VIU graduate Carol Bob can't say enough about the undergraduate student experience she has enjoyed at Vancouver Island University.
Bob, who graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fisheries and Aquaculture degree, won three prestigious Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA), in Chemistry, from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).
Recognized as one of Canada’s top student researchers, the awards allowed her to work on applied and discovery-based science projects in VIU’s multi-million dollar Applied Environmental Research Lab (AERL) at the Nanaimo campus.
“The USRA helped me hone my research skills and motivated me to pursue a career in science,” said Bob. “My undergraduate research experience at VIU is equivalent to what students get in graduate school.”
Bob currently works full-time as a research assistant in the AERL for the Department of Chemistry, studying the influence of freshwater chemistry on an invasive algae species.
As part of her research, she collects water samples from Vancouver Island rivers, including the Nanaimo River, Puntledge River (near Courtenay), Englishman River and Little Qualicum River. Bob is working with friend and VIU Biology graduate Jake Etzkorn, now a technician for Environment Canada researcher Dr. Max Bothwell at the Pacific Biological Station. They are investigating the relationship between water chemistry and Didymo, a strange form of algae invading several freshwater rivers.
“The problem with Didymo is that it smothers invertebrates,” explained Bob. “Fish and bugs lay their eggs on the bedrock, but Didymo prevents the eggs from hatching. The algae could also alter the flow of the river. We don’t know much about the factors causing these invasions, but that’s what we hope to discover.”
Bob’s work is a continuation of undergraduate research she conducted as a fourth-year student under the supervision of VIU chemistry professor Dr. Erik Krogh.
“This project involves high precision measurements for low levels of phosphorus, a limiting nutrient in most freshwater streams,” said Krogh. “The work can be challenging and requires patience and meticulous work habits. Carol brings an incredible dedication to her work and her enthusiasm for science is inspiring for those around her.”
Originally from Nanoose First Nations or Snaw-Naw-As, Bob returned to university as a mature student.
In her final year at VIU, she was the driving force behind the Student Chemistry Club and its ancillary group ACER (Awareness of Climate change through Education and Research). ACER developed a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation for Grade 10 students about the science of climate change, which includes information about greenhouse gases, global warming and how students can reduce their carbon footprint.
The same year, Bob received a $5,000 national Aboriginal Ambassador award from NSERC. She spent part of last summer and early fall travelling to Aboriginal communities in her mother's traditional Gitxsan territories to motivate and inspire young people to get excited about science.
“In high school, I was scared of science,” says Bob. “If I’d had a mentor who took the time to engage me in science, I probably would have pursued university studies 25 years earlier. I want to be the kind of mentor younger students will remember long into the future.”
“We are proud of graduates like Carol Bob,” said VIU President Ralph Nilson. “Her success is a credit to our faculty, our programs and her own hard work and dedication.”