Articles tagged with: Michael Pisaric

  • Longtime Geography and Tourism Studies staff member retiring this month

    There’s no telling who you might find in Virginia Wagg’s office on any given day.

    Whether it’s a student looking for assistance or a professor working out a scheduling issue or sharing a joke, the Administrative Co-ordinator and Academic advisor’s door is always open.

    And if the gallery of gifts and thank-you cards housed in the space are any indication, her help has been appreciated by the Brock community over her past 27 years with the University.

    Wagg, who will retire this month, came to Brock for a career change, having previously worked as a manager of customer service for commercial accounts at Canadian Tire Acceptance. After three years in Temporary Employment Services, she moved into what is now the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies and has been there ever since.

    Professor and current Department Chair Michael Pisaric says that Wagg’s contributions to student engagement and the daily operations of the department can’t be overstated, and that she can’t be thanked enough.

    “I think when most of our students look back at their time in the Department of Geography and Tourism Studies, one of their first and best memories is Virginia,” says Pisaric. “She has played a pivotal role in our department for 24 years and her wit, warm-heartedness and institutional knowledge have made her a key component of our department and programs, and across the University as well.”

    Professor Michael Ripmeester agrees, saying the combination of Wagg’s institutional expertise and work ethic make her contributions “impossible to account for.”

    “Whether it is a colleague working through a Workday problem or student who needs just one more course to graduate, Virginia cheerfully offers the required aid,” says Ripmeester. “But it is the little things that I will miss after she retires. Her laid-back manner and good humour bring a positive vibe to the department that will not be easy to replace, nor will her willingness to organize birthday celebrations and Christmas luncheons, to teach people to play euchre, to offer support or consolation when required, or to take a few minutes for a friendly chat. Put simply, Virginia is more than a fantastic colleague, she is also a good friend.”

    Professor David Butz remembers when Wagg joined the department full time in 1997, after Colleen Catling moved to a different position in the University.

    “Colleen helped mentor me into my first job as a professor, was a good friend and an amazing administrative co-ordinator, and I didn’t think we would be able to replace her with someone I liked as well or got along with as well,” says Butz. “Virginia proved me wrong. She, too, has been an amazing administrative co-ordinator, both in the sense of being really good at her job, and also a wonderful and true friend.”

    Butz believes that Wagg’s ability to nurture relationships with individuals in the department has created a true sense of community. “I feel that Virginia, more than anything or anyone else, has held our department together as a unit comprised of friendly and collegial social relationships,” he says.

    “Virginia is a low-key person who doesn’t draw attention to herself,” says Butz. “Her impact on the department and on myself hasn’t turned on key moments or any one thing, but rather, it’s her quiet competence, unfailing helpfulness, informality, patient willingness to listen, strong sense of welcome and hospitality, nurturing and supportive attitude to colleagues and students, unflashy thoughtfulness and generosity, ability not to leak a confidence or secret, and willingness to let us into her own life and her large, active and close family.”

    Many of Wagg’s colleagues say they will remember her thoughtful co-ordination of birthday and work anniversary celebrations, which she managed through a list that included preferences on cake versus pie as well as whether individuals wanted to have a big celebration or fly under the radar.

    They also say they’ll miss her at the lunch-hour euchre games that have long brightened up the department with laughter and ribbing — and helped ensure that coworkers took their much-needed lunch breaks. Wagg also shared her euchre love with the wider Brock community, organizing several successful progressive euchre tournaments at the annual Wellness Day event.

    More than anything else, Wagg says she’ll miss the people and the friendships that have filled her workdays for the past 27 years. She plans to visit and already keeps in touch with several former students and colleagues on social media.

    She’s also looking forward to spending more time with her family — be it travelling with her husband once restrictions are lifted, hanging out with her daughter and granddaughters, or helping her mother host four generations at weekly Sunday dinners.

    Since an in-person celebration is not possible due to public health guidelines, students, alumni, staff and faculty are invited to share fond memories and well wishes online.

    STORY REPOSTED FROM THE BROCK NEWS

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  • New video on “Climate Politics and Science” by David Grimes

    On World Meteorological Day, March 23, 2021, David Grimes presented a virtual talk on “Climate Politics and Science: Obstacles, Relationships and Responsibilities”. Watch the video below:

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  • New book chapter examines the changing ecology of the Arctic from a paleoenvironmental perspective

    Arctic Ecology Book Cover

    Dr. Michael Pisaric has published a new chapter in the book Arctic Ecology titled “Arctic Ecology – A Paleoenvironmental Perspective”.

    In the absence of measured climate and ecological data records, paleoecology, and paleoclimatology provide unique opportunities to examine ecological and climatic conditions across long timescales and provide much needed long‐term context. Across the Arctic there are numerous ecological problems affecting the biota and landscapes of this environmentally sensitive region. Climate change is chief amongst these. This chapter examines the changing ecology of the Arctic from a paleoenvironmental perspective. Using examples from studies throughout the circumpolar Arctic, the changing ecology of the Arctic is examined across longer timescales than typically considered in ecological studies. While instrumental records of climatic change in the Arctic are generally short, dendrochronology can provide key insights into climate variability during the past several centuries to millennia. There are many types of natural archives of ecological and environmental change from marine terrestrial environments in the Arctic.

    Citation:

    Pisaric, M., & Smol, J.P. (2021). Arctic Ecology – A Paleoenvironmental Perspective. Pages 23-55 in D.N. Thomas (Ed.) Arctic Ecology. Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118846582.ch2

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  • 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 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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  • Film crew joins Crawford Lake research efforts

    When a group of researchers returned to Crawford Lake to continue the search for evidence of a possible new geological era, they came with a film crew to document the occasion.

    Toronto-based Mercury Films joined the team of scientists, led by Brock’s Department of Earth Sciences, shooting footage during last month’s trip to the Milton site to collect samples.

    Brock Professors Mike Pisaric and Francine McCarthy, Brock undergraduate student Brendan Llew-Willams and Carleton Professor Tim Patterson discussing the stratigraphy visible in sediments. (Photo courtesy of Conservation Halton)

    The team is studying the lake as a possible location to define a new geologic epoch called the Anthropocene. It is one of 10 sites being captured by Mercury Films.

    The production company’s most recent film,Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September and is part of a multimedia project that includes a major travelling museum exhibition of photographs, short films and augmented reality. It has been featured at the Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada, and will be on display in Bologna, Italy, in April.

    In addition to the field work, Mercury Films will visit Brock to obtain footage of the laboratory analysis component of this research effort. As part of a project, contracted through the German government, they will highlight each site’s candidacy for type section — a location where evidence of a time period shift can be seen — and cover all the steps leading to the formal proposal of the Anthropocene epoch.

    In order to receive this ‘golden spike’ designation, a proposal must be submitted to the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) for evaluation. If the AWG approves of this proposal, it will then be evaluated by the International Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, chaired by Brock University Professor of Earth Sciences Martin Head.

    While the world is technically in the Holocene epoch, the group researching Crawford Lake, which also includes researchers from Carleton and McMaster universities as well as Conservation Halton, hopes their findings can convince fellow scientists around the globe to establish the start of the latest geological age.

    Researchers suggest the Anthropocene began around 1950. While it hasn’t been officially adopted as a geological epoch, Brock Professor of Earth Sciences Francine McCarthy and her team are attempting to build a case for Crawford Lake.

    Annually laminated freeze core recovered from the deep basin of Crawford Lake. (Photo courtesy of Conservation Halton)

    To get a better understanding of the history that exists within Crawford, annually laminated sediments called varves are recovered through freeze-coring — a process that involves dropping a dry ice and ethanol filled-metal sampler into the lake.

    “Over the next year or so, various types of analysis of the varves and the overlying water will be conducted, including radionuclide analysis to look for the ‘bomb spike’ and evidence of the Great Acceleration since the Second World War,” McCarthy said. “If a good radionuclide signature, including plutonium, is present in the sediments of Crawford Lake, the site will be a strong contender as the type section, with a ‘golden spike’ at around 1950.”

    Faculty of Math and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed commended team members for their efforts.

    “I would like to send my congratulations to the team for their work on this matter,” he said. “They should be both proud of their research and excited by the attention it is receiving.”

    There is still plenty of work to be done before the Anthropocene is recognized as a geological era. Progress reports from 10 candidate sites will be presented in April at the upcoming European Geophysical Union Meeting in Vienna. Additionally, supporters from each site will travel to Berlin in May to discuss the next steps that need to be taken to establish the Anthropocene epoch.

    Nick de Pencier of Mercury Films Inc. filming Brock Professor Mike Pisaric and graduate student Joe Viscek as they prepare to core Crawford Lake. (Photo courtesy of Conservation Halton)

    Story reposted from The Brock News.

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  • New research by geography alumnus looks at fire history in southwest Yukon Territory

    Student in forest taking a tree core sample

    Tyler Prince taking a tree core sample in southwest Yukon Territory. Photo by Kevin Turner.

    New research by Tyler Prince (Brock Geography and Master of Sustainability alumnus), Michael Pisaric, and Kevin Turner was published this week in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. Read more below.

    Abstract:

    Previous research suggests climate warming during the current century is likely to lead to an increase in the frequency and severity of wildfire. Recent wildfire seasons in northern Canada generally support these studies, with some of the worst fire seasons on record occurring during the past decade. While we can readily track the spatial and temporal distribution of these events during recent decades using satellite-derived data, historical records of past fire activity are relatively short. Proxy records of past fire activity are needed to fully understand how fire regimes may be shifting in response to changing climatic conditions. A high-resolution fire record, dating back to the early-Holocene, has been reconstructed using a 512-cm sediment core collected from a small lake in southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. Macroscopic charcoal was counted throughout the core at contiguous 0.5-cm intervals. The core was also analyzed for loss-on-ignition and magnetic susceptibility. Fossil pollen preserved in the lake sediment was analyzed to determine vegetation change throughout the Holocene. Macroscopic charcoal analysis indicates an active fire history throughout the record, with 90 fires occurring throughout the Holocene. CharAnalysis indicates an average signal to noise index of 6.2, suggesting the peaks are significant and detectable from the slowly varying background level. Results suggest the fire regime in this region responds to both top-down (climate) and bottom-up (vegetation) factors. Fire return intervals changed in response to shifts in precipitation and temperature as well as the expansion of lodgepole pine into the region. The shifts in precipitation and temperature were attributed to the oscillation of the Aleutian Low pressure system and fluctuations in climate associated with the Medieval Climate Anomaly and the Little Ice Age.

    Access the full paper online.

    Prince, T., Pisaric, M., and Turner, K. (2018). Postglacial reconstruction of fire history using sedimentary charcoal and pollen from a small lake in southwest Yukon Territory, Canada. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, online.

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  • Brock student wins two awards in national science photo competition

    Dana Harris calls Nov. 9 her “special day.”

    It was on that day last week that the Master of Sustainability student became a first time aunt, and also the day she was told, in the strictest of confidence, that she had captured two top prizes in a national science research photo competition.

    Harris had to keep the secret of her achievement under wraps until Nov. 14, when the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced the winners of its Canada-wide Science Exposed competition.

    The competition showcases images taken during scientific research being conducted in all fields by faculty and student researchers in post-secondary institutions and researchers in public and private research centres.

    Dana Harris photo submission

    Dana Harris’ submission to the NSERC Science Exposed competition
    featuring cells of the jack pine tree.

    Harris received the People’s Choice Award and a Jury Prize for her photo, “Exploring the Jack Pine Tight Knit Family Tree.”

    “It’s a super huge honour to have people sharing my photo, voting on it and just enjoying it,” says Harris. “And, to get that mention from the NSERC jury members was really gratifying.”

    Diane Dupont, Dean of Graduate Studies, said the Faculty is “so proud of Dana and her success in the NSERC Science Exposed photography contest.”

    “To win the People’s Choice Award is an outstanding achievement,” Dupont said. “This award is a testament to the cutting-edge research she is pursuing involving the globally-relevant topic of climate change.”

    Harris’ photo shows phases of developing xylem cells, stained in different colours, that are found in a wood sample cored from the outermost part of a jack pine tree in the Northwest Territories, where she is from.

    The image, shot from a microscope, shows the jack pine tree’s phloem, cambial and xylem cells (blue dye) and mature xylem cells (red dye) in a thin slice of the wood. It is one of a series of images taken weekly over the past year to track the growth of the jack pine tree’s various cells.

    “This type of information is useful for researchers who create climate reconstructions using tree rings as a source of historical climate data,” explains Harris.

    She thanked her supervisor, Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Michael Pisaric, and her fellow student researchers in Brock’s Water and Environment Laboratory (WEL) for their support.

    “Dana’s research is helping to understand how important tree species in the boreal forest are affected by climate change,” says Pisaric. “Her research also helps to inform larger questions concerning carbon uptake by the boreal forest.

    “Northern regions of Canada are being impacted by changing climatic conditions, including warmer temperatures, changing precipitation regimes and altered frequency and intensity of forest fires and other disturbance agents.”

    The WEL lab is co-directed by Pisaric and Associate Professor of Geography and Tourism Studies Kevin Turner, with the aim to explore how terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in Canada’s North are changing in response to climatic and environmental change.

    Harris says she is happy that research on climate change and environmental conditions in the North were acknowledged with awards in the competition.

    Earlier this year, the photos of 20 researchers from across Canada, including Harris’s entry, were shortlisted and posted on NSERC’s website. People viewing the 20 photos were given the chance to vote for their favourite image. A panel of judges also chose three images that won jury prizes.

    Harris was also a competitor in NSERC’s Science, Action! research video contest,making the first cut of the three-round competition with her video “Jack Pine Growth, NT.”

    NSERC is Canada’s federal funding agency for university-based research, supporting faculty and students through a number of awards. In the most recent round of funding, 18 faculty researchers and nine students received a total of $3.2 million.

    Story reposted from The Brock News.

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  • Geography and Tourism students put skills to the test in central Ontario

    A crisp fall breeze and the smell of pine recently welcomed Daniel Marshall into a different type of learning environment.

    The fourth-year Geography student can normally be found deep in the Mackenzie Chown Complex learning about physical geography. But, during this year’s fall Reading Week, an experiential education trip took him out of his comfort zone and into the field.

    Along with 34 other participants from the Geography and Tourism Department’s Physical Geography and Human Geography and Tourism Studies field courses, Marshall took part in a weeklong experiential learning exercise in central Ontario. The annual trip is designed to connect in-class learning with practical on-site research skills that are necessary for all geographers.

    “Sometimes in the classroom you lose focus on what you are actually studying,” Marshall said. “To be in the field and make the observations myself and get my feet muddy allowed everything to come full circle.”

    While the human geographers and tourism students went into Peterborough to gather data, Marshall and his fellow physical geographers went further afield to places such as Lochlin, Ont., where they collected soil and water samples.

    “We brought a specialized tool and took a sample from about four metres down,” he said. “We got a core that, if interpreted in a lab, could have given us 10,000 years worth of data about the area.”

    The ability to conduct applied research and maintain detailed field notes is a skill Geography and Tourism Studies Department Chair Michael Pisaric considers invaluable.

    “The field courses provide our students with hands-on experience that allows them to put their training and academic studies into practice by connecting first-hand the classroom learning they have done to the real world,” he said.

    Longstanding teaching assistant Darren Platakis, who has worked with countless students in his 10 years helping with the trip, echoed the sentiment.

    “Seeing the growth in their confidence, whether it’s conducting face-to-face interviews or using a new piece of equipment, is very satisfying,” he said.

    Gaining practical experience with tools of the trade provides students with a leg up for when their studies are completed.

    “Nobody wants to hire an advisor who has no field experience,” Marshall said. “An exercise like this makes you more marketable as a person.”

    With days of working to develop useful skills came a sense of unity among participants on the department-wide trip.

    “At the end of the day, we were all reunited as a large group and it was nice to be together,” he said. “We had a few large outdoor gatherings around the fire pits and shared stories of our day. It gave us the opportunity to become a close-knit group and contributed to the closeness of the department as a whole.”

    The work of the students in the area has also led to lasting conservation efforts in the local community.

    “Because of the work of previous classes from Brock, the Lochlin Esker and Wetlands site we visited has achieved Provincially Significant Wetland and Area of Natural and Scientific Interest status,” he said.

    For Marshall, the most eye-opening portion of the week was seeing the way the concepts learned in the classroom actually existed in the environment.

    “You can read as much as you want on a topic, but until you’re actually looking at that feature or talking to those people, there is a huge divide between what the textbooks say and the actual observations you make in the field,” he said. “It really worked for me to help close that gap and approach things in a more well-rounded way.”

    As he prepares to use his newfound experience to take on a thesis and apply for master’s programs, Marshall hopes that others will consider studying Geography as well.

    “Geography is everything and how it’s related,” he said. “Anyone who likes nature, the environment or being outside already loves geography. So, why not study it as well?”

    Visit the department’s website to learn more about Brock University’s Geography and Tourism experiential opportunities.

    Reposted from The Brock News.

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