• Reflecting on our Week in the Northwest Territories

    Blog Contributor: Samantha Witkowski

    Embarking on a journey to the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife, in the heart of winter, proved to be a frosty yet rewarding experience for Amanda Smits, myself, and our team at the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre. The primary purpose of our trip was to foster connections with our esteemed partners at the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) and to host three impactful events.

    Day 1: The Chill of -40°C and Strategic Planning

    Our adventure began on a bone-chilling Monday, January 8th, as Amanda and I landed in Yellowknife amidst a temperature of -40 degrees Celsius. After taking a day to acclimate and meet with our lead partner from the GNWT, Vincent Casey, we strategically planned the week ahead, ensuring every detail was in place for our series of events.

    Day 2: A Thought-Provoking Sustainability Seminar

    The highlight of day two was our Sustainability Seminar panel discussion, centered around preserving culture in the face of a changing climate. Four insightful panelists, Nicole Lawson, Frank McKay, Jason McNeill, and Vincent Casey, shared their perspectives on this topic, engaging in a genuine and impactful conversation. Broadcasting the discussion back to Master and PhD students at Brock and the general public amplified the reach of the event, making it a resounding success. Click the link here to watch this informative seminar on the ESRC YouTube channel.

    Day 3: Course Feedback Session and Culinary Delights

    On the third day we hosted a feedback session for the “Introduction to Northern Climate Resilience” pilot course, co-created with the GNWT as part of the broader Leadership in Environmental Sustainability Certificate program. Learners joined us in-person and online to share about their experience in the course, which ran for a period of six week between October and December 2023. The positive feedback from learners, combined with constructive insights, provided valuable input for shaping future course offerings. Following the session, in-person participants were treated to a delectable catered lunch by a local restaurant, Sun Dogs, allowing for informal networking and relationship building.

    Day 4: Second Course Launch and Exploring Yellowknife

    The fourth day marked the launch of our final event – an exciting course launch! The “Ways to Engage” course is our second co-created course with the GNWT, and focuses on working together for the environment and how to frame the uncertainty that accompanies collaborative engagement. The course specifically considers community engagement through a northern lens, specifically drawing upon multiple perspectives, knowledge systems, and experiences. Course learners gathered in-person and online for the course launch session, where they were able to meet one another and learn about the course in greater detail. The course officially started on January 15th and runs for six weeks, until the end of February.

    On day four we also explored more of Yellowknife with Vincent Casey, taking in the breathtaking views, learning more about the local cuisine, and witnessing the construction of a snow castle on the frozen Yellowknife Bay, located on the shores of Great Slave Lake – a testament to the unique experiences Yellowknife has to offer!

    Day 5: Farewells and Gratitude

    Our final day took us to the GNWT offices to bid farewell and express our sincere appreciation to our partners. The trip not only allowed us to host successful events but also provided a profound learning experience, deepening our understanding of the Northwest Territories. We left with stronger connections, cherished memories, and a greater appreciation for the remarkable region we were fortunate to explore.

    Our work trip to Yellowknife was more than just a professional endeavor—it was an immersive journey into the heart of the Northwest Territories, leaving us inspired, enlightened, and eager to continue our collaborative efforts and return again in the future.

    Categories: Blog, Collaborations, Innovative Partnership

  • Fall Term Provides Experiential Education Opportunities for ESRC Students

    This Fall, students studying Environmental Sustainability at both the graduate and undergraduate level had multiple opportunities to learn in their community and engage with sustainability initiatives across the Niagara Region. Experiential education is an important aspect of both graduate and undergraduate-level education at Brock, and particularly within the ESRC. Amanda Smits, Centre Administrator at the ESRC, states “Providing experiential opportunities for students to get out into the field and create real-world connections with the content they are learning in the classroom is really foundational to our academic program offerings.”

    Below we’ve outlined the different types of experiences our students have taken part in over the course of this semester.

    SSAS 5P01: Foundations in Sustainability Science

    This is a core course for students in their first year of the Master of Sustainability program, but often includes Masters students from other programs at Brock and PhD students in the Sustainability Science program. This term, students enrolled in the course participated in three experiential education excursions. Their first excursion took them on a tour of various areas of Brock’s campus to learn about the university’s commitment to low carbon energy. First, the students hiked on the Bruce Trail through the Niagara Escarpment Biosphere Network, both of which border Brock’s campus. They were then taken to Brock’s Central Utilities Building (CUB) where Mary Quintana, Director, Asset Management & Utilities, and Drew Cullen, Manager, District Energy provided the students with a tour of Brock’s District Energy System and the tunnels that support the delivery of low-carbon utilities across Brock’s main campus. To learn more about the District Energy Efficiency Project please visit here or check out this Youtube Video.

    On their second excursion, the students learned about climate action in Niagara. They met with Beatrice Perna, Climate Change Specialist with the Niagara Region’s Corporate Strategy Services, and Alexandra Cotrufo, Climate Change Intern at Niagara Region and recent Master of Sustainability graduate. The students once again visited the Bruce Trail and utilized the fire pit area at Brock to have an informal conversation with both Beatrice and Alexandra about the climate change work being undertaken by Niagara Region and their career evolution. The students also got to learn more about the Niagara Climate Change Action Network, on whose steering committee Brock participates.

    For their final course excursion, the students left Brock’s campus and were taken on a tour of ecological restoration sites that are managed by the Niagara Parks Commission. NPC’s Project Manager of Forest Health, Corey Burant, and Master of Sustainability student Sydney McIntyre led the students around the various sites and explained how stewardship and biodiversity preservation is being prioritized in each, including the Chippawa Grassland Restoration Project, the Ussher’s Creek Coastal Wetland Restoration Project, and the Gonder’s Flats Wetland Restoration Project.

    SSAS 5V82: Nature Based Solutions in Sustainability

    In another graduate-level course, students got to witness a unique form of invasive species management. The students traveled to Niagara Falls to visit one of Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) properties to see how they are utilizing goats to manage the spread of invasive phragmites. Here they met with Nancy Laser, Environmental, Chemical and Safety Tech with OPG to tour the site and learn more about how the goats are helping to clear OPG lands surrounding hydro stations and other areas. Clearing these lands allow staff to safely obtain readings of water flow rates, water quality, and water level readings at their sites while managing the spread of these invasive species. Fascinated by this innovative project, the course instructor, Marilyne Carrey, noted that it is “through these experiential education opportunities that graduate students gain the essential knowledge and practical skills needed to cultivate a deeper understanding and enthusiasm for developing impactful solutions to complex environmental challenges. Dealing with invasive plant species demands innovative approaches, such as those being implemented by the OPG.”

    You can learn more about the work being undertaken by OPG here.

    ENSU 3P90: Contemporary Environmental Issues

    ESRC graduate students weren’t the only ones to participate in experiential education this term, our undergraduate students also took part. This group of students took a trip out to Gonder’s Flats Wetland Restoration Project in late October 2023. There, they met up with Master of Sustainability student Sydney McIntyre, who introduced them to the iNaturalist app and demonstrated how Niagara Parks is encouraging members of the Niagara community to use the app to catalogue different plant and animal species in the region. The students used the app to participate in a mini bio-blitz, where they took photos and logged various species around Gonder’s Flats, which assists in growing NPC’s species database. The students then participated in a tree planting initiative in the area to increase biodiversity in the wetland.

    Dr. Jessica Blythe reflected “We often hear from students that these experiential education opportunities are some of the most memorable experiences of their program. Being able to connect directly with people in the fields that many of our students go on to work in provides an unrivalled opportunities for learning and networking”.

    Categories: Blog, Experiential Education, Minor in Sustainability, SSAS Program

  • Starting my time at Brock with an adventure

    Blog Contributor: Hannah Lübker

    Artwork Credit: Rachel Derrah (

    During my second week of the SSCI programme, my supervisor Dr. Julia Baird and I flew to New Brunswick to attend the annual Wələstəq/ Saint-Jean/ St. John River Summit.

    After an extended breakfast with our colleagues from WWF-Canada, with whom we are collaborating in a partnership for freshwater resilience, we went on a little road trip along the river. I was very excited to finally see the river that my research will be centered around – it is beautiful in pictures, but truly stunning in person. As we drove through the countryside, we took breaks to take in the scenery, buy handmade pottery, or drink tea at a village bakery. As someone who is new to Canada, I was quite surprised by the friendly and talkative nature of the people we met, who showed interest in our project and immediately recommended people we should contact to talk about it.

    The summit began on Friday morning at the Nashwaak Meadows Centre for Ecology, which consists of two cozy barns, surrounded by nature. The event kicked off with a welcome from Simon Mitchell (leader of WWF-Canada’s Resilient Habitats team), who stressed that the UN Decade of Restoration should not only focus on ecological restoration, but on the restoration of language, culture, and relationships as well. Before we got too comfortable and sleepy in our chairs, we were led to the Nashwaak Meadows restoration site, to experience the restoration efforts, instead of just hearing about them. I really enjoyed this part, as it reminded me of the practical “getting your hands dirty” spirit of my undergraduate studies. There is something so satisfying about being in nature and seeing the tangible results of your work (for example the growth of the trees you planted), which is sometimes missing from my life in academia.

    The summit continued with presentations from the Canadian Rivers Institute, the Nashwaak Watershed Association, ACAP Saint John, the NB Invasive Species Council, WWF-Canada, and members of the Wolastoqey Nation in NB. While it was fascinating to learn about barriers to re-forestation on wetlands, how to identify invasive zebra mussels or how the indigenous value system applies to restoration, my favorite aspect of the summit was the atmosphere. The prolonged coffee and lunch breaks offered plenty of opportunities for informal conversation (and an impressive selection of food and drinks) and people were generally approachable, interested and kind.

    Unfortunately, our travels were cut short by an approaching hurricane, which lead to the cancellation of all summit activities on Saturday, and to us opting for an early-but-safe return home. Needless to say, I am already planning my return to New Brunswick to explore more places along the Wələstəq and connect to even more future friends and colleagues in the area.

    Why do we use the name Wələstəq? Visit if you’re interested in learning more about this.

    Categories: Applied Research, Blog, Conferences, SSCI Student Contributor

  • Master of Sustainability Students Engage in Co-op Work Across the Niagara Region

    Every Spring/Summer term, students in Scheme A of the Master of Sustainability program take the skills and knowledge gained in the classroom out into the field as they begin their co-op work terms. This year, six SSAS students have secured employment across the Niagara Region and GTA. We caught up with two of our students, Kassie Burns and Evan Rodenburg, and spoke to them about their co-op experiences thus far.

    Master of Sustainability student Kassie Burns.

    Kassie Burns is working for the Niagara Parks Commission as an Environmental Stewardship Student Labourer. Kassie is part of the Environmental Stewardship Team at NPC, which works toward creating a healthy environment along the Niagara River Corridor. Some of the main tasks she’s worked on concern invasive species management and tree planting. In addition to these activities, Kassie has participated in community outreach projects to help deliver educational programming, communications, and demonstrations.

    When asked about how her first year in the SSAS program has contributed to her success in her co-op job, Kassie responded “My course work in the Master of Sustainability program has significantly contributed to the success I have experienced thus far in my co-op role. I regularly use the skills and knowledge I gained from my studies, particularly from Landscape Ecology and Ecosystem Management (SSAS 5P13) utilizing geospatial technologies and project planning and management in Problem Solving in the Environment (SSAS 5P03)”.

    Master of Sustainability student Evan Rodenburg

    Evan Rodenburg is working for Brock University as a Sustainability Data Analyst. In this role, Evan has been tasked with overseeing and collecting data for Brock University’s annual STARS assessment. STARS (the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System) is a platform that is used by higher education institutions to measure and track sustainability across the entire campus.

    Evan also spoke about feeling prepared for his role in part due to the coursework he completed in his first year of the SSAS program, “It was through this classroom learning that I began to understand the intricacies of sustainability and how transferable it is to any and all fields.  It was this understanding that helped with my comprehension of the highly extensive assessment framework I am currently working with. In addition, the consultancy project we worked on in SSAS 5P03 introduced me to STARS which was highly beneficial for the transition into my co-op job.”

    As Kassie and Evan prepare to enter their second year of the SSAS program, they are beginning to consider their careers and both have found that their co-op positions have helped them consider what they will bring to their careers. When asked what lessons they’ve learned that they hope to bring to their future jobs, Evan reflected on his experience working as part of a team “Your working environment matters when pursuing a career. I currently work with a supportive and collaborative team, which has been instrumental to my learning. This is something that I would hope to have in my future career”.

    Kassie spoke of opportunities she’s had in her co-op role when asked about lessons from her current role that she’d like to bring into her career, “[I’ve learned that] balance can exist with theory and practice. I have been privileged to attend different workshops/seminars in my role to learn different management techniques and bring them into use on the job. It highlights the positive action that can come with effective communication, collaboration, and willingness to learn/adapt.”.

    Kassie and Evan also both spoke highly of the co-op experience overall, both in terms of preparedness for their future careers and in terms of applying their knowledge. When asked how their co-op roles have enriched their understanding of sustainability, both agreed that their respective roles have taught them a lot in different areas of sustainability. Kassie spoke about her new knowledge about the maintenance of healthy shorelines to the Niagara River, as this “helps recover native species and increase biodiversity to the area while maintaining cultural and economic benefits to the public, tourists, and its residents”. Evan also spoke about applications of sustainability in his role, “I can say that I have learned so much about sustainability in this role. Working on a campus wide assessment has opened my eyes to more avenues of sustainability aside from solely operations, emissions, etc. I began to understand how important wellbeing, engagement, equity, diversity etc. is to developing sustainability as a whole”.

    We are thrilled to see our students thriving in their respective workplaces, and look forward to hearing more from each of our students when they return to begin their second year in the SSAS program!

    To learn more about the Master of Sustainabiltiy Program please visit: 

    Categories: Blog, Co-Op

  • Congratulations to the Spring Class of 2023!

    Top row L-R: Kamran Abbasov, Kelly Bute-Seaton, Alexandra Cotrufo, Tasha Gunasinghe Middle row L-R: Kristin Palilionis, Lauren Patterson, Shannon Ruzgys, Tannaz Sattar Bottom row L-R: Savannah Stuart, Tyler Thomson

    On June 12, 2023, 10 students will officially graduate from the Master of Sustainability program at Brock University! Each of these students joined the program at various points throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and have shown incredible resilience and tenacity throughout their studies. On behalf of the ESRC, we are thrilled to have been a part of each of their academic journeys and cannot wait to see all that these students accomplish in their careers!

    Kamran Abbasov joined the SSAS program, virtually, from Ganja, Azerbaijan in Fall 2020. He later relocated to St. Catharines in Winter 2021 to continue his thesis research under the supervision of Dr. David Fennell. Kamran’s research was titled Income “Inequality, Distributive Justice, and Sustainable Development: Implications for Niagara Peninsula Aspiring Global Geopark”. He successfully defended his research on January 24, 2023, and later presented his findings alongside Niagara Aspiring Geopark Founder Darren Platakis at the Government of Canada’s International Development Week in February.

    Kelly Bute-Seaton joined the program from Trinidad & Tobago in 2021. Prior to joining the program, Kelly received degrees in Biological Sciences and Business Administration, both of which informed her Master’s research. Kelly’s major research paper was supervised by Dr. Todd Green and was titled “An Assessment of Best Practices of Corporate Sustainability Strategies in Canadian SMEs [Small Medium Enterprises]”.

    Alexandra Cotrufo joined the program in 2021 and worked as a research assistant with the Charter with Facilities Management partnership. During her time as an RA, Alexandra was the successful co-recipient of a WWF Go Wild Grant with fellow SSAS student Madison Lepp. Alexandra and Madison used these funds to start the Brock University Seed Library, which was an incredibly successful initiative for the university. Alexandra’s research was also supervised by Dr. Todd Green and was titled “The Risk of Greenwashing in Corporate Social Responsibility Communications”.

    Tasha Gunasinghe joined the program in 2021 with a background in Biology. Her knowledge in the field served her well as she completed her major research paper under the supervision of Dr. Liette Vasseur. Tasha’s MRP was titled “Exploring Collaborative Frameworks to Assess and Monitor Conservation Outcomes of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas”. During her time in the program, Tasha also completed a co-op placement as a research assistant with Plenty Canada, and now works for Plenty full-time as a Conservation Governance Researcher.

    Kristin Palilionis joined the program in 2021 and worked as an RA with Dr. Julia Baird on a project about Niagara Irrigation Governance. Dr. Baird supervised Kristin’s major research paper, which was titled “Assessment of Water Resilience Principles in Water Policies and Plans: Niagara Region”. During her time in the program, Kristin worked for the Regional Municipality of Halton as a Summer Sustainability Student and was named a co-recipient of the Geoffrey F. Bruce Fellowship in Canadian Freshwater Policy from Ryerson University. The fellowship is designed to support the next generation of freshwater leaders, policy researchers and practitioners to ensure the sustainability of Canada’s freshwater resources.

    Lauren Patterson joined the program in 2021 with a background in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. This knowledge was helpful during her time as a research assistant for the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative. Lauren’s research was supervised by Dr. Jessica Blythe and was titled “Evaluating Public Participation in Canadian Municipal Climate Change Adaptation Plans”. Lauren’s research informed her co-op position as a Sustainability Student with the Town of Lincoln, and later her full-time position with the Halton Region as the Climate Change Response and Sustainability Intern.

    Shannon Ruzgys joined the program in 2020 after completing her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Brock. Dr. Gary Pickering supervised Shannon’s undergraduate thesis and continued to supervise her at the master’s level. Her thesis was titled “Gen Z and Sustainable Diets: A Holistic Perspective. Understanding Perceptions of and Engagement with the Social, Economic and Environmental Dimensions of a Sustainable Diet”. In 2022, Shannon was the recipient of the Best Poster award at the New Zealand and Australian Sensory & Consumer Science Symposium for a poster based on her thesis research, which was later successfully defended by Shannon on October 24, 2022.

    Tannaz Sattar joined the program in 2021 from Esfahan, Iran with a BSc. and an MSc. In Architecture. Her academic background was helpful in securing a co-op position with Agile Construction Inc. as a Drafter/Designer, and informed her major research paper, which was titled “Examining Types and Performance of Urban Green Space: Case Studies of Toronto, Milan, and Isfahan” and supervised by Dr. Ryan Plummer. In 2022, Tannaz was named a recipient of the Faculty of Social Sciences Student Research Award and presented her MRP at the annual FOSS Research Colloquium in December 2022.

    Savannah Stuart joined the program in 2020 with a background in Environmental Science and Ecology. Like fellow graduate Lauren Patterson, Savannah worked as a Research Assistant with the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative and this partnership became the basis of her thesis research. Savannah’s thesis was supervised by Dr. Ryan Plummer and was titled “Exploring people-place relationships through place attachment and wellbeing in the context of the abrupt social and ecological change associated with the COVID-19 pandemic”. She successfully defended this research on August 31, 2022 and has since began her PhD studies at the University of Waterloo.

    Tyler Thomson joined the program in 2021 from Western University with a background in Business Management. He worked as a research assistant for the ESRC’s partnership with the Town of Lincoln, the Brock-Lincoln Living Lab and later took on a co-op position with the Regional Municipality of Niagara. Tyler’s MRP research was supervised by Dr. Marilyne Carrey and was titled “Urban forest management planning: A case study of municipalities in Southern Ontario”.

    In addition to our 10 SSAS graduates, we’d also like to offer our sincere congratulations to the 10 undergraduate students who will be graduating with a Minor in Environmental Sustainability: Jared Boles, Allegra Caballero, Olivia Davies, Joseph Evans, Lily Piccolo, Meghan Rados, Emma Smith, Claire Taller, Easton Thibeault, and Holly Warren.

    Congratulations to all of these students, and best wishes to all of you in your future academic endeavours!

    Categories: Blog, Minor in Sustainability, SSAS Program

  • Reflecting on my First Year Experience

    Blog Contributor: Natalie Seniuk

    In the fall of 2022, I stepped away from my career as an environmental planner and project manager to pursue a graduate degree. When I found the Master’s of Sustainability Science and Society program at Brock, I knew it was the fit I had been looking for: a program focused on sustainability and climate change but through a social sciences lens. Beyond the academic fit, Brock is also my hometown university, and I am the second generation in my family to attend, following in the footsteps of the women in my family.

    Coming into the program as a mature student with a background in the environmental field, I didn’t know what exactly I would be adding to my knowledge bank. To say I have learned new things during this past year would be an understatement. Beyond acquiring new knowledge, I have been challenged to think in a new way: to dig deeper and question the potential impacts of sustainability and climate actions when value isn’t placed on the interconnectedness of the social and natural systems we live within. Having access to research, knowledge, and perspectives that are generally inaccessible outside of academic environments has reminded me of all that is happening, not just in industry, but in knowledge development and research. Working to further connect these two worlds is where I see myself applying my education when I complete my thesis next year.

    As a mature student and parent to a tiny person, it was a challenging first year. Needing to juggle academic and parental responsibilities felt overwhelming at times and making choices to step back from participating in things at school and home often felt like a sacrifice. Looking back, I recognize the benefits of having a full academic and personal life at the same time, it just looks a little different than it did when it was only me. With the support of my family, and faculty and staff at the university I have been able to achieve so much…and with my second year approaching, I am looking forward to new opportunities that I’m sure will continue to challenge me both academically and personally.

    This coming year, I am hoping to make a trip out of province to support my thesis project, and will be participating a graduate student experiential learning program through the university of Guelph.

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

  • Survive and Thrive: Advice to my First-Year-PhD-self

    Blog Contributor: Norievill España

    Venturing outside of your comfort zone is said to be where the magic happens, and as an international student at Brock University, I can attest to this firsthand. It was a challenging journey, from complying with university requirements and immigration regulations to adjusting to a new environment, yet it was a period of tremendous growth and discovery! As I reflect on my first year, here are a few valuable pieces of advice I wish to offer my former self.

    Keep in mind the 3Cs

    The opportunity for learning is boundless, but so is the fear of the unknown. Embrace collaboration, communication, and cooperation to overcome obstacles. You are fortunate to learn this valuable lesson through the research assistantship with the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative, coursework, and networking with community partners and peers from outside the university. You will appreciate the value of building strong relationships, working towards common goals, and embracing diverse perspectives. Experiential learning will bring you an immense sense of fulfillment. Acknowledging that you don’t know everything and being humble is vital to the learning process. You’ll find constant support from your Environmental Sustainability Research Centre family, and you’ll never feel alone with a team that has your back.

    Self-management is the key

    You’ll come across an interesting perspective on time management that will shift your thinking. Remember that time is a constant and cannot be managed, but we can manage ourselves and our actions within the time we have. Shift your focus from busyness to intentionality and use your time effectively. Doing so lets you take ownership of your actions and avoid frustration over unfinished tasks. Remember that stepping away from busyness doesn’t necessarily mean being less productive.

    Strive for work-life harmony

    While work is important, it is equally important to take time to reconnect with yourself. Make sure to rest, turn off your computer, stretch, prepare and enjoy proper meals, meditate, and get enough sleep. These activities can help reduce stress and improve productivity when you return to work. Take time to unplug, go outside for fresh air, or watch that movie!

    Your adviser is your ally

    Regular check-in with your adviser is instrumental in keeping you on track with your research, providing constructive feedback on your work, and offering guidance in overcoming challenges. Establish a strong relationship with your adviser that is based on trust and mutual respect.

    Family and friends: your best source of positive energy

    Connect with your strongest support system, your family and friends, who are deeply committed to your happiness and success. They will keep you grounded, focused, and motivated.  They are always ready to lend a hand and an ear, offering fresh perspectives even if they don’t always understand your ramblings. Keep these people close and celebrate small or big wins with them.

    Remember your whys

    As part of the inaugural cohort in the PhD Sustainability Science program, you may experience moments of pressure and feel overwhelmed. Moving from natural to social science can be a challenge, but it’s important to remind yourself of the positive reasons why you started this journey. Your passion for helping vulnerable communities, learning the art of science communication, and the dream of creating a better and sustainable world is what drives you forward (and let’s not forget that you’re rooting for The Ministry for the Future!).

    Finally, stay persistent

    Remember that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Take it one step at a time, trust the process, and keep moving forward. It’s important to celebrate your progress, such as completing two semesters, and pat yourself on the back. As you continue on the next loops, hold that torch of motivation burning brightly to inspire others.  Always be excited and slightly terrified, and keep your eyes on the finish line!

    Categories: Blog, Program Reflections, Student Contributor

  • Reflecting on My First Year in the SSAS Program

    Blog Contributor: Sydney McIntyre

    Does time really fly when you’re having fun? I can confirm that indeed, it does. As this semester comes to an end, it is now time to reflect on my first year in the masters of sustainability program at Brock. I think specifically this year, our cohort was special because it was the first time in three years that school felt like school. Face to face learning, real time discussions and simply being able to laugh in person with  friends and colleagues was very special (and something I will never take for granted ever again!). I am so thankful that I got to have my first year back in class in the SSAS program! It’s hard to believe that it has been 8 months since I started my graduate degree and am quickly approaching my co-op work term this summer, followed by my MRP completion this coming fall.

    I would first like to address the relationships I have built with all faculty and students over the past 8 months. Since the very first day of orientation, the SSAS program surpassed all my expectations. I think I can speak for my entire cohort when saying the faculty are so welcoming and truly make you feel as though someone is always in your corner, consistently cheering you on. Every single professor went above and beyond their duties; making sure content was thought-provoking, communicating and critiquing when appropriate, as well as always ensuring our well-being was put first.

    In addition to my professors, my peers quickly became a huge part of my graduate experience as I built wonderful, life-time friendships that I will forever cherish. Everyone in my cohort came from different educational backgrounds with overall different academic interests; however, this brought forward so many diverse perspectives and insightful knowledge that I don’t think can be taught from reading books or listening to lectures.

    This brings me into my understanding and perspectives on sustainability science, and how they have changed since my first day in September. I went into this program with a heavy science background, a love for conservation, and general interest in saving the environment; and thought “yeah that sums up sustainability science”. Was I ever wrong! Although this program is perfect for my interests, it is also so much more. I have learned exactly what it means to really think like a sustainability scientist and widen my perspectives when looking to address the world’s most complex challenges; examples being incorporating social aspects, considering economic ties, and defending nature when it’s needed the most!

    The class content I received throughout my first year was like no other. There were field trips with community-partner collaborations, consistent discussions and idea sharing, as well as critical aspects such as presentations and forming mock climate action plans that really pushed for knowledge development. I think my favourite classes this year were SSAS 5P01 and SSAS 5P03. In 5P01: Foundations of Sustainability Science and Society, we were introduced to the main topics of sustainability. I really loved this class because Dr. Blythe and my fellow classmates really created a safe space for discussion, often bringing forward passionate opinions and encouraging active participation. Likewise, in 5P03: Problem Solving In the Environment, Dr. Plummer collaborated with Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) to create a collaborative project, in which all of us gained project management and consulting experience. This class was great because it gave us real-life work practice, but also established connections with professionals in the field of sustainability.

    Lastly, I think it is important to leave a note for potential future students thinking of entering the SSAS program – do it! If you have ever thought about contributing to real world problems and making a true difference, this program will bring you one step closer in achieving your goals. I was never someone who even thought about applying for my masters, however, here I am 8 months in with a brain full of sustainability expertise, irreplaceable friends, amazing experiences and ½ a master’s degree – all with zero regrets!

    Categories: Blog, Program Reflections, SSAS Student Contributor

  • ESRC Partners with Niagara Parks to host Bio Blitz Event

    This year, the ESRC began our Earth Day celebrations early by participating in a Bio Blitz held by the Niagara Parks Commission!

    On April 21st, students from Brock University, including several ESRC graduate students, participated in a Bio Blitz event co-hosted by the Niagara Parks Commission and the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre.

    A BioBlitz is an event that completes a biological survey of a specified area. On Friday, students from Brock University and the Niagara College School of Horticulture surveyed Dufferin Islands – a 10 acre stretch of small islands connected by bridges and footpaths located just a short walk from Horseshoe Falls. BioBlitz events are becoming increasingly popular, as they promote citizen science, engage the public and produce important species inventories. The goal for this event was to add to the catalogue of invasive species in Dufferin Islands using geolocation, and to help monitor biodiversity in the area. Using the catalogue, the Niagara Parks Commission Forestry team will be able to go into the area and safely remove invasive species.

    The event was a major success, with many of the experts and volunteers involved sharing positive feedback about the experience. Dr. Ryan Plummer, ESRC Director, spoke highly of the partnership between the ESRC and the Niagara Parks Commission and having the ability to involve students in these initiatives, “the Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Initiative was the preeminent partnership between brock and the NPC. The importance of managing invasive species was highlighted and a comprehensive program was developed during this academic year. Having 50 students, staff and faculty join together to make it actionable was magic”.

    Shannon Heaney, a current Master of Sustainability student who is conducting research about invasive species in Niagara Parks also spoke highly of the initiative as it was successful in identifying invasive species and also provided an educational experience for everyone involved. Shannon added that “continuing these events in the future will help support the success of the Invasive Species Program and will engage and educate those involved about the impact of invasive species”.  Corey Burant, Project Manager for Forest Health with the Niagara Parks Commission echoed Shannon’s comments on the importance of the event, “This real-time data is critical for the ongoing management and prevention of invasive species populations within Niagara Parks. The event showed how easy and effective the iNaturalist app is to inventory invasive species, in which Niagara Parks hopes to expand across the park for all plant and animal species”.

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

  • My First Year in the SSAS Program

    Blog Contributor: Sanjida Amin

    I still remember the sense of gratification I felt when I accepted the offer letter from Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS). I was looking forward to learning and enhancing my knowledge of sustainability while studying with a bunch of my peers from around the world. As an international student, I was nervous about moving across the globe and attempting to fit into the classroom of sustainability which is one of the most diverse classrooms in the entire world. However, I had no time to worry once my experience at SSAS started. I was able to find my groove and build my confidence with the help of my awesome supervisor, encouraging peer group, amazing faculty members and the supportive administration. It’s hard to imagine that I joined the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) programme only a few months ago and now I am almost done with my first year.  I must say that time surely flies! Since taking that very first class, I have learned a lot about sustainability, encountered with some amazing individuals, made some life-long memories, achieved valuable work experience, and successfully submitted my thesis proposal. Throughout this blog, I will be sharing my experiences which I have gathered through the completion of my first year of the program here at Brock.

    First and second term:

    I am in the thesis scheme and I had to take four courses in total throughout the academic year. The design of the SSAS masters course are truly appreciated since all those courses cover a variety of topics including basic sustainability concepts to research methodology. SSAS 5P01: Foundations of Sustainability Science and Society was one of my favourite classes which introduced the core ideas of sustainability science and society. I also really enjoyed SSAS 5P02: Methods for Environmental Inquiry since it provided me with opportunity to learn about the methods of research and explore my research methodology ideas, particularly in the context of sustainability science. SSAS 5P04: Transdisciplinary Seminar course was very helpful for me because every seminar discussion was full of relevant knowledge, information and practical experiences which illustrated the transition period along with the challenges and opportunities to become a sustainability graduate throughout the whole journey. I had another interesting course namely SSAS: 5P80 Directed Study which was taken under the direct supervision of my supervisor, specifically to explore the previous literature and to accumulate the knowledge in the field of my research areas. All of these courses provided me with a deeper understanding of the diversified dimensions of sustainability science and really highlighted the programme’s goal to be transdisciplinary.

    My thesis and research proposal presentation:

    Understanding my research interests and working on my thesis proposal took up a significant portion of my first year in the graduate program. My research is on “Predicting Consumers’ Sustainable Food Consumption Behaviour”. This proposal presentation session was the most interesting component of my SSAS masters journey. We the students from SSAS, 2022 cohort shared our preliminary research (Thesis/MRP) proposals and research ideas with the audience in the area of sustainability. I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation for this proposal presenting session, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. Finally, after getting valuable feedback and great compliments from my peers, supervisors and faculty members, I felt relaxed. It was extremely impressive to see how faculty members, supervisors, former students, and ESRC staff members attended and took an interest in each issue that was discussed. I am grateful to my supervisor Dr. Todd Green to be extremely supportive, to motivate me to present my research proposal in a room full of scholars and to guide me to the right direction throughout my journey. Throughout my first year, I have come to realize how much I enjoy doing research. I am looking forward to finishing my thesis with some outstanding findings. I can’t wait to take on the challenge of research, even though it offers its unique set of challenges and I still have a lot to learn.

    Research Assistantship position:

    I have worked as a Research Assistant for The Brock University Project Charter in addition to taking classes and doing my thesis for this year. I have got an excellent team in this project to work with whom I developed social media contents, wrote blog posts, hosted multiple events, submitted data for Times Higher Impact Ranking, and worked on several initiatives to advance sustainability and awareness around the campus. Moreover, I worked on promoting, measuring and tracking the social media platforms for the Sustainability at Brock initiative as a part of this. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Amanda Smits, Madison Lepp, Alexandra Cotrufo and Kassie Burns for their immense support and kindness while working for the project.

    People and Relationships:

    Last but not least, the relationships I have made with my cohorts, faculty members, my supervisor and administrative staffs here at the SSAS have been the most favourite part of this academic year. I have gathered a bunch of wonderful memories while studying, working, discussing and enjoying time with these amazing people of the SSAS program at Brock. I have had the pleasure of working with some of the loveliest people who are all passionately committed to advancing sustainability and making a positive difference for the environment. Each and every individual I have met through this programme has taught me something new, motivated me through their kind words and supported me in every single way. Coming abroad for study, moving away from home country for the first time, adjusting to new weather, copying with new academic, cultural and social challenges, and getting used to the unknown surroundings was not an easy journey for me initially. However, with the help and support of this people mentioned above, I made it to increase confidence and courage beyond my imagination. Wherever I will be, I believe that the strong bonding I have established with this group will stay with me for the rest of my life. I would love to cherish all these memories forever!

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