All Stories

Environmental students take to the field

Oct 17, 2023 | Vanessa Tignanelli, Storyteller & Content Creator

Students outside

Every Fall, second year students from Canadore College’s Environmental Studies programs attend an outdoor, hands-on fieldwork experience known as Field Camp.

This immersive experiential learning opportunity started as a fieldtrip in 2006. It was officially added to the curriculum in the Environmental Protection and Compliance Technician program in 2010, then to the Environmental Management Graduate Certificate program when launched in 2011. Today, students from both programs are required to complete Field Camp (or attend the Marine Conservation course in Carriacou, Grenada – read the story here) in order to graduate.

These four days in the field have become an integral part of the students’ educational experience at Canadore College. 64 students attended this year – the largest group to date – to collect and monitor data, familiarize themselves with field equipment, review sampling methods, conduct forest plots, and practice other hands-on techniques. Yet the Field Camp experience does much more than review skills learned in the classroom.

“At the College, we do things together in three-hour periods, but out here we're together for days at a time,” says professor Jeremy St. Onge, one of the organizers of this year’s camp, who was joined by colleagues Mohamed Belhadj, Andrew Rees, and Shannon Alldred. “I see friendships grow as well as their ideas on what environmental work can be.”

Students have a hand in the planning of activities, preparing equipment, and carrying out work in the field for eight hours – the blueprint of a real work day. Environmental careers are often project-based, and can include long days, remote locations, and being away from family. Field Camp prepares students for what a job in the industry might entail.

"Field Camp is a stepping stone to learning how to incorporate all of your skills and bring them to a job,” says Chloe Labelle, 2nd year Technician student. “Learning how to implement and manage all of your skills within a time limit is an invaluable experience."

"Everything is starting to click,” says Joel Neville, one of several students in the Environmental Bridging Program from Nipissing University. These students will attend Canadore for one of their four years at Nipissing, with the intent to provide them with the hands-on experience of college. “The Canadore students were ahead of us in terms of the technology and procedures, so I felt a little behind, but everything is starting to make sense as far as how to approach fieldwork."

The camp has traditionally taken place at the Canadian Ecology Centre (CEC). Located in Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park along the Mattawa River, the CEC is a non-profit organization that offers year-round outdoor education and encourages environmental conservation and protection. According to Samantha Hornell, Program Coordinator for the School of Environmental Studies, the CEC was Canadore’s first choice when exploring niche opportunities for students, and has been a collaborating partner with Canadore for over 17 years.

The CEC provided the perfect atmosphere for this year’s Field Camp, which took place last week October 10-13th. Lead by CEC’s Outdoor Educator Kyle Dzuba, students enjoyed homecooked meals, camped in cabins, and spent the evenings enjoying activities such as campfires, basketball, wolf howling, and storytelling. Guest speakers were also invited as a way to provide students with an opportunity to connect with industry leaders in a less formal environment.

Time spent away from their typical classroom setting has other benefits as well; Samuel de Champlain’s old growth forest offers a much different learning experience than the young forest found behind College Drive campus. 

“We have a pond and little creeks on campus that we’re lucky to have access to, but here we have full-size rivers,” explains Zachary Keenan, 2nd year Technology student. “Everything we're learning in class we're applying here but on a much bigger scale.”

Fieldwork activities differ between the two Environmental programs. For Management students, Field Camp is just one component in which they learn the consultation side of environmental work – laws, regulations, surveys – to reduce the impact of new construction to the environment. These students complete a full forestry plot for a hypothetical building project at CEC, whereas the Technician students focus on the overall health of the forest. Conducting basal area surveys and collecting benthic macroinvertebrates and landfill water samples are just a few findings that Technician students will continue to study back in their labs at Canadore.

"The intangible outcome of Field Camp is to learn how to be a professional,” says professor Andrew Rees. “To see the students apply their knowledge in a different environment…to see them putting the pieces together…I think that's the best part of teaching.”

There truly is no better way to know if you love what you are learning in school, than to have an opportunity to apply it. By practicing their skills, and simulating a real work day in the life of an Environmental Technician or Manager, these students have a chance to determine which path they wish to take following graduation. Practical and experiential learning is what Canadore College is all about, and it’s always a bonus if you can have fun while doing it.

#Enviro and Biotech #Experiential Learning