren joined the Water Resilience Lab under the supervision of Dr. Julia Baird. Dr. Baird supervised Doren’s MRP titled “Can farmer networks foster a resilient agriculture?”. In addition to her research, Doren completed a co-op position as a technical content developer for the Faculty of Social Science at Brock University and worked as a research assistant with Dr. Baird in the ESRC’s partnership for Freshwater Resilience.

    April Sorenson travelled from Reno, Nevada to join the SSAS program in 2019. April’s Bachelor of Science degree in Landscape Architecture from Colorado State University influenced many aspects of her research work in the SSAS program. Her research, supervised by Dr. Marilyne Jollineau was titled “What are the qualities of a sustainable city? An analysis of current sustainable urban scale rating systems”, and she completed her co-op placement as an urban forestry and green infrastructure intern with the City of Reno. April also worked as a research assistant with Dr. Jollineau in the ESRC’s Brock-Lincoln Living Lab partnership.

    Samantha Witkowski joined the SSAS program in 2018 after earning an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from Laurentian University. Her research interests aligned with those of Dr. Ryan Plummer, who supervised Samantha’s thesis research. Samantha successfully defended her thesis, titled “An examination of stakeholder perceptions in conventional and participatory monitoring and evaluation of environmental management” on November 24th, 2020, and we are happy that Samantha is currently working as a research assistant with the ESRC.

    Jessica Zugic joined the SSAS program in 2018 after graduating from Brock University’s Concurrent Education program with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. Jessica’s undergraduate and graduate thesis research was supervised by Dr. Michael Pisaric. Jessica presented her research at several conferences throughout her time in the SSAS program, with her most recent presentation taking place virtually at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly on April 27th, 2021. She successfully defended her thesis, titled “Assessing the impacts of variable retention harvesting (VRH) and climate change on carbon sequestration and growth in a red pine (Pinus resinosa) plantation, southern Ontario, Canada” on April 12th, 2021. Jessica was also named as the recipient of the Distinguished Graduate Student Award-Sustainability. This award is given to the student who achieves the highest average in their program.

    In addition to these 13 SSAS graduates, we would also like to extend our sincere congratulations to the 17 undergraduate students who will be graduating with a Minor in Environmental Sustainability. We are incredibly proud of these students and look forward to seeing where they go and what they do next!

    We created a special video message for our graduates from their supervisors, Graduate Program Director, and ESRC Director. You can watch this message on our Youtube channel here.

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Program

  • The ESRC is Launching a Certificate in Leadership in Environmental Sustainability

    Our society and our environment are rapidly evolving and our student, municipal, and organizational leaders must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to implement sustainable environmental changes for a brighter, more equitable future. To meet this important need, The Environmental Sustainability Research Centre is developing and will be launching a non-credit certificate in Leadership in Environmental Sustainability that will serve as a professional development opportunity for people within the Niagara Region and beyond.

    This completely online certificate program will equip individuals with knowledge about environmental sustainability and advanced competencies required to become future change agents. What is unique about this certificate is that learners will be able to tailor their experience based on their current and desired skills and knowledge to meet their professional development goals.

    If this certificate sounds like it may be of interest to you, we would greatly appreciate receiving your input on what is important to you in terms of course topics, duration, and course delivery methods.

    As creating content that is of interest to potential learners is paramount, this brief questionnaire aims to gain insights into your professional development or educational needs related to sustainability, leadership, and the environment.

    To thank you for filling out the questionnaire, you will have the chance to register to be part of a draw to win a $150 gift card to spend at your favourite local business. We look forward to launching this innovative certificate and are grateful for your input!

    To learn more about this certificate program please click here.

    Categories: Blog

  • Encouraging Master of Sustainability Student Participation in Conferences

    Once per term, the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre offers a travel award to assist Master of Sustainability students who wish to present their research at conferences with expenses, such as conference registration fees. This term, two SSAS students received the award and presented at two different online conferences before they complete their studies.

    Pulkit Garg (second from bottom left row) presents his research at the FOSS Research Colloquium.

    Pulkit Garg presented at Brock University’s Faculty of Social Sciences Research Colloquium in December 2020. His presentation, “Reviewing the Options for the Agricultural Sector to Adapt to Climate Change: Case Study of the Niagara Region, ON” consisted of MRP research he completed in the SSAS program under the supervision of Dr. Liette Vasseur. This was the second conference Pulkit has participated in, with the first being the International Conference on Sustainable Development that was held virtually in New York City in September 2020.

    Pulkit said of his presentation at the colloquium, “I couldn’t have asked for a better learning experience during this pandemic. The colloquium gave me an ideal platform where I could present my findings and lend impetus to my work while learning from other presenters in the process”. He also described “the feeling of pride and honour I experienced in representing my supervisor, the sustainability program and the ecology lab” as a highlight of the experience.

    Jessica Zugic presents her research at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly.

    At the end of April, Jessica Zugic presented her research at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly. The conference took place during the last two weeks of April, with Jessica’s presentation session taking place on April 27th, 2021. Jessica’s presentation about the short-term impacts of a partial harvesting technique on carbon sequestration and growth of a red pine plantation in southern Ontario, was based on thesis research she completed (and successfully defended) under the supervision of Dr. Michael Pisaric. This was Jessica’s fourth conference during her time in the SSAS program.

    Both Jessica and Pulkit mentioned the positive influence the SSAS program had as they prepared for their presentations. Jessica mentioned the weekly emails sent by the SSAS program as being influential in her decision to attend this conference, and added, “The SSAS program has always promoted different conferences and meetings that students could attend, thus encouraging students to present their research and get involved in the academic community”. Pulkit echoed these statements and added “the blend of field projects coupled with course work [in the SSAS program] taught me resilience and the importance of openness to feedback and continuous learning, along with research/analytical capabilities”.

    We are very proud of these students, both of whom will be graduating from the SSAS program in June 2021.

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Conferences, SSAS Program

  • Earth Day: Robyn Bourgeois, Acting Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement at Brock

    Blog Contributors: Savannah Stuart and Allison Clark

    On Earth Day especially, we must look to and honor Indigenous People’s traditional knowledge, ways of knowing, and relationship with the land. Indigenous Peoples were the first stewards of this land and far before colonization, they lived sustainably and in harmony with the land and continue to do so. As the climate crisis unfolds, people across the world are attempting to understand what sustainability truly means and how we can shift our societies towards more sustainable ways of living. There is much that can be learned from Indigenous Peoples, and their voices must be lifted and followed. This Earth Day, the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) asked Dr. Robyn Bourgeois, Vice-Provost Indigenous Engagement and Associate Professor for the Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies, to present her work surrounding the intersection of environmental and social justice.

    Preceding Dr. Bourgeois’ talk was a presentation from a group of undergraduate students taking part in a directed readings course. As Applied Health Science students, they focused their course on decolonizing health and cultural safety. The students created an experiential learning experience, where they were able to engage with Indigenous communities and Elders. The students built their own learning objectives and course culture which revolved around the “four R’s”: respect, responsibility, reciprocity, and relationships. These students found that the relationships they formed together and with Elders, enhanced their understanding of Indigenous issues in Canada, while also allowing them to take part in a transformative learning experience.

    Dr. Bourgeois continued the Earth Day event with a presentation on the intersection between violence against the environment and violence against Indigenous women. She began with a welcoming song from the Mi’kmaq Territory in Nova Scotia, which helped create a safe space for the heavy discussion that was to follow. Dr. Bourgeois is a mixed-race Cree woman and a professor within the department of Women and Gender Studies at Brock. She studies Indigenous feminism, violence against Indigenous women and girls, and Indigenous women’s political activism and leadership.

    Using traditional Indigenous knowledge, Dr. Bourgeois described how Indigenous women face dangers associated with colonialism, systemic racism, and sexism. One perspective that may be new to many is how the environment is related to these issues. Meaningfully addressing gender-based violence offers a resilient pathway to solve the genocidal climate change issue we are facing. As Dr. Bourgeois said in her presentation, “people will not respect the land until they respect women”, reminding us that environmental issues and Indigenous issues are very much connected and should be addressed together.

    For decades, people have been requesting investigations into missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. The “Highway of Tears”, a remote highway in northern British Columbia, has been the location of many missing and murdered Indigenous women, beginning in the 1970s. This highway is the gateway to much of northern British Columbia’s extractive industries. Only recently, this highway was provided with secure cellphone service. Moreover, those following Indigenous rights and recent pipeline protests may be familiar with red dresses hung throughout sites of proposed developments. These red dresses pay tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women and act as a reminder that the extraction of natural resources has been associated with increased violence and harm against Indigenous women.

    Social justice issues can transcend boundaries and manifest in both physical and non-physical ways. Dr. Bourgeois explained that colonialism is no exception, and pulling from examples of her own experiences, informed the audience on how harmful conditioned colonial perspectives influence the way in which Indigenous women are treated in society.

    To begin addressing gender-based violence and environmental violence, further awareness and education is needed.  At the end of her presentation, the audience asked Dr. Bourgeois for additional resources to further educate themselves and raise awareness of the issues she discussed. This list will be provided in the coming weeks on our blog and on our social media channels. To watch Dr. Bourgeois’ talk, please click here.

    Categories: Blog, Environmental Stewardship Initiative, Event, SSAS Student Contributor, Uncategorised

  • First Year Reflection

    Blog Contributor: Savannah Stuart

    As our first year in the Master of Sustainability Science and Society program (SSAS) comes to a close, it offers time to reflect. My fellow classmates and I certainly did not envision our first year of graduate school to be amidst a global pandemic. This tumultuous crisis created many changes to our learning and research and presented us with new challenges. It truly tested our abilities to be creative and problem solve, abilities which are necessary to being a sustainability scientist.

    Through it all, there is absolutely no other way that I would have wanted to spend this past year. The program and our professors did a tremendous job of communicating with students and advocating for student’s wellbeing during a difficult time, which I feel much gratitude for. Our classes were rich in content and thought-provoking discussion, and our small class size enabled us to form strong connections and friendships.

    The culture created in each of our classes allowed for open discussion, where each person’s perspective was listened to and valued. This is a truly incredible aspect of this program, and aids student’s learning and absorption of typically heavy and hard to discuss topics such as climate change. Our classes pushed us to challenge our views, integrate new perspectives and ways of knowing, and taught us how to become stronger critical thinkers and communicators.

    My perspective and understanding of sustainability science have grown and expanded throughout this program. I went into this program with the perspective that in transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, disciplines pertained only to academic disciplines. This program has proven to me that I was wrong; transdisciplinary work often takes place across fields in academia, industry, and public sectors, thus proving a practical feature of research and literature in sustainability science. I believe the ESRC demonstrates this beautifully through their community partnerships. By working across academic, industry, and public disciplines, one is ensuring that knowledge transfer is happening at a greater scale and speed, as the research informs practical use on the ground.

    I was able to observe work completed within one of Brock’s community partnerships with the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) through my year-long research assistantship. The research assistantship offered through the SSAS program enriched my academic learning and allowed me to develop transferable skills and gain professional experience. Additionally, I saw the incredible and important work that can be done in sustainability science when academic institutions develop community partnerships.

    Through this program, I now have a greater understanding of the holistic approach that sustainability research offers. In working with my supervisor on my research, I have been reminded to look at the project from multiple lenses and consider the contribution it could make to the research field and beyond. Sustainability science inherently requests this of us, tackling timely and novel global issues, and I am looking forward to continuing my learning experience in the second year of this program.

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

  • First Year Experience in the SSAS Program

    Blog Contributor: Jillian Booth

    The end of my first year in the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) Program here at Brock University is approaching quickly. It seems like only yesterday I was attending orientation, and, in few weeks, I will be starting my co-op placement (equally as scary). In this blogpost I will be reflecting on my first-year experience as a whole: my experience, what I have learned, and the opportunities I received.

    My first year in the SSAS program exceeded all expectations and hopes I had going into the program. I immediately felt supported by both the faculty and students which was essential for my success during these unprecedented times. Even though we were in an online setting my cohort was able to find new ways to build strong, long-term connections through class discussions, online study hours, virtual trivia games, and yoga sessions. I find myself constantly bragging to my family and friends about how I got to be a part of such an intelligent group of staff and students who all shared the passion of making this world a better place for now and future generations.

    Initially, when I found out that our first year would be online like any other student I was upset, as I would not get the same experiences or opportunities that have previously been available through the program. I was quickly proven wrong as there were multiple opportunities where I met experienced professionals working within the field of sustainability through speaker sessions, workshops, and webinars. I was also able to work with professionals in my area of research through my major research paper, my research assistantship, and even through course projects. From these experiences, I was able to receive direct advice and feedback on how to build a successful career while already building strong network connections with professionals in the field of Sustainability.

    Before starting this program, I hoped that I would learn from multiple disciplines and gain knowledge to help transition to use a more transdisciplinary perspective, as I come from a natural science background. Although, this is an ongoing learning process I was constantly challenged through my course work and class discussions to not only view complex environmental issues through different perspectives my challenge my own. This was achieved not only through the transdisciplinary staff working in the SSAS program but also through the students from public health to natural science to psychology. Where no perspective was thought to be wrong or right but rather essential to determining solutions for a more sustainable future.

    The biggest lesson I have learned so far is to challenge yourself to do new things as the program is a safe place to ask questions and gain feedback. From this, I contributed more in class, constantly asked questions, and was comfortable reaching out to professors for advice and guidance. This confidence also helped to build my professional portfolio as I started to build network connections, take on new roles in volunteer positions, and started applying to present at conferences. These efforts resulted in securing an ideal co-op position that aligns with my career aspirations perfectly and will provide me with transferrable skills that I can use throughout the rest of my professional career. I can’t wait to see what opportunities will arise in my second year for myself and my colleagues.

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

  • Master of Sustainability Year-in-Review

    Blog Contributor: Mikellena Nettos

    To sum it up – this program deeply changed my life. I have learned so much and met so many amazing people that inspire me every day. I can truly say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life so far and I know I will take what I have learned and bring it with me for the rest of my life.

    First semester I was enrolled in Environmental Sustainability Education & Foundations of Sustainability. In Environmental Sustainability Education (SSAS 5V80) – I truly learned the effect the environment can have – not only on your mental health – but on your capacity to learn. Dr. Xavier showed us how ESE can induce empathy for nature and for people and I think this will be the way we overcome the climate crisis – empathy. Did you know 20% of the world has empathy? That’s it – and I think it is because of individualism that capitalism pushes onto modern society. To combat the crisis, we must come together and share empathy for people and the planet – put aside our differences and put the earth first. This then led me to creating a group to try and promote a sense of community around sustainable values. I now have 35 people in my community group and 143 followers on my Instagram page where I promote clean-ups, started a sustainable book club, and discuss various topics about sustainability to educate and come together with my followers.

    The second semester was hard and pushed me to my limits. The course load during the pandemic was a lot to balance. From working as an RA, to being enrolled in Project Management (SSAS 5P03) and Climate Change Adaptation (SSAS 5P12) – all while trying to secure a co-op and write my proposal. I had a few breakdowns coupled with COVID-19 isolation – but I never gave up because I love sustainability. It truly has lit my heart on fire. In Dr. Blythe’s Climate Change Adaptation – the conversations I was able to have with my cohort on diverse topics really gave me hope for the future of our planet. Additionally, the book review gave us the opportunity and freedom to study any aspect of sustainability. I chose “All We Can Save” and that book really changed my life. It’s so inspiring but very sad at the same time. It has taught me so much and I truly hope there is a course developed around analyzing it because it is very eye opening to the severity of our climate emergency.

    My research is also something I am very passionate about – and I am so lucky to have Dr. Blythe as my supervisor – she is such an inspiration. I am looking forward to mapping the proximity of environmental hazards and environmental benefits to minority communities in Ontario and Dr. Blythe plans to assist me in knowledge mobilization once my research is complete! This will hopefully influence the government to take environmental racism seriously and protect vulnerable populations. The reason I chose this topic is because I believe we need to protect and elevate everyone if we are to solve the climate crisis and that starts with those who are affected by it the most.

    While the pandemic has definitely caused some stress and our cohort was not able to meet in person – I have still made amazing connections with people I will hopefully continue to share the sustainability space with, and I am so glad that I chose this path. I really want a future career in sustainable community engagement – I want to spread the word of a sustainable future alongside Mother Earth’s allies to sustain a thriving future for everyone on the planet.

     

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

  • My Experience in the Master of Sustainability Program 2020-2021

    Blog Contributor: Allison Clark

    I accepted my admissions offer to the Master of Sustainability program in February 2020, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. I was expecting all courses to be taught in person and was looking forward to building connections with faculty members and students at Brock. After several months of lockdowns, it became apparent that the 2020-2021 academic year would take place virtually. While I understood the importance of working from home during the pandemic, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to undertake graduate studies in person. Nevertheless, I knew the Master of Sustainability program was the right fit for me, so I began my studies in September 2020.

    From the comfort of my home in Nova Scotia, I spent the past two terms completing courses pertaining to sustainability, science and society. Required courses focused on the foundations of sustainability science, research methods for environmental inquiry, and transdisciplinary research in practice. Through these courses, I was able to better understand the complex social-ecological issues we are faced with as sustainability scientists. As an elective, I enrolled in a directed readings course with my supervisor, Dr. Michael Pisaric. This course allowed me to engage with literature pertaining to my thesis topic, investigating the impacts of climate change on vegetation in the Canadian Arctic. I also audited a climate change adaptation course taught by Dr. Jessica Blythe, where I was able to learn about climate adaptation at the academic, municipal, and corporate levels. Despite these courses being entirely virtual, each of my professors cultivated incredible, open, and engaging learning experiences. Having small class sizes allowed me to build connections with my classmates and professors – both of whom have encouraged and supported me every step of the way.

    As a graduate research assistant, I worked on the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative, a partnership between Brock University and the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC). My co-worker, fellow student, and now friend, Savannah Stuart, was also assigned to this position. Together, Savannah and I focused most of our time developing a Climate Change Readiness Plan for the NPC. We received constant support from our supervisor, Dr. Ryan Plummer, who guided us through the planning process. Through this position, I was able to develop my leadership, communication, teamwork, and qualitative research skills.

    Through my thesis research, I have been able to foster my passion for Arctic ecology and climate change. With the help of Dr. Michael Pisaric, I formulated a successful thesis proposal, which will guide me through my research in the terms to come. My proposed research requires me to complete in-person laboratory analyses, which will be done in the Water and Environment Laboratory at Brock. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, I was not able to work on this aspect of my research during the Fall or Winter terms. Luckily, I was recently approved to work in the laboratory. With this approval, I made the big move from Nova Scotia to Ontario so that I could continue with my research.

    Overall, faculty and staff within the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre have created an incredibly supportive and engaging learning environment, which is no small feat during a pandemic. I have already learned more than I could have ever imagined going into this program. I am eager to continue in the program through my thesis research. In doing so, I have no doubts that I will have support from those within the Sustainability program at Brock.

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

  • Master of Sustainability – My First Year

    Blog Contributor: Shannon Ruzgys

    When I imagined going to grad school, I often pictured myself sitting in a small seminar room, having thought provoking discussions with a group of like-minded individuals, making plans to save the world. However, the year 2020 had other plans in store for my grad school experience. With the forced introduction of online school, we were left no choice other than to navigate this unique time in history together.

    When I started school, I felt as if I was being cheated out of a “real” grad school experience and I found myself questioning if I was going to get the same skills and experiences as students who were able to graduate before me. While of course the experiences had to be altered to an online setting, I never felt that I was not receiving a full and quality education. I found myself looking forward to the discussions in our weekly classes, and while we we’re joining from all over the globe, the discussions were enriching, and I still felt connected to the material and my peers. When we finally signed off for our final class of the year, I truly felt connected to my peers and professors, and although we’ve never met in person, I believe that I still managed to make friends for life.

    This program has changed the way I view sustainability but most importantly it has changed the way I think and utilize my knowledge. I have learned how to view problems from multiple perspectives and how to apply research into real world applications. I have learned about the importance of scientific and ancient knowledge. I have learned how to critically evaluate and challenge my baseline assumptions. But most importantly, I have learned to listen and critically evaluate knowledge, accepting that it is completely okay for my opinions to my challenged and changed.

    One thing that has been extremely challenging for so many of us during COVID is feelings of isolation and loneliness. However, while I have not met any of the people involved in the program, we were still able to foster a sense of community and connection in an online space. I am extremely grateful for the faculty, my professors, and of course my peers for going above and beyond in making us feel connected.

    As a thesis student, much of my first year has been dedicated to designing and building the foundations of my research. Through this program I feel that the way in which I look at research has been altered, which has ultimately made me a stronger researcher. I have learned about the importance of connecting research to real world problems as well as the importance of viewing problems from multiple perspectives. This insight has enriched my research immensely and all of the courses that I took we’re directly relevant in enhancing my thinking and skills. Building a research proposal has been a long and difficult process, however I feel that the content and skills that I was learning along the way helped with the entire process. While COVID has made a lot of things harder, I also feel like I was granted freedom to develop my ideas in my own space and on my own timeline, which helped foster my creativity and thinking along the way.

    Overall, while this year is not what I imagined my first year of grad school being, I wouldn’t take anything back and I am extremely grateful for the things I have learned, the experiences I have gained, and the friends I have made.

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