‘Town And Gown’ Meet At Trent Community Research Centre’s 2024 Showcase

Localizing knowledge through undergraduate research. 

CHERYL LYON – Most often, it’s the university post-grads who get to “strut their stuff” aka present their research publicly. But Peterborough’s Trent University is different.

Every year at this time, this Ontario university’s unique Trent Centre For Community Research showcases the locally-based research of some of its undergraduate students. And it’s a community affair. “Town meets gown” as local citizens get up close and personal with the students in their midst.

The Greenzine has covered this showcase for three years now. This year’s was moved off-campus to a larger, downtown site due to growing interest in the event. And it was a blowout affair! Market Hall was alive with the energy of youth and the curiosity of their audience.

Among the broad variety of research presented on posters, The Greenzine was on the lookout for projects related to local community knowledge and needs in this current era of climate crisis.

Sites of the students’ research ranged from the flora and fauna of Trent’s campus and environs to many Peterborough community-based agencies – thus covering both the natural and the human environments that will be affected by climate change. Flowers and frogs of the area, social service agencies and their clients, small businesses, even home gardeners were the among the variety of local community agencies and volunteer groups benefiting from this undergrad experience of expanding local knowledge through research.

The student researchers stood with pride and confidence beside their large, free-standing posters arranged over the theatre floor space of Market Hall. At least 100 attendees strolled the aisles of posters, congratulating and asking questions of their creators.

A panel of judges from both Trent U. and the community listened to oral presentations of five projects selected from those who had expressed interest in doing so and with consideration of diversity of topic and department. The judges were largely representatives from award sponsors.

The Greenzine had just enough time in the fast-moving agenda of the day to speak with four presenters of projects related to our focus on local climate change topics.

Olivia Gaetz and Reilly Bowman had studied local Amphibian and Reptile Biodiversity respectively. Olivia (who aspires to be an environmental educator) described to me the uniqueness of Trent U. having natural habitats right on its campus, and their research that filled a knowledge gap about them. Their research projects resulted in a list of migration strategies that included creating slanting rather than right-angled road curbs to make it easier for turtles to reach the other side of a campus road cutting through their long-established migration routes. Gaetz’s project also learned about new species in Peterborough, like a salamander not observed locally before 2019. Olivia knew that not everyone “takes environmentalism seriously” but said the number of local activists and nature organizations in the Peterborough area give her hope.

Noelle Deane spoke about their research on an Inventory of Woodland Plants. She worked with the local Ashburnham Memorial Park Stewardship Group, dedicated to protecting a large piece of East City in Peterborough. Noelle’s research gave them a better idea of what and where species, including invasive ones, are located in the park – useful information, for instance in bird counts and other Stewardship Group interests. Her project’s baseline data could also prove helpful for understanding climate change impacts, and so she has shared it more widely with the Borealis online data base.

Two particular research posters that caught The Greenzine’s climate eye had to do with “Social Prescribing.” The researchers were Morgan McColl and Emily Millward (Ms McColl was not available to talk about her aspect of their research so we are using the example Ms Millward’s part of the research on the feasibility of “Social Prescribing.”) Emily is a forensic psychology graduate who wanted to find a way to better help marginalized communities here in Peterborough. She learned how the changing climate will severely stress a community’s social fabric. Heat waves, severe storms, interruptions of food and other supply lines will affect mental as well as physical health and livelihoods. The social fabric often frays in such times. Impacts and deprivations of the local area’s current housing and homelessness crisis foreshadow expected similar climate change stressors.

The host and beneficiary of these two projects’ research was Peterborough’s downtown 360 Clinic, a Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic (NPLC) who were interested in determining the need and capacity for “social prescribing.” Staff of the downtown 360 Clinic can prescribe social activities and community involvement, particularly for marginalized persons, as an illness prevention measure and a step into primary care.

Millward’s research looked specifically at prescribing participation in a community garden for homeless persons. It found that participation in this natural setting of a garden provided three main benefits: a “third space” free of charge for experiences of responsibility and belonging that had been erased when they became homelessness; helped eliminate factors for depression; and provided individuals with healthful experiences of responsibility and belonging. Participants “paid it forward” to the community when they harvested their vegetables by cooking up a big stew for those in a homeless shelter. Restoring a sense of community can eliminate depression factors, social isolation, food insecurity, and restore mental health with a sense of purpose and belonging.

Other climate change-related student research included that of Cerra Simmons, Alisa Miniovich and Alyssa Scanga on Low Carbon Greenhouse Construction. This project combined CO2 reduction with a component of food security – the greenhouse.

Learning about local impacts of climate change is an essential part of a community’s adaptation to it. The Peterborough and Kawartha area, in comparison with many other parts of the globe, has so far gotten off lightly with climate change impacts. But that will change. Many researchers and writers are now predicting that our southern Ontario region and some upper eastern US states will likely be among the last areas to feel climate breakdown, and the first to be the destination of those fleeing its advancing ravages. Attention to social impacts will be needed.

Our local communities are fortunate to have the kinds of prescient, local research and knowledge-sharing to help in adapting to and mitigating the increasingly serious challenges of a climate in crisis.

‘Town And Gown’ Meet At Trent Community Research Centre’s 2024 Showcase © 2024 by Cheryl Lyon in The Greenzine is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

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