Samuelle Simard-Provençal holds a small bird in her hands.

Alum takes high school students under her wing

October 25, 2021
Author: Rachel Stern

Samuelle Simard-Provençal shares her love of science through bird banding demonstration

Vancouver Island University (VIU) alum Samuelle Simard-Provençal led a bird banding demonstration this September to allow girls and Indigenous youth to learn about biological sciences and the different career paths they can pursue.

“It’s an opportunity for young scientists to explore different avenues of biology and get a chance to try something different than what’s normally done in science class in high school,” says Simard-Provençal. “When I was in high school I didn’t know about ecology. I thought you went into biology to become a doctor or a fisheries biologist. I thought this would be a really cool opportunity to show students that there are other avenues of ecology and biology.”

Students from Nanaimo District Secondary School learned about local bird species during the demonstration and how to hold, band and release birds properly. Simard-Provençal, who graduated earlier this year with a Bachelor of Science, major in Biology and minor in Math, conducted the workshop thanks to a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Student Ambassador grant. The grant allows post-secondary students to act as mentors and share their love of science or engineering with youth from under-represented and disadvantaged groups so they can learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Simard-Provençal says when she enrolled in VIU’s Biology program she didn’t know what career paths were possible, but chose the discipline because she loved animals and being outside. She learned about bird banding when Dr. Eric Demers, a VIU Biology Professor and Co-Chair of the Biology Department, visited one of her first-year courses and discussed volunteer bird banding opportunities. 

Samuelle Simard-Provençal holds a bird in her hands.

Simard-Provençal says bird banding is a great tool for studying birds and hopes to put her skills to good use for the foreseeable future. Danielle Lacasse Photo

“It was a mind-blowing experience. I was addicted instantly. This was an entirely different kind of ecology I had never been exposed to, getting to hold wild, beautiful and colourful animals,” says Simard-Provencal, adding that this was a hands-on field experience she didn’t know she would have access to as a first-year student. “There is so much more that you can learn from a bird when you are holding it right there in your hand.”

Simard-Provençal says bird banding introduced her to the entire bird-watching community in the Nanaimo region and the “number of mentors and friends I have met has impacted me more than I thought could be possible.”

Her experience has led to numerous job opportunities. She’s worked as a bander for Rocky Point Bird Observatory, a research assistant and field technician conducting bird counts and bioacoustics field work for the Bayne Lab & Bioacoustics Unit in Edmonton and a MAPS assistant bander for Owl Moon Environmental Inc. in Fort McMurray. Simard-Provençal currently volunteers as Bander in Charge for the VIU Bird Banding Station in Nanaimo.

While studying at VIU, Simard-Provençal received a VIU REACH Award and the Senior Women Academic Administration of Canada 2020 Student Leadership Award.

Simard-Provençal hopes to begin her Master of Science in Biology next fall at the University of Windsor, working on the migration and movement of snow buntings, a declining Arctic songbird. This research project will hopefully bring her to Nunavut in the summer, and all over Southern Canada in the winter. This winter she plans to volunteer on bird banding projects off the island and is also working on developing a nest monitoring project with barn owls of Vancouver Island. 

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