Lakehead University brought Katelyn Weel back to her roots
She's a 2014 graduate of the Lakehead Orillia Environmental Sustainability program who grew up on a cabbage farm just outside of Collingwood, Ontario.
Katelyn didn't always envision a future related to her agricultural background. In high school, she thought that being a pilot would be her route to the adventure she yearned for.
She enrolled in Sault College's aviation program, eager to take to the skies. But as her studies progressed, she discovered that rules and routine govern the life of a pilot. And, as someone who loves to travel, Katelyn didn't want to turn one of her pleasures into work. She started exploring other career choices.
Katelyn had moved to Orillia which allowed her to take courses at Georgian College that could be applied towards a psychology degree at Laurentian University. But it still wasn't the right fit.
Then, before the end of her first semester at Georgian, things changed suddenly – Katelyn heard about Lakehead's Environmental Sustainability program. She was intrigued by its combination of science with conservation and its strong interdisciplinary approach.
"I was becoming more environmentally aware and, thinking back, as a kid, I was always outside – collecting things and messing around on the farm."
The commitment of Lakehead Orillia to sustainability and its certification as the first Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) campus in Canada also influenced her decision.
"I wanted to see how all of the plans would look in reality, such as the green roof and the rainwater toilets."
Katelyn would become one of five students in the inaugural year of the first Environmental Sustainability program in the country. At last, she had found what she was seeking.
"The experience went beyond my expectations," Katelyn says. She became immersed in research projects in the lab and in the field.
She started out working with Professor Sree Kurissery, who developed the environmental sustainability specialization as part of Lakehead Orillia's Honours Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree, and Professor Nanda Kanavillil.
Katelyn spent two years investigating the use of natural biofilm organisms ('slime' to non-scientists) growing on Lake Couchiching and Lake Simcoe as indicators of water quality.
Her hands-on expertise soon began opening doors. In the summer of 2012, Katelyn worked at a local engineering firm followed by overseas employment in the summer of 2013.
"I was hired on the spot as a field technician on an agricultural soil study in Oslo, Norway." Katelyn, fascinated by what she had learned, shifted her research focus from water to land. In her Honours thesis, she examined how the seeds of the colourful lupin plant can improve soil quality on farms.
Now that she's a Lakehead graduate, Katelyn looks forward to continuing her work studying alternatives to conventional agricultural methods.
"I came into Lakehead thinking, 'I like nature,'" Katelyn comments. "I came out thinking, 'I want to work toward making agriculture more sustainable'." This enterprising grad also dreams of owning her own small research farm someday.