Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Douglas College students partner with Fraser River Discovery Centre to help educate public

(front to back) Geography students Leon Yee, Ruab Waraich, Anastasiya Shults, Anastassiya Smirnova, Jessica Caharel, Taryn Matich, Jonathan Law are researching pollution and other threats to the Fraser River. Pictured with Shannon King, Education Coordinator at the Fraser River Discovery Centre, and Mike McPhee, Geography Chair at Douglas.

By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

It was only recently that Leon Yee, a Douglas College Geography student, learned that fresh water could be in such high demand  that "wars could be fought over it" in the future.

"If we don't make changes soon, this valuable resource could become so scarce that not only people living in arid conditions would have to worry about how to get it, but those of us living close to large bodies of water would have to as well," he says.

Leon is interested in discovering the different ways in which our waters are polluted, and he wants to help educate the public to help create positive change.

Now, along with six other Geography students, Leon has his chance.

As part of their course work, Leon and classmates Jessica Caharel, Jonathan Law, Taryn Matich, Anastasiya Shults, Ruab Waraich and Anastassiya Smirnova are doing research on storm water run-off and other contaminants to update the Fraser River Discovery Centre's information about the effects of non-point source pollution on the Fraser River.

The students' research papers will be used by the Discovery Centre to update their volunteer training materials so that interpreters can provide current examples for visitors when they are using the pollution model.

The pollution model is a large, interactive physical model of the Lower Mainland where visitors can place toy cars, houses and animals to create their city. They can then sprinkle various "pollutants" on the city and make it "rain" to discover the pathways and environmental effects pollution has on the Fraser.

"It is fun to play with the toys and water at the pollution model," says Shannon King, Education Coordinator at the Fraser River Discovery Centre. "But our enviro-savvy visitors also want to know what the real deal is, and I am grateful that these students are helping update our training resources."

Mike McPhee, Chair of the Geography Department at Douglas College and the students' instructor, says this type of experiential learning is invaluable to students in that it allows them to make the connection between their studies and real life.

"It's fine to read about these things in textbooks or hear about them in lectures, but now the students are actually seeing how they work, and they have the chance to help prepare educational materials," says McPhee. "It's also a chance for students to give back to the community, as opposed to just turning in a term paper."

Taryn Matich, one of the student researchers, says what excites her about this project is that the work is going to be "actually used to educate others."

"This kind of real-world experience is important because it gives students a reason to work harder and produce a better paper," she adds.