Earlier this summer, Master of Bioenvironmental Monitoring and Assessment (M.BEMA) students began 13 career-boosting virtual placements, working alongside Parks Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the City of Oshawa, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, the City of Pickering, and several on-campus research labs at Trent.
Speaking about the move from in-person to virtual placements in response to restrictions caused by COVID-19, Jennifer Bull, BEMA placement coordinator says: “We went to our partners to identify projects that would be suitable, then we matched students’ skill sets with organizations that needed those skills.”
Partnerships are the path to success
In a typical year, BEMA Master’s students would be immersed in practical placements working in the field, using newly acquired skills and knowledge. In new and dynamic ways, these important hands-on experiences continued this spring online as the COVID-19 pandemic imposed restrictions on in-person activities.
“At first, we found that organizations who had offered placements could not pivot to remote placements,” explains Ms. Bull, “so we had to shift our focus to explaining how students could provide valuable contributions to new partners within a virtual setting. Through these partnerships, we were able to successfully provide virtual placements for every student in the program.”
Experiential learning redefined
Hands-on, experiential learning is a cornerstone of the student experience at Trent University. Through her remote placement, M.BEMA candidate Lauren Efford worked with Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) in Peterborough to adapt a statistical model used to predict the potential impact of new invasive aquatic species, to terrestrial plants. “This has allowed us to feed information into the model, and it provides an estimate of the likelihood of an invasion and the impact a species could have in Ontario,” says Ms. Efford.
The pandemic posed a unique challenge for Mohamed Moustafa who was looking to the M.BEMA program to change his career focus to the environmental field after arriving in Canada from Egypt in June 2019. Partnered with Dr. Paul Frost in the Frost Laboratory at Trent University, Mr. Moustafa is gaining valuable experience while working on a long-term monitoring report of water quality in Kawartha area lakes. "I have come to understand lake stewardship association interests and concerns," says Mr. Moustafa. “It has been personally rewarding to work on a benchmark report that will identify potential changes in water quality in the future."
The placements have proven to be extremely valuable to the industry partners as well. After identifying a need for more detailed and up-to-date maps of conservation areas, The Nature Conservancy of Canada partnered with Trent and M.BEMA candidate Whitney Goodwin to take on the project. “I have been updating the maps of natural areas with current data, as well as performing analysis on specific areas – how much of each habitat type there is in a conservation area, and whether these habitats overlap,” says Ms. Goodwin.
Unique challenges foster opportunities
As a large percentage of the population has pivoted to working from home, student researchers were able to continue to perform impactful contributions to the business community partners as a result of virtual placements.
“There is no doubt that COVID-19 threw us a curveball in terms of summer placements this year,” says Dr. Dennis Murray, director of the BEMA Graduate Program. “I am really happy that we could find strong substitute opportunities to allow students to grow their skillset and place themselves on a bright career path.”
Learn more about the Bioenvironmental Monitoring and Assessment graduate program offered by Trent University.