By Sue Tiffin
It’s that time of year again, for a showcase of student research.
The U-Links Centre for Community-Based Research is hosting its annual Celebration of Research event – the 31st of its kind – during a virtual gathering planned for March 26. Members of the public are invited to join Trent University and Fleming College students and faculty as they share the findings of a semester or year full of conducting interviews, poring over data, even wading through water in search of answers for local host organizations that include lake associations, businesses, municipalities, and not-for-profit agencies.
The event will be held virtually for the second time in a row as organizers wanted to avoid needing to pivot an in-person event online should pandemic restrictions be put in place. Last year’s much-praised virtual event, held online after the 2020 in-person event was cancelled, saw more than 100 guests attending online, having the opportunity to take in presentations, visit breakout rooms of their choice to ask questions of researchers and network and connect with others over findings and research possibilities.
In total this year, almost 90 students – some as individuals and some as classes – will be presenting their work on a diverse array of research topics. Two student projects will be featured in the main room of the meeting, with additional sessions held in breakout rooms. One featured project this year is Sara Moret’s study with thesis supervisor Dr. Naomi Nichols, of eating disorders in rural communities, a project which hopes to address a concern in health care circles; that it’s not easy for people in rural communities to access services for eating disorders such as anorexia or binge eating and the potential that the pandemic has amplified this problem. A food waste reduction strategies study for Dysart et al conducted through a sustainable waste management class of students at Fleming College will also be featured. The class will be presenting on different strategies to reduce food waste, with a focus on residential homes, and a public outreach and educational campaign.
“It’s always been a great class and producing really good, quality work,” said Daniela Pagliaro, administrative and logistics co-ordinator for U-Links.
A keynote address will be delivered by Nichols, a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in community-partnered social justice with a focus on youth with precarious housing situations.
The projects, conducted at some time in 2021/2022 that will be included this year include: forest health monitoring with the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust; incorporating Indigenous knowledge and teachings into Abbey Gardens programming; a Gull Lake wetland assessment; five-lined skink species summary for Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park; socio-economic impact of wetlands for the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust; weevil farming feasibility study for Eurasian watermilfoil management on Drag and Spruce Lakes; management of the Trent-Severn Waterway and the ecological impacts on reservoir lakes; anthropogenic land uses and their impacts relating to the water quality and aquatic ecosystems of upper stoney lake; nine-spotted lady beetle: inventory and monitoring protocols and benthic biomonitoring projects that took place on Halls, Hawk, Twelve Mile, Little Boshkung, Haliburton, Bob, Grace, Upper Stoney, Miskwabi and Gull Lakes.
“Every single project will be represented at this event, so we’ll have the featured ones, their chats in the main space, and then people will get to jump around and visit the rooms that interest them and be able to ask questions and it’s more interactive,” said Pagliaro.
“We’re going to try to set up a few different rooms at the end for networking so if there was a conversation you weren’t able to have or wanted to continue with a student, or there was a poster you didn’t have a chance to go look at, that you’d have an opportunity to talk with the students there,” said Sadie Fischer, environmental program co-ordinator for the Woodland and Waterways EcoWatch Program.
Almost 50 students in a new applied biomonitoring class at Trent University will be presenting three different projects within one class. The development of that course is important in the partnership between U-Links and the university.
“We partner with Trent students obviously and they had a huge waiting list right away,” said Pagliaro. “So we’re going to have access to [about] 46 students every year now to do work with us, research in the county on the forests and the lakes for organizations that we’re partnering with.”
Pagliaro and Fischer are excited to hear the results of the studies they’ve been helping to plan and co-ordinate throughout the past year.
“The other thing that’s kind of cool is we’re in our third year now of collecting data for terrestrial and aquatic biomonitoring,” said Pagliaro. “With some of the lakes they’ve already gotten to the three-year point so we’re really close to now being able to provide a baseline that you’ll compare future data to, so we can really see what’s going on with the lakes.”
Benthic biomonitoring began on six lakes three years ago and this year, the group has finished sampling on 24 lakes, with numerous opportunities to expand, said Fischer.
The research offered is completely free, although if host organizations are able to offer a donation that’s appreciated. Often the research is then leveraged by organizations to make projects happen. Groups including the Haliburton Highlands Art Centre Foundation, the Haliburton County Farmers’ Market, and the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust have utilized U-Links work recently to further projects.
“Lake associations are definitely using the research that’s produced through U-Links and the students to implement new programs and conservation-type efforts in their areas and around their lakes,” said Pagliaro. In the future, the U-Links team hopes to build the economic/business sector, partnering with local businesses for research, but Pagliaro and Fischer encourage anyone to call if they think they might have an idea to look into.
“It’s a safe way to start because you’re not investing a lot, you’re just putting in some time, as a host,” said Pagliaro. “We help our hosts to formulate the project proposal and research questions, they just need to pick up the phone and call us. We have the proposal form downloadable on our website, but we recommend people just reach out – sometimes coming up with research questions can be a bit intimidating.”
Pagliaro notes U-Links has become more known in the county, with people more aware of the work they’re doing, in part because of the environmental work being conducted.
“We’re the only thing of our kind in rural North America,” she said. “We do community-based research pretty authentically, where it’s truly driven by the community, it’s not coming from academic curiosity or the academic institutions’ agenda. It’s all just driven by the community. It’s truly grassroots and it’s really wonderful.”
“There’s plenty of organizations that offer it in urban environments but when it comes to the rural areas, it doesn’t really happen – we’re really happy to be able to give that back to the community,” said Fischer. “And smaller communities need that, they need the extra push sometimes, the extra resources.”
The 2022 Celebration of Research event is planned for Saturday, March 26 from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, tech support or to register to attend, visit www.ulinks.ca. For those who can’t attend as it happens, a recording of some of the event will be available online at a later date.