Just over a week ago, we had the absolute privilege to host nearly 50 students from WŚANÉC Leadership Secondary School. These high school students participate in the Salish Sea Emerging Stewards (SSES) programme – an incredible, hands-on learning experience organized by Raincoast Conservation Foundation, with the help of many volunteers.
As part of this programme, SSES students learn from a variety of experiences, including a multi-day boat-based trip on Raincoast’s research vessel, Achiever.
Another part includes a day at the University of Victoria learning ways by which research can play a role in stewardship. This year on campus, students met with local Archaeologists, Marine Biologists and Ethnobotanists to build their own model clam gardens and weave bracelets from stinging nettles. With several of us from Raincoast’s Applied Conservation Science lab, students also learned how to non-invasively study bears using remote cameras and a mock “bear hair snare.”
This exceptionally fun day, which we look forward to each year, is cause for reflection. In the field of applied conservation science, we aim to conduct research that answers relevant questions and can support real-world impact.
However, the relevance of this approach to research is illustrated when we can create connections with people through engagement and outreach. Though outreach may not be our primary day-to-day focus, as researchers and stewards, we have on-going opportunities to mentor the next generation.
While speaking with Métis Elder Barb Hulme before the students arrived, she reflected on how important it is to “encourage curiosity and inspiration in our youth.” To me, this was a poignant reminder that we never really know how much a particular idea or interaction might change someone’s course in life.
Where will a tiny spark of curiosity or inspiration lead? As we’ve seen from the likes of Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and others – today’s youth have incredible potential to drive action and awareness about issues important to them.
Though important, our role in mentorship is not just about “giving back.” The truth is that the enthusiasm and excitement of these students is something we are so thankful to take with us back to the lab.
While I’m not sure where the influence we might have had on this year’s “Emerging Stewards” will lead them, I can say they have certainly rewarded us with inspiration that reinvigorates our own passion for conservation
A version of this story was first published at the Raincoast Applied Conservation Sciences Lab at UVic.