Articles by author: Samantha Morris

  • Social Sciences event to showcase faculty, student research 

    From lake bottom sediment to digital data, from hockey to health care, and from local actions to global implications, there’s no shortage of impactful research being done in Brock University’s Faculty of Social Sciences (FOSS).

    The University community is invited to hear about some of the compelling projects underway by faculty and students during the upcoming Social Sciences Research Colloquium taking place online Wednesday, Dec. 9 from 1 to 4 p.m.

    This annual event recognizes the outstanding achievements of FOSS researchers and gives award recipients an opportunity to present their findings to the Brock community and wider public.

    This year’s virtual colloquium will feature recent recipients of FOSS faculty awards that recognize consistent records of outstanding research achievements as reflected in the quality and quantity of refereed publications, grants awards and other research activities.

    Featured recipients include Michael Pisaric, Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies, who received the 2019 Distinguished Researcher award; Assistant Professor Karen Louise Smith from the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film, who received the 2019 Untenured Researcher of the Year award; and Nicole Goodman, now Associate Professor of Political Science, who received the Untenured Researcher of the Year award in 2018, but was unavailable to present until this year.

    In addition to faculty members, three winners of the Social Sciences Student Research Award were selected to present, including Pulkit Garg, who is pursuing a Master of Sustainability supervised by Professor of Biology Liette Vasseur; Jessica Falk, a Master of Arts candidate in Social Justice and Equity Studies, who is supervised by Margot Francis, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; and Master of Arts candidate in Critical Sociology Appiah Bonsu, who is supervised by Associate Professor of Sociology Trent Newmeyer.

    This is the second Research Colloquium to showcase FOSS student researchers alongside faculty award winners. Combined, faculty and student presentations represent six FOSS departments.

    Winners of the 2020 FOSS faculty awards will be announced at the Research Colloquium, providing a preview of next year’s event.

    All are welcome to attend the free online event. For more information, including the draft agenda and login instructions, please visit the Research Colloquium website.

    What: Social Sciences Research Colloquium
    When: Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 from 1 to 4 p.m.
    Where: Lifesize
    Who: This webinar is free and open to the public.

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Geography and Tourism Studies Adjunct Professor named to the Order of Canada

    FROM THE BROCK NEWSTUESDAY, DECEMBER 01, 2020 | by

    A man well known to the Brock University community — and to the world for his critical climate change work — has received one of the country’s highest honours.

    Brock alumnus David Grimes (BSc ’75) was named to the Order of Canada on Friday, Nov. 27. He was recognized for his outstanding leadership in meteorology and for his pioneering development of a global strategy on climate change and disaster-risk preparedness.

    Grimes was the first Canadian to serve as President of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations agency that co-ordinates international efforts to better understand the planet’s pressing weather, water and climate issues. He served two terms in the lead role from 2011 to 2019.

    He was among 114 appointments to the Order of Canada announced by Governor-General Julie Payette last week. Also receiving the honour was John Peller, a leader in Canada’s wine industry and a long-time supporter of Brock University.

    The Order of Canada recognizes Canadians whose service shapes society, whose innovations ignite imaginations and whose compassion unites communities.

    During his time at Brock, Grimes studied mathematics, and nuclear and quantum physics, ultimately graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Physics.

    Upon graduation, he joined Environment Canada, where he trained as a meteorologist and spent more than four decades fulfilling policy and management assignments. He also served as Assistant Deputy Minister and head of Environment Canada’s Meteorological Service from 2006 to 2019.

    Grimes was previously honoured by Brock, receiving the University’s Alumni of Distinction Award in 2012 and the Faculty of Mathematics and Science Distinguished Graduate Award in 2016.

    “I am very pleased to hear that David Grimes has been named to the Order of Canada,” said Ejaz Ahmed, Dean of Brock’s Faculty of Mathematics and Science. “It is a well-deserved honour.”

    “We are very proud of David’s unparalleled contributions to science and society.”

    Recipients of the Order of Canada will be invited to accept their awards at a ceremony to be held at a later date.

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Co-op grads reach next steps despite pandemic challenges

    As a storm of uncertainty churned around them, two recent Brock grads used skills from their co-op studies to stay on course.

    Michelle Pearce and Yunzhuo (Sebastian) Wang knew their enrolment in Brock’s Co-op Education program would give them a leg up when it came to pursuing their goals, but they could not have imagined how much that experience would help them stay on track in the economic uncertainty that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Wang, who graduated with his Master of Business Administration during Brock’s Fall Convocation on Friday, Oct. 16, came to the University with his sights set on a career in finance. After completing the in-class portion of his education, the Xi’an, China, native began a co-op work term at Meridian Credit Union as a financial planning and analysis analyst.

    Many hours of interview preparation, resumé review and further acclimation to the Canadian job market with co-op’s talent performance consultants helped Wang to secure the role.

    Brock student Michelle Pearce

    Michelle Pearce used her co-op studies to gain experience in the environmental job sector and figure out which graduate program to apply for.

    “I didn’t have any Canadian work experience, and co-op let me get my foot in the workplace door,” he said.

    When physical distancing regulations shut many businesses, Wang, 26, was able to continue his work remotely and ultimately earn a full-time job with the organization.

    “The work term was the perfect way for me to learn about Meridian and get to know people there,” he said. “My preparation and the lessons I received from the co-op team made it much more straightforward to secure a full-time role in my field at a time when it was tougher to do so.”

    In addition to the job he accepted, Wang also received offers from two other financial firms, a sign, he said, that co-op students are more in-demand due to their readiness to tackle and adapt to a variety of situations.

    While Wang focused on the financial industry, Pearce, of Guelph, concentrated on the environmental sector. The 22-year-old Geography graduate, who received her bachelor’s degree Friday, completed her work terms with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency as a horticulture and forestry survey student.

    While there, she began to explore and interact with various environmental roles she saw as potential paths for her future.

    “Seeing the different jobs available helped me to realize how much I liked working in an environmental setting and to figure out which master’s program I would need to complete to make that possible,” Pearce said. She ultimately was accepted to Brock’s Master of Earth Sciences program.

    The pandemic affected Pierce’s final undergraduate work term, although she too said the lessons she learned from the University’s Co-op Education team are beneficial going forward.

    “The co-op team taught me how to prepare for and be flexible in the tasks and timelines I faced during my work term this summer, and how to comply with new distancing guidelines. It all helped me to settle more easily into my master’s studies this fall,” she said.

    Despite significant global change, the pair were happy to mark Brock’s Virtual Convocation and celebrate what they have achieved so far.

    “It was sad to not be there in person, but my mom and I watched together, and I am looking forward to joining with my classmates to celebrate when restrictions are lifted,” said Pearce.

    “I celebrated with a few friends, and I will share the stream with my family back home as well,” said Wang.

    As both grads return to the tasks and assignments of the fall, each emphasized the role co-op has played in their lives, especially during such a tumultuous few months.

    Co-op helped me to figure out where I wanted to go and how to get there even when the world was changing,” said Pearce.

    “The service from co-op is second to none,” said Wang. “I’m so relieved that I have been able to secure a full-time job in my field and I could not have done that without the support of the entire co-op team.”

    To learn more about Brock’s Co-op Education opportunities, visit the Co-op website.

    Story reposted from The Brock News

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  • New research looks at how a new water paradigm is defined and used in literature

    In a new paper titled “The emerging scientific water paradigm: Precursors, hallmarks, and trajectories“, ESRC/GeoTour prof Dr. Julia Baird and co-authors explore how two interpretations of a new water paradigm are defined and used, and overlap in the literature.

    Abstract

    Increasing scholarship has focused on a shift in scientific water paradigm in the 21st century from an understanding of water systems as stationary, predictable and command‐and‐control as appropriate governance to an understanding of them as complex, dynamic, and uncertain. This shift has been characterized in several ways. We focused on two prominent characterizations: as a “new water paradigm” and as “water resilience.” We identified the defining hallmarks of each, the “precursor” scholarship upon which these Defining Works build, and how the Defining Works have been advanced with “Subsequent Works” that cite them. We used bibliometric data to analyze the three bodies of literature and inductive coding to identify the hallmarks of the new water paradigm and water resilience from Defining Works. Four categories of hallmarks were identified that describe the emerging scientific water paradigm: complex adaptive systems orientation; governance and management configurations, which are inclusive, integrative, adaptive; governance and management actions that emphasize linkages between social and ecological systems and imperative of sustainability; and, attributes of diversity, redundancy and openness. There was insufficient evidence in fields of research, author country, and publishing journals to confirm that the emerging scientific water paradigm has been conceptualized in two distinct ways. Despite the degree of similarity between the two conceptualizations, the literature is strongly oriented toward one or the other. We suggest consilience between these two conceptualizations and scholars working with them to advance collective understanding of governance and management in light of our current understanding of water systems.

    Reference

    Baird, J., Plummer, R., Dale, G., Kapeller, B., Mallette, A., Feist, A., and Kataoka A. (2020). The emerging scientific water paradigm: Precursors, hallmarks, and trajectories. WIREs Water. Online: https://doi.org/10.1002/wat2.1489

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  • Brock community mourns the death of John McNeil

    The Brock University community is mourning the loss of John McNeil, who passed away Sunday, Aug. 2.

    Born in Motherwell, Scotland, McNeil played soccer professionally for many years before he attended the University of Edinburgh, where he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees before completing his PhD in Geography.

    An offer to teach at Brock in 1967 brought McNeil and his family to Canada. Brock, at the time, was the newest university in Canada, only opening its doors three years earlier. McNeil began his career at the University as an Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, on July 1, 1967. Six years later, he was promoted to Associate Professor, Department of Geography, and also served three appointments as Department Chair throughout his career.

    During his career, McNeil devoted helped reinforce Brock’s academic strengths during the University’s critical early years. Prior to retiring in 1998, his contributions included serving on Senate and the Board of Trustees, and also as Interim Dean of the School of Social Sciences.

    He was also instrumental in starting Brock’s soccer program, and was a part-time coach in an era when there were no coaching contracts and little funding to support a fledgling athletic program.

    A private family service will take place at a later date. Condolences and memories may be shared at pelhamfuneralhome.ca

    In lieu of flowers, a memorial tree can be planted in McNeil’s honour.

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Brock researcher awarded Fulbright Canada Research Chair

    Kevin Turner, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, has been awarded a Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Arctic Studies at the University of Washington.

    Next winter, Turner — who is also cross-appointed to the Department of Earth Sciences, an Associate Member of the Department of Biology and a Co-Founder of the Water and Environment Lab at Brock — is set to spend six months teaching and researching the impacts of climate change on northern landscapes, lakes, rivers and wetlands.

    “As land and water adjust to changes in climate, we are presented with many questions of urgent global concern, particularly to northern stakeholders,” says Turner. “Changing landscape components, such as permafrost thaw, will influence global carbon cycles and climate-warming greenhouse gases. This is a far-reaching concern.”

    The Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Arctic Studies recognizes Associate Professor Kevin Turner’s ongoing work in mapping Arctic lake and river responses to landscape disturbances caused by the changing climate, as shown in this photo he captured of a landslide due to thawing permafrost.

    Turner notes that there are also local concerns, including how landscape disturbance such as fire, landslides and lake drainage can affect water quality, ecology, infrastructure and travel. To address some of these issues, he will use the research component of the Chair position to “take inventory of the landscape changes and identify how they influence the hydrology and chemistry of lakes, rivers and wetlands.”

    “The research aims to enhance our knowledge of climate change impacts and feedbacks,” says Turner, who has been conducting fieldwork in northern Yukon for 14 years. “We do this by identifying linkages among landscape changes and lake and river biogeochemistry across the ecologically and culturally important landscapes of the Yukon River Basin.”

    The Fulbright Canada Research Chair also involves teaching for the University of Washington’s minor in Arctic Studies. Turner plans to share with students both remote sensing and field-based techniques for collecting landscape data, as well as teaching students how to analyze, synthesize and share their findings with broad audiences.

    Turner says he was honoured to be selected for the Fulbright Canada Research Chair.

    “There are several colleagues I look up to who have received it in the past,” he says. “I am grateful that I have this opportunity to extend my research program and collaborations across borders.”

    Turner is attracted to the University of Washington for several reasons, not the least of which is the chance to work more closely with colleagues whom he has met during his affiliation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Arctic-Boreal Monitoring Experiment.

    He also notes that the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, where the position will be homed, is a “leader in advancing the understanding of and engagement in world issues.”

    “Several researchers and dignitaries from Yukon participate at their various forums, including Dana Tizya-Tramm, Chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN; Old Crow, Yukon), who discussed impacts of climate change on Indigenous communities and their resilience during a meeting of the World Affairs Council,” says Turner. “The priorities of my research program have been guided by the vast knowledge that the VGFN have of their traditional territory and the observations they have made over generations.”

    Turner also has personal reasons to be excited about relocating to Seattle for the duration of the position.

    “As a past varsity rower, I’m interested in seeing where that 1936 crew came from on their way to gold in Germany,” Turner admits. “I should also mention that I’m a big fan of several musical artists who came from Seattle — top of the list would be Jimi Hendrix.”

    However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may interfere with Turner’s plans. The position is set to begin in January 2021, but a few pieces need to fall into place before then.

    “We are currently living in a world of virtual-communications and we are unsure of how this will change by the end of the year,” says Turner, adding that international visas were suspended by the U.S. Department of State until the end of 2020. “Fulbright is currently looking into these issues and will provide updates as they learn more. I have hope that things will change for the better as the new year approaches.”

    Turner also points out that “climate change will not pause for us, and there is a lot within that realm that we need to learn.”

    “Arctic and subarctic regions are undergoing climate warming at a rate twice above the global average, and changes in precipitation patterns occurring — less snow and more rain, for example — are having major impacts on these landscapes,” says Turner. “The processes that cause permafrost degradation are often triggered by warm and wet conditions, and since about a third of the world’s carbon is locked in permafrost, this has complex ramifications for the rest of the world.”

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Brock researcher receives national award for work on water governance

    Julia Baird is the recipient of the 2020 Water’s Next Award in the category of “People: Academic Leader.” The award was announced in June at the annual Canadian Water Summit, which was held virtually earlier this month.

    Baird, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) and the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, is a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Human Dimensions of Water Resources and Water Resilience. She was also nominated for the award in 2019.

    Baird, who runs the Water Resilience Lab out of ESRC, was grateful for the honour.

    “I especially appreciate this award because the Canadian Water Summit is a gathering place for Canadians working on water issues — a diverse group including government, academics, non-government organizations and industry,” Baird says. “It signals to me that my work is relevant beyond academia, and that is really important to me as a sustainability scientist.”

    Baird’s extensive research on the governance of water resources was recently in the spotlight during the virtual launch of a new partnership between World Wildlife Fund-Canada and the ESRC that will examine the ways in which flood planning is taking place around the St. John River Basin, located in New Brunswick, Québec and the American state of Maine.

    “The research is exciting because it will make important contributions to scholarship on watershed-based governance and climate change adaptation planning, and it also has immediate relevance for those in the basin,” says Baird.

    But, as Baird points out, the launch webinar also highlighted the pressing issue of a lack of co-ordination amongst stakeholders — an issue she believes requires urgent attention.

    “Water governance and specific issues like flood planning are not usually highly co-ordinated across administrative boundaries, but water doesn’t respect our administrative boundaries,” Baird says. “There are benefits, including efficiency, innovation and greater effectiveness, if decision-making and direction-setting occur in co-ordination or collaboration with others in the watershed.”

    Alongside her work on the St. John River Basin, Baird is engaged in another endeavour with colleagues from Brock to examine how and why people think about resilience when it comes to water resources.

    Early findings have shown that it is possible to “predict the extent to which individuals align with a resilience perspective based on some key differences, including age, empathy, openness and optimism about the future.”

    “This builds our understanding of how close — or far — those in society are to agreeing with and believing in the importance of governing using resilience principles, such as emphasizing broad participation in governance, supporting learning and experimentation, and recognizing the importance of connectivity,” says Baird, noting that although this work began as a single project, it is expanding into its own program of research.

    “The argument is that we need a resilience perspective because it acknowledges how the world works — its complexity, its dynamic nature, and its uncertainty,” Baird explains. “When we view the world with this lens, new possibilities for how we govern it open up.”

    Baird says that the work will soon move toward using the initial findings of the project to influence mindsets more broadly to encourage a resilience perspective.

    “Shifting mindsets is one of the most powerful levers we have for change,” says Baird. “I think there’s a lot of potential for positive action as a result of this research.”

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Brock expert says decisive action required to make post-COVID-19 tourism sustainable

    What will post-pandemic tourism look like?

    A Brock University tourism expert believes COVID-19 is an opportunity to “reset tourism along the lines of sustainability, if our country, and the world, make massive changes in order to be more integrative and resilient.”

    The federal government designated $4.5 million from the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund for Niagara Falls Tourism over the weekend, with an eye on marketing to domestic travellers as a response to a drop in international visitors.

    “With the potential to lose 50 per cent or more of tourism revenue this year because of COVID-19, marketing and promotion has to be one of the solutions to the problem, so it’s great to see Niagara Falls receive $4.5 million to get the ball rolling,” says David Fennell, a Professor in Brock’s Department of Geography and Tourism Studies. “We see how important Niagara Falls is as a major gateway community in Ontario and Canada, relative to other large urban centres such as Toronto, which received $7.9 million.”

    However, Fennell, who also serves as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Ecotourism, sees much bigger opportunities to strengthen tourism by improving the environmental sustainability around the industry, provided there is strong leadership and ample education.

    “For many, sustainability is just a term that gets in the way of economic benefit,” Fennell says. “However, increasingly — especially if we look at the actions of other countries — future success in tourism is being embedded in a sustainability agenda.”

    This is due in part to consumer demand, with travellers “now more than ever, demanding low-carbon options in accommodation and transportation, greener technologies, and other sustainability dimensions,” he says.

    Fennel suspects that even when international travel resumes on a larger scale, tourists may avoid popular destinations, partially because of the risks now associated with crowds, and partially because of what he anticipates will be a higher “social cost” associated with tourism.

    He notes that in Niagara, the mass tourism of Niagara Falls itself is contrasted by many other specialized attractions, such as wineries to art venues, which don’t always see the constant traffic of casinos and hotels and find it more difficult to rebound after a disaster. He suggests that with greater co-operation across the region, this might improve.

    “Getting sustainability right in our geopark is of considerable importance, because we feel it can be an excellent model for Ontario, Canada and the rest of the world,” Fennell says.

    He sees two possible scenarios that could result from efforts to build sustainability in tourism.

    One involves new technologies, policies, practices and knowledge around how people and organizations navigate the new realities. The second is business-as-usual, where “others are left holding the bag with all the negative socio-cultural, economic and environmental problems that go along with tourism.”

    “We often succumb to akrasia, or weakness of will, as tourists,” Fennell says. “Even though we know that Option A is the right or good course of action, we often choose Option B because it enhances our experience, even at the cost to something or someone else — like a ride on a donkey or elephant that has been severely abused.”

    For this reason, Fennell says, “educating tourists and the tourism industry on the impacts that we create from our travel is absolutely critical if we are to make the right changes.”

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Geography and Tourism Studies Chair receives Michael Plyley Graduate Student Mentorship Award

    The Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) has named the five recipients of the annual FGS Awards, which were delivered the news in a virtual format for the first time in the awards’ nine-year history.

    The awards, typically handed out at the Mapping the New Knowledges Graduate Student Conference in April, celebrate the accomplishments and excellence of members of Brock University’s graduate community.

    “Despite not being able to recognize our winners in-person at this time, handing out these awards is still an important and meaningful celebration of the outstanding graduate culture that Brock has worked hard to grow,” says Diane Dupont, Interim Dean of Graduate Studies. “Our winners have all greatly contributed to making Brock an excellent place to pursue graduate education.”

    Marilyn Rose Graduate Leadership Award

    The Marilyn Rose Graduate Leadership Award, which recognizes a faculty, staff and students for their work and leadership in developing and/or enhancing graduate studies and the graduate student experience for students, was presented to Rachel Yufei Luan.

    “To me, leadership is all about inspiring people,” says Luan, a second-year student in the master of Business Administration International Student Program. “It’s not only what you say you and do, but how you say and do it. People with good leadership skills can influence their community every day.”

    Michael Plyley Graduate Mentorship Award

    The Michael Plyley Graduate Student Mentorship Award normally awards two Faculty members for their outstanding mentorship of graduate students, one in the category or mentorship of only master’s students, and one in the category of mentorship of both master’s and PhD students. However, this year the adjudication committee was unanimous in their decision to name four award winners.

    Michael Pisaric, Professor in the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, and Karen Fricker, Associate Professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts, were awarded the Mentorship Award in the master’s only category.

    Pisaric says receiving the award was “easily one of the highlights of my career.”

    “When my students approached me about the nomination, I was touched that they thought of me in such regard as to nominate me. To actually receive the award, however, is humbling. Graduate students are at the heart of my research program. Without my amazing students, my research program would not be nearly as successful. We are creating the scientists and leaders of tomorrow ,and my goal is to ensure they are well prepared for whatever path they follow when they leave Brock.”

    Pisaric says one of the most important aspects of being a mentor to his students is cultivating a thoughtful and supportive experience for his students in the same way he received while he was a student.

    The award is equally as meaningful to Fricker, whose advice to other mentoring graduate students is to “seek out opportunities and giver ‘er. Such mentorship is one of the deepest rewards of academic life.”

    As there are currently no graduate programs in Dramatic Arts, the opportunity for Fricker to supervise graduate students is small. Working with her current student in the master of Arts in Popular Culture has been educational and helped her stay on her own theoretical and critical game.

    In the category of master’s and PhD students, the recipients of the awards were Madelyn Law and Miriam Richards.

    Law, Associate Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, was touched that her students thought highly enough of their experiences with her to nominate her for the award.

    “I don’t do things to win awards — I just always focus on improving the way I work with students based on listening and understanding their research and educational goals,” says Law. “Receiving this award has allowed me to see that this approach is appreciated and making a difference for these students lives, which is all I could ask for.”

    Richards, a Professor of Biological Sciences, said the award was a great boost during an uncertain time. She also comments that being a good mentor is as beneficial for her, as for her students.

    “Research and academia are challenging, fascinating and sometimes very difficult,” says Richards. “Research is a team activity and for science students, is basically an apprenticeship. It’s not really something you can do by yourself. Supervising grad students is one of the best things about my job.”

    When asked to provide advice and insight to others on effectively mentoring students, all winners felt similar in that there was no perfect recipe, but touted open communication, understanding and kindness.

    The full list of this year’s FGS Awards recipients are below.

    Marilyn Rose Graduate Leadership Award

    Rachel Yufei Luan

    Michael Plyley Graduate Mentorship Award

    Karen Fricker
    Michael Pisaric (Geography and Tourism Studies)
    Madelyn Law
    Miriam Richards

    Jack M. Miller Excellence in Research Awards (at least one recipient from each Faculty)

    Faculty of Applied Health Sciences

    Talia Ritondo, MA, Applied Health Sciences
    Nigel Kurgan, PhD, Applied Health Sciences

    Faculty of Education

    Monica Louie, MEd, Education
    Susan Docherty-Skippen, PhD, Education

    Goodman School of Business

    Ardalan Eyni, MSc, Management

    Faculty of Humanities

    Simone Mollard, MA, Classics
    Brett Robinson, PhD, Interdisciplinary Humanities

    Faculty of Mathematics and Science

    Scott Cocker, MSc, Earth Science
    Parisa Abbasi, PhD, Chemistry

    Faculty of Social Sciences

    Madeline Asaro, MA, Applied Disability Studies
    Megan Earle, PhD, Psychology

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • Brock students find alarming amounts of plastic in sand at St. Catharines beach

    A day at the beach doesn’t often involve lab work, but for a group of Brock University fourth-year Geography students tasked with assessing plastic waste on the shores of Lake Ontario last fall, it was just that.

    Back in October, students from Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Michael Pisaric’s GEOG 4P26 class visited Sunset Beach in north St. Catharines to measure the quantity of plastics turning up in the sand.

    Students measured out plots on the beach and sifted through the sand to collect as many tiny pieces of plastic as they could. They compiled their findings in lab reports for the end of the Fall Term.

    The results are now in, and they’re alarming.

    In one sample alone, one square metre of the beach yielded 665 individual pieces of plastic material.

    Pisaric called the amount and variety of plastics collected in the samples “striking.”

    “I think much of the discussion concerning plastics in the environment has been focused on the oceans and we are quickly understanding that plastic pollution is also an important issue closer to home in the Great Lakes,” said Pisaric, who is also Chair of the Geography and Tourism Studies Department. “This small study of a single beach on Lake Ontario clearly shows the prevalence of plastic pollution in our own backyard is a serious problem.”

    Emily Bowyer, a third-year student from Mississauga majoring in Geography and Biology who participated in the field collection, described it as “an opportunity to see the magnitude of the problems in the environment first-hand.”

    Another surprise to the team was the prevalence of nurdles — small plastic pellets used in the manufacture of many different goods.

    Investigation during the course uncovered a 2013 Toronto Star article that suggested nurdles may have made their way into Lake Ontario via the Humber River during a factory fire.

    “It is interesting to speculate that the prevalence of nurdles we noted in our samples may have originated on the other side of Lake Ontario,” Pisaric said.

    The professor plans to run a similar investigation when the course is offered again next fall to address some of the questions that cropped up in light of the results of the students’ labs.

    “Perhaps next time around I will have the students compare the beaches on Lake Ontario with a beach on Lake Erie,” he said. “Are similar quantities of plastics occurring in both areas? Do the types of plastic differ between the two lake environments?”

    Carolyn Finlayson, Experiential Education Co-ordinator for the Faculty of Social Sciences, attended the field trip and witnessed how interested casual beach visitors were in the students’ activities.

    “It’s a wonderful example of the larger impact experiential learning can have on our Niagara community and our students,” she said. “By working at the beach that day for their lab, students were able to start conversations with beachgoers about their use of plastic and its impact on the shorelines they enjoy.”

    Cara Krezek, Director of Co-op, Career and Experiential Education, said these were exactly the types of courses the University envisioned when it committed to expanding experiential learning so all students had access to meaningful experiences in their programs.

    “Courses like these take our students into a real-world setting and allow them to apply their knowledge, learn new skills and reflect on how they can take these experiences forward to a future career path,” Krezek said. “I am certain these students will never forget their findings and it will change the way they interact with plastics.”

    Emily Bowyer, Pravin Rajayagam and Dakota Schnierle, students in a fourth-year Geography course at Brock, sift through sand on Sunset Beach in St. Catharines to find out how many plastics are washing up on the beach.

    STORY FROM THE BROCK NEWS

    Other Media Coverage

    Brock students find alarming amounts of plastic at St. Catharines beach: Extensive media coverage was given to an experiential learning exercise led by Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Michael Pisaric that saw Brock students uncover more than 2,000 pieces of plastic on St. Catharines’ Sunset Beach. The story was featured in the St. Catharines Standard, CBC, CHCH, Newstalk 610 CKTB and Coastal News Today.

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