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When most people think of Churchill, Manitoba, they think of polar bears and northern lights. A group of geography students from The University of Winnipeg have seen plenty of both, but are also getting a much richer experience from the cultural and physical landscape of the iconic northern town.
The Department of Geography is currently hosting a field seminar at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (CNSC) in Manitoba. Students from UWinnipeg, Brandon University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) arrived in the polar bear capital August 22 for a fun-filled, intensive experiential learning course. The course was led by faculty and staff from UWinnipeg’s Geography department, with support from NTNU faculty, as part of the ongoing partnership between the two institutions.
The field course is designed to provide students with hands-on, practical experience in research design, data collection, and analysis. Students employed field methods such as geospatial awareness, land-surveying, direct observation, water sampling, and interviewing.
With diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds, students were able to share unique skills acquired during their studies with the larger group. The setting allowed participants to interact with members of the local community, other students from across Canada, and researchers from around the world.
“Freshwater ecosystems in the subarctic are experiencing rapid rates of change,” said Nora Casson, associate professor in the Department of Geography. “This is a cool opportunity for students to participate in environmental research on sensitive ecosystems while building on the skills they’ve acquired throughout their degrees.”
Student research projects were designed to give back to the community. The physical geography students from UWinnipeg and BrandonU are studying the impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems. UWinnipeg cultural geography and environmental studies and sciences students are working on the initial steps of a community energy plan. Students from NTNU with expertise in geographic information systems and land surveying are collecting essential data for the community plan.
“The hospitality of the community is unparalleled,” said Patricia Fitzpatrick, associate professor in the Department of Geography. “Residents have been kind, quick to answer student questions, participate in interviews, and share the history of their community.”
“This field course has not only been an incredible opportunity to explore the unique beauty of Northern Manitoba, but an extremely beneficial learning experience as well. We’ve been able to learn and refine new skills while applying them in the field — something we don’t often get to do as undergraduate students. The Human Geography group has been working on the preliminary stages of developing a community energy plan for Churchill, through which we’ve been fortunate enough to speak with various local residents and get a feel of the community spirit. We saw polar bears, belugas, and a caribou, ate great food at the CNSC, and had lots of laughs. The 10 days spent in Churchill have been a highlight of my time in university and the skills I’ve learned through hands-on experience will continue to benefit me as I further my studies and pursue a career in the environmental sector.” — Kate Robb, 4-year BA in Environmental Studies, Issues in Sustainability
“My mother spent a few years as a teenager in Churchill when my grandfather worked as a radiosonde technician at Fort Churchill. I had heard the subarctic landscape was beautiful but my mind was completely blown as we arrived here. It has been incredibly interesting to connect the skills and knowledge I’ve gained during my degree at UWinnipeg while being immersed in this environment and culture.” — Kody Oleson, 4-year BSc Honours, Physical Geography
“I had the neat opportunity to participate in this field course after having spent two summers working as a research technician at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre. I have learned lots about other aspects of the town and physical geography of the area, such as how to survey elevation using a total station and learning specifics about the situation with energy in the town of Churchill. One of my favourite parts of the course was interviewing local people about their thoughts on exploring renewable energy sources. I enjoyed experiencing an alternative perspective on the human and physical geography of Churchill. — Danielle Nowosad, 4-year BSc Honours, physical geography
“It’s amazing what you’ll find in a tiny town named Churchill, up north in Canada. The things you’ll see being so up close to the wilderness, the memories made with the most amazing people, and experiencing the adventure of a lifetime — simply unforgettable.” — Laila Dalen, NTNU student