As I walk onto campus at the University of Victoria, I am surrounded by the hustle and bustle of students scurrying off to their classes. For the students, their familiarity with the area makes their travel effortless as they weave and bob through the buildings and walkways. As a visitor, the school is a giant maze where the seemingly identical buildings and multiple pathways can easily turn you around.
Visiting a university for the first time can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. It represents options to explore learning, but also decisions that may be daunting for those who may not know where to start.
As part of Raincoast’s Salish Sea Emerging Stewards program, high school students are introduced to the university environment through a full day of learning on campus. Students learn hands-on about their coastal environment with our community partners, many of whom study, work and teach at the university.
Each year, this day at the university marks the launch of our multi-phase education and leadership program. We introduce ideas and concepts about nature that will be reinforced throughout the rest of the program. This year, the program welcomed 50 high school students from the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School.
We can’t do this alone, so to provide a wide perspective on understanding, we collaborate with a host of community partners that include local knowledge holders, scientists, and specialists that share their expertise on nature through hands-on learning stations with the youth.
We have been fortunate to collaborate with some amazing people who are working hard to study, restore and protect this beautiful area we call home. Our day was started by Barb Hulme, the resident elder for the First Peoples House on campus, who welcomed us and imparted some words to demonstrate the valuable opportunity that lies ahead for the youth.
Our very own Raincoast Applied Conservation Science Lab team, based at the University of Victoria, shared with youth the importance of studying local bears, conservation science, and demonstrated the non-invasive techniques we use in the field to collect data. Students set up their own bear test site outdoors and re-enacted a day in the life of a Raincoast scientist.
Hannah Roessler, an ethnobotanist with a wealth of experience in the plant world, helped introduce youth to the importance of ethnobotany and the relationships people have held with plants for millennia. Students tried their hand at weaving stinging nettle into cordage by cracking and removing the tough outer stems then twisting the softened inner fibers into tough, rope-like twine. Hannah had on display a variety of local plants that served as food, medicine and resources as well as samples of stinging nettle tea to help engage all the senses.
Ocean Networks Canada teamed up with local archaeologist Nicole Smith to highlight the evidence in nature that has helped us understand the past. Nicole highlighted the importance of these findings and what to look out for, while the Ocean Networks Canada team demonstrated the role of clam gardens in resource management as students set off to construct their own.
Our three Junior Student Leaders (program alumni) served as the day’s guides, leading groups to their sessions and answering questions. They served as resource persons and hosts for the day, while helping close our event by sharing with their peers how the program has impacted their learning and revealed passions they never knew existed.
We are now looking forward to working with these students again in the next phase of the program where they will continue their learning journey, setting sail aboard Raincoast’s 66-foot research vessel, Achiever, to immerse themselves in local wildlife habitats of the Salish Sea.
We are so thankful to this year’s supporters: The First West Foundation, Sitka Society for Conservation, Tides Canada, Telus Vancouver Foundation, Victoria Foundation, TD Friends of the Environment, Barraclough Foundation, Greygates Foundation, Hamber Foundation, Arc’teryx and all our community partners who make this valuable learning experience possible for youth.