Garden study fills a gap in student learning

A pollinator garden project incorporates volunteers, providing more opportunities to participate in scientific research

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By Corvin Vaski

This story has been updated to include comments from Brad Wuetherick and Kelly Sveinson.

Students who get a chance to do research in their undergraduate years have a good chance of moving on to post-graduate scholarship.

Brad Wuetherick, the associate provost of academic programs in teaching and learning at UBC Okanagan, has studied the effects of research experiences on students for decades.

“It really supports students’ identity development as they move into a particular field,” Wuetherick said.

Education put into practice

Wuetherick said research experience gives students the chance to do hands-on work and use classroom knowledge in practical scenarios. Many students who have done undergraduate research go on to graduate studies.

“There is a very direct correlation between students who have undergraduate research experiences and their journey into advanced study … The idea that these experiences kind of encourage people to dive deeper and continue into further study is well-documented,” Wuetherick said.

When Aldona Czajewska first became a volunteer program coordinator at Langara College in 2021, she noticed students were increasingly looking for research opportunities.

But the pandemic made those opportunities hard to find. She looked for a way to combine volunteer positions with research.

Research students and volunteers work together

Czajewska, who has a background in applied biology research, received a grant with the help of the biology department for a pollinator garden research project at Langara. The project has created four paid positions for students and incorporates multiple volunteer opportunities.

“It’s just a great opportunity, not just for science students, but literally anyone, anyone can volunteer for this project if they want to and help out, and I feel that really fills the gap,” Czajewska said.

The project is conducting a survey of campus pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds and butterflies, to get a better understanding of how to promote on-campus pollinator diversity and plant new gardens on campus.

Jennifer Lin, a second-year biology student working on the pollinator project, said she is happy to be a part of the pollinator research project. She hopes to pursue a career in science research.

“Having this sort of experience will give me an edge, and I’m glad I was able to have that this early in my education career,” Lin said.

Research gives students hands-on skills

Czajewska’s co-researcher and Langara biology instructor Ji Yong Yang said that research experience gives students an advantage over those without experience when applying for jobs.

“It essentially gives them training, gives them skills and hopefully they could use this training and skills to find jobs in the future,” Yang said.

Kelly Sveinson, director of the applied research centre at Langara, said the college has received substantially more funding for research in recent years and said research in different fields is critical.

“We really are trying to encourage a wide variety of types of research, diversity is really important to us, and it’s really important that all the disciplines are welcome into this area of applied research,” Sveinson said.

Over $5 million in research grants has been awarded to Langara faculty in the past five years, according to the applied research centre.

“We have to teach the young people what we understand now, but young people also have to push that boundary and have to be part of the creation of new knowledge,” Sveinson said.

Watch the video above to hear how Aldona Czajewska conceived of the pollinator project and Jennifer Lin’s experience as a research student at Langara

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