Thompson Rivers University

Students Earn and Learn in Unique Summer Job

July 28, 2006

KAMLOOPS – This summer, eleven young men and women have had an unusual opportunity to participate in hands-on, real-world science projects – with pay.

A mix of high school and university students, members of Weyerhaeuser’s Environmental Youth Green Team, have been involved in five local projects, working with bluebirds and pine beetles, grasslands and wetlands, and pulling bags and bags of that rancher’s enemy, knapweed.

“The first thing we discovered is you need gloves to pull knapweed. We’ve pulled about 12,000 plants, at least 100 garbage bags full,” said team member Sarah Greenwood, who has completed three years of a Bachelor of Science degree at TRU and is now preparing to transfer to UNBC’s environmental engineering program, where she’ll have a head start due to this summer’s experience using GPS to map knapweed predators and bluebird nesting sites.

Greenwood is one of the six full-time, permanent members of the team who have been joined periodically by one or more of five additional part-time members. The group was formed when Weyerhaeuser approached TRU Associate Professor of Biology, Tom Dickinson, in early spring. The forest company had been asked by a number of local conservation-oriented groups like Ducks Unlimited, the BC Grasslands Conservation Council and the Kamloops Naturalists Club to fund small but vital projects in the area, and wanted to combine the projects and funding to benefit both youth and the environment.

Together with Dickinson, the local conservation groups, BC Parks and the City of Kamloops, the company created a plan for a team of youths to tackle the various issues, and provided $25,000 funding for wages and supplies.

“We wanted to find projects that could be done on the ground that would have clear, physical effects at the end of the day,” explained Dickinson, who gives the students their work assignments each day and provides support and mentoring.

“These projects are good for teaching us about biology,” said Paige MacKay, who graduated from SKSS in June and will be entering her first year of Bachelor of Science degree studies at TRU this fall with the ultimate goal of a career in sports medicine. “Working with Tom is great. He gives us information on everything,” she enthused.

Keenan Kicia, who also graduated high school this past June, has been helping to monitor TRU’s pine beetle control campaign and getting to know the campus at the same time, which, he says, will radically reduce first-year jitters when he starts his first year in sciences at TRU this September. Although Kicia has participated in previous ecological projects like the burrowing owl recovery program, Adopt-a-Road and knapweed control through his church, he’s on a learning curve with the Green Team.

“I didn’t even know we had bluebirds out here,” he said, referring to the group’s work with the Kamloops Naturalists Club refurbishing bluebird trails around the Kamloops area, mapping bluebird nesting sites and chick survival, and building new nest boxes destroyed by the 2003 wildfires.

Bighorn sheep and mule deer were a new experience for Jeff Bleach, a co-operative education student from Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology, whose work with the Green Team will fulfill the requirements for a work component related to his fish and wildlife program course work.

“I’m really looking forward to the Ducks Unlimited project, because it reflects on my fish and wildlife stuff,” said the Lion’s Head, Ontario student whose mother, recently relocated to Kamloops, heard about the Green Team on a local radio station and immediately let her son back east know about the opportunity.

Alert parents were also responsible for the presence of two secondary students on the team. Quinn Harris, entering Grade 12 at Sa-Hali Secondary, was shown an ad by her father who works at TRU, while Danielle Curry, who starts Grade 12 at SKSS this September, heard about the opportunity from her dad, a Weyerhaeuser employee.

“My dad’s a forester, so seeing the effects of the pine beetle first-hand, and understanding its biology has been the best part of this work,” explained Curry, who is headed for university sciences, and possibly medicine, once she’s finished high school.

“I was looking for a summer job that would help with my future, since I’ll be taking sciences at university once I graduate high school. I would definitely do something like this again,” said Harris.

It’s been a great learning experience for students at the university level as well, explained Amanda Matton, a 3rd-year TRU biology student.

“We’ve been learning new skills like GPS and Excel while we graph the beetles and chart bluebird population growth using data from 1980 to the present, and it gives me an idea of what I might want to do in the future,” said Matton, who has also been an active volunteer at the Kamloops Wildlife Park volunteer and with the city’s Adopt-a-Road program.

The project gives the students much more than individual benefit, Matton explained. “We’re doing things that otherwise wouldn’t get done.”

The students are setting up a date for volunteers to get involved in one of the projects, a “knapweed-pulling party,” on Aug. 12.

“All we need is hands,” said Matton.

“Even ten extra people would be awesome,” added Greenwood.

Community members interested in helping out can contact the Green Team by emailor leave a phone message at 250.371.597.

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Tom Dickinson (TRU Biology) 250.828.5447
Mr. Lawrence Pillon (Weyerhaeuser) 604.661.8163
Environmental Youth Green Team 250.371.5971

Photos available: Please contact Bronwen Scott at 250.371.5739 or by email.