Students celebrate community-based research
By Sue Tiffin
Published March 28, 2019
A hush filled Minden’s community centre as a crowd of students and community members gathered insight from speakers at the U-Links Celebration of Research on March 23: Ray Letheren who spoke of the community of Bayfield’s drive to eliminate single-use water bottles; Anna Robbins, a fourth year Trent biology student who researched bird boxes for nesting bluebirds along Gelert Road for the Haliburton Highlands Field Naturalists; and Emily Amon, a research associate with U-Links who spoke to her work evaluating the impact of community-based research on Haliburton County.
But soon after, the air was filled with a buzz generated by conversation and excitement – both of the guests taking in the findings of diverse research projects represented by posters around the room and of the enthusiastic students able to share their work with an interested community.
“From calcium decline in local lakes to plastic water bottle reduction to the mental health impacts of climate change, the depth and breadth of the subject matter is remarkable,” said Amanda Duncombe-Lee, U-Links project coordinator, in opening remarks. “Community-researcher partnerships allow for a unique blend of values and expertise, promoting co-learning for the mutual benefit of all partners.”
Projects presented around the room included: “Designing Citizen Science Protocol with Head, Grass and Kashag Lakes,” “Head Lake Park Tree Sustainability Project,” “Social and Ecological Carrying Capacity of [Queen Elizabeth Wildlands II] Park,” and “Haliburton Forest Green Parking Lot Strategies,” with hosts that ranged from lake organizations, to municipalities, to the health unit.
Barrie Martin, who is vice-president of the Haliburton County Community Cooperative of which U-Links is a project, attended the event for a few reasons, he said, including that he was “curious to see the range of student work and how it contributes to the community,” and “looking for inspiration to define and develop research projects for projects I am involved with, including Hike Haliburton, Yours Outdoors and the Folk Society.” He said he appreciated the emphasis on climate change and sustainability, and found Amon’s presentations about the impact of research on community and student interesting.
“This is a truly unique partnership that is getting attention elsewhere,” he said.
Amon’s address looked at the impact of community-based research in the region, and also what happens after students leave and how U-Links can help ensure research projects are designed to make an impact in the community.
“Community-based research is about so much more than a lit-review or a research poster,” said Amon in her address. “It’s about the connections you make, and the ability of researchers to reflect back at their hosts all the contextual information they’ve been fed by virtue of the collaborative process.”
The master’s degree candidate and self-proclaimed “frequent flyer” in the community-based research program spoke to the importance of shared knowledge, and the mentorship and insights offered by community organizations to students that is provided through the program.
“This whole thing works because of the reciprocity that exists within our community-based research partnerships,” she said.
Amon also spoke to what happens next, acknowledging that in some cases, host organizations may not be able to implement recommendations for a variety of reasons.
“[W]e know that the work is never wasted,” she said. “Every project leads to new insights, organizational learning, and opportunities for new relationships to be formed and strengthened.”
She listed outcomes of some of the projects, which included new community programming and educational opportunities, the establishment of management plans for local green spaces and identification of economic and cultural development opportunities.
“Where it goes from here? It’s in the community’s hands now,” she said. “I have no doubt that all this work will go on to do important things in Haliburton County, taking it a step beyond the purely academic pursuits, to the kind of research that connects and strengthens our world for everyday people.”
Duncombe-Lee invited organizations to participate and offered help through U-Links developing ideas into project proposals.
“You may want to challenge or confirm an assumption, calculate the feasibility of a new project, or simply get volunteer assistance with a large scale event,” she said. “We value project diversity across all sectors.”
U-Links is encouraging hosts interested in matching a project with Trent or Fleming students to contact the centre for community-based research by June 30 this year. For more information visit ulinks.ca.