Kim talks to us about the importance of the Life Sciences and teaching Field Courses at Quest.
How did you end up in the Life Sciences?
I grew up in a hunting and fishing family, so I am naturally drawn to being outdoors. I also grew up on an island (Newfoundland) and was enamoured with the whales we’d see when walking along the shore. I’ve known I wanted to be a wildlife biologist since grade three, but thought I wanted to work with whales. During my undergrad, I took a forest ecology class with a great prof and realized I was more interested in terrestrial systems than marine. So here I am, a wildlife ecologist.
Tell us about the combined effects of climate change and land use on wildlife species.
The way humans use the landscape has large implications for wildlife. I think we have a responsibility to minimize those impacts and to ensure our actions don’t lead to imperilled species. Climate change, on top of that, is leading to so much change in species, communities and ecosystems. Land use and climate change can interact to make the situation worse or better. The particulars are really important, and I love trying to tease apart the relative impacts from each of these large stressors on wildlife. Understanding this leads to better wildlife and land management planning.
What do you want students to take away from studying biodiversity?
Students should understand the importance of biodiversity for sustaining our ecosystems. They should also come away from the course understanding how we gather ecological data and the challenges associated with it. Ideally, they also learn that ecologists have the skills and expertise to overcome those challenges.
You teach exciting Field Courses. Tell us about that.
We live among some incredible ecosystems and can learn so much by spending some time in them. Being in the field stimulates thinking about ecological processes in a way that classroom learning cannot.
In Summer 2017, I worked with Ali MacKellar on her Keystone project, which focused on how to set up a remote monitoring program and develop a field research station. We started a mammal and plant monitoring program that I’ve continued—and plan to expand to other parts of the Sea to Sky Corridor. One of the goals was to provide a real-world field program to use as a teaching platform.
Ian Picketts’s Impacts of Recreation and Tourism class came to the site and developed a site management plan to minimize our impacts on the region. Now it’s time to take ecology-focused students out there to learn from and contribute to this project. I’m developing a Field Course called Biodiversity Monitoring that will run in June 2019.
We focus a lot on the value of project-based learning at Quest, and this Field Course will give students the opportunity to work on a functioning monitoring project and contribute to its next steps. Students will participate in data collection, which includes checking wildlife photos on remotely triggered cameras, and will contribute to the project through work on course assignments.
We are so fortunate here at Quest to be able to design courses that we love!
How much time will the class spend in the field?
We’ll make two 5-6 day trips to the Pemberton site. The first one will be at the beginning of the course, after learning some key concepts and then returning to the classroom to devise a plan for data collection for the second trip. Time on campus will be used for reading, field work planning, and synthesis.
What have you learned from your students at Quest?
Teaching and mentoring at Quest is such a give and take. The engagement and enthusiasm from students is energizing and motivating. My love for ecology has been reinvigorated since coming to Quest and working with students discovering ecology for the first time.
Breaking down bigger concepts, responding to questions, and helping students work through the complexities reminds me of the key ideas and underlying principles that drive a lot of the work I do. I’ve learned to re-examine ideas I now take for granted, and I often finish my classes with new research ideas and questions of my own.