Conference2Classroom founder Rachel Kuzmich recently sat down to speak about her research as a PhD student in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen's University, among other things. As you would undoubtedly expect in having started Conference2Classroom, Rachel is very passionate about and committed to science communication, engagement and outreach. So she is always happy when she has an opportunity to share her science!
You can read the article and see its accompanying photo here, but we have included it below as well.
Throughout some parts of eastern Ontario, the Cerulean warbler makes its home. The small blue songbird, a threatened species in Ontario, is most commonly found in large, forested areas such as the Ottawa Valley.
As it flits from tree to tree in search of insects, the warbler is being closely observed and studied. Unseen and undetected, scientists like Rachel Kuzmich are watching its every move to try and understand why the species, which is declining in most of its range, is doing well around the Queen’s University Biological Station just outside of Kingston.
“We know from existing publications that often birds select areas based on structure, and it would be impossible to survey the entire forest,” she says. “We take advantage of light detection and ranging – or LiDAR – data which gives us a 3D point cloud so we can see the distribution for example of foliage in the vertical and horizontal kind of way.”
Rachel is a first-year PhD student in the Department of Geography and Planning, and it was Queen’s top-notch technology and interdisciplinary learning opportunities that first attracted her to Kingston. As part of her research, she uses cutting-edge LIDAR technology to study her tiny blue winged subjects alongside her supervisor, Dr. Paul Treitz. When it is time to analyze the data, she collaborates with experts in the Queen’s Biology department – including Dr. Paul Martin – to examine the data from multiple perspectives.
While Rachel’s research focuses on conservation efforts, it is just one way of demonstrating the value of LIDAR technologies. “The province is interested in collecting wall-to-wall LIDAR data for the entire province which will help with planning for roads and infrastructure, and there is a satellite called GEDI – Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation – launched in 2018 collecting laser data to facilitate carbon accounting,” she says.
Being at Queen’s has opened up a number of other doors for Rachel to further her development as an academic. She is currently serving as a teaching assistant in a Human Geography course, and preparing for a trip to the United Kingdom’s Monks Wood National Nature Reserve this spring for a fieldwork opportunity. “It's amazing to be in a program that lets me collect my own data in the field and that is able to send me to the UK to do it.”
Rachel isn’t just interested in her own learning, however. She is currently establishing a not-for-profit called Conference2Classroom, which aims to connect people attending conferences with grade and high school classrooms so they can both share their knowledge and passion and raise awareness of different career opportunities.
“I grew up in Welland, Ontario, which was very blue-collar. I had no idea the remote sensing work I do today existed, though I am very happy to be doing this work now,” she says. “Through Conference2Classroom I have facilitated a few events so far, including a pair of Queen’s graduate students who attended the ArcticNet conference in Ottawa and shared their knowledge within a local school. I want to send these types of speakers to places like Tyendinaga or Odessa or Napanee or other rural and remote places within the Limestone District School Board where they may not typically get access to these same people.”
Sharing knowledge is a significant passion of Rachel’s. She is one of the leaders in the GoGeomatics group in Kingston, an organization which hosts free networking events for those working and studying in the geographic information system, remote sensing, drone, surveying, and geomatics fields in Canada, and she previously led the GoGeomatics group in Peterborough. Rachel is also a member of 500 Women Scientists, a chapter-based organization dedicated to making science open, inclusive, and accessible.
“The organization basically advocates for women doing science and encouraging younger girls who might be interested in science but don't have the tools or have never considered the idea,” she says. “If you google ‘scientist’ and look at images you see what you would expect to see. Growing up, I was one of those girls who never considered that you can be a woman scientist. I think this organization offers a great opportunity for mentorship.”
In the spirit of learning, Rachel is sharing her approach to applying for graduate school that helped her land her number one choice.
“I started looking at schools that had programs that would fit, and what their researchers and labs were doing. I read the most recent publications if it was looking like something that might be a fit for me. I then started reaching out via email, but I made sure not to start with my favourite program – knowing that the first draft of my pitch was likely to be a bit rambly because I was nervous. I started with my second and third choice to hone my pitch.”
Part of becoming a legitimate non-profit organization has meant that a lot of time has been spending learning about and navigating the process and requirements to become exactly that. One of the final stages in completing the application was performing a NUANS - which stands for Newly Updated Automated Name Search (and sounds so exciting). Basically, it is a fancy service that searches your business name to ensure that you have selected an appropriate name and are not using a name that some other company is already operating under. It seems intuitive that there would be such a step, the name an organization or business is operating under is so important for name recognition, branding, and so users can understand what you do or are offering. It seems intuitive now, that is!
And we now have the report in hand, and will be meeting with someone to help us interpret and understand the results. And then continue on with the application, of course, with the goal of being an official non-profit by April.
Last month Conference2Classroom founder Rachel Kuzmich sent an email to the Honorable Kirsty Duncan. This week she received a reply from her office, which we have copied below because inserting a pdf document was being uncoorperative for whatever reason this morning.
Dear Ms. Kuzmich,
On behalf of the Minister of Science and Sport, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, thank you for your correspondence of January 15, 2019, regarding the science communication organization you have started, Conference2Classroom. The Minister has asked that I respond on her behalf.
It is wonderful to learn about your efforts to connect researchers and other experts attending conferences with local classrooms. Experts who are eager to share their knowledge and passion for their work can be a great source of inspiration to young people. The Government of Canada recognizes the need to inspire the next generation of researchers and innovators, and I am pleased you have taken up this challenge. As you point out, this provides a space for young Canadians to hear first-hand what actual researchers are doing, and perhaps even more importantly, broadens their awareness of what careers are possible.
I see that Conference2Classroom has already succeeded in organizing several appearances of scientists in classrooms. I commend you for the time and commitment you have dedicated over the past few months to get the organization started.
Please accept my best wishes.
Assistant Deputy Minister
Science and Research Sector
The primary users of Conference2Classroom's services are experts attending conferences and teachers from schools in the host city. Being that our regular Thursday blog falls on Valentine's Day, our founder Rachel Kuzmich wanted to take a minute to reflect and give some love for her favourite teacher.
My parents never bought me skates. I've talked before about growing up in a blue collar town in a blue collar family but that is not entirely accurate. My parents never bought me skates because we were too poor and they couldn't afford it. My poverty was embarrassing to me when I was old enough to realize my used or hand-me-down clothes didn't fit as well as my classmates and they were from last season (or the season before). Being a kid is tough. You're so early in your development as a person and don't yet have the confidence to be the person you are. In my experience, the best teachers do more than teach the curriculum. They are genuinely interested in and encourage your development, and they help you when they can.
My parents couldn't afford to buy me skates but class trips to skate at the local arena were a common winter activity with the school. Sometimes I would have money to rent skates for the day. More often I didn't, so I sat in the bleachers and watched my classmates do laps around the rink. This pattern continued until my third grade teacher, Mme Thériault, gave me skates. They weren't brand new or brand name, they were definitely too big, but they were mine. And they were just what eight year old me needed. And this was just the kind of support eight year old me needed.
And it is something that thirty two year old me remembers fondly. It is funny sometimes the events in our lives that stick with us. I don't know whether Mme Thériault was aware of the impression she made on me and how much her support meant. I'm also certain that eight year old me couldn't have articulated it. I recall fastening the skates as fast as I could to join my peers on the ice. I also remember falling, a lot, because I couldn't skate!
It is this memory of Mme Thériault, along with many others of the important people who inspired me to do more and do better throughout my life, that inspire the work here at Conference2Classroom. We hope that the pathways we enable between experts and classrooms will stick with the children and youth in those classrooms.
For the past couple of weeks, we have been thinking about where Conference2Classroom's forever home will be. While we offer connections between experts and classrooms across Canada, the idea was born in Kingston, we are being incorporated here, and we care about and feel a responsibility to our community. We were founded by a geographer after all, and place and space are very important to her! Most of our work has been done from Rachel's home office in Kingston, but as our founder is moving in May of this spring her current home office will be no longer!
The application to incorporate as a not-for-profit requires a permanent address and the timing of this move has made things a little tricky. But this has meant making realistic plans and having realistic expectations for how we will operate this year.
For the most part, our work is and can be done from a home office. The idea of a coworking space that we could use on say a weekly basis is also highly appealing from a cost perspective and from a collaborative perspective. But finding a suitable coworking space will take time, and we want to get our application in so that we can start applying for funding and soliciting sponsorship so that we will be well positioned to operate and grow. Of course eventually we want our program to see the success that we believe it can achieve as we reach a greater audience, but for now an office to ourselves is not something we can either realistically afford or realistically need at this time.
While it feels like we need a forever home, we realistically expect to grow over the course of the year and beyond. If we can cost save and stay comfortably in a home office, then that means more money will go directly to supporting our mission and less towards operational costs. And at this early stage in our development - which we constantly have to remind ourselves about after all the energy we have been putting in this, because we are only a few months old - this feels right. It looks like our home for now is a home office in Kingston, and soon it will be a home office in Prince Edward County. Now we just need to get one address in ink on the application, ideally so as not to need to change it in another few short months!
As much as Conference2Classroom facilitates science communication, engagement, outreach and education events across Canada, our home is in Kingston, where we were founded. Conference2Classroom founder Rachel Kuzmich is a proud geographer and could write ad nauseum on the importance of place, but suffice to say we feel it is important to build a good relationship with our home community. We are after all in a way a community organization in that we are striving to bring communities together and create new meaningful connections between people who might not otherwise interact.
So we have been talking to the Limestone District School Board (LDSB) about how we can work together.
Our first opening to LDSB was accidental, Rachel was travelling to Burlington and had a rideshare with a high school teacher at Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute. Teachers have been particularly excited about the possibilities of bringing experts in their classrooms to complement the curriculum, and for the duration of the drive we chatted about integrating Conference2Classroom in a more regular manner to classrooms across the school board.
This led to email exchanges and eventually conversations with people from the school board and at the schools. We spoke with an individual working in equity and inclusion at LDSB who was particularly interested by our shared mission to improve accessibility to more rural and remote schools. One school is interested in collaborating through an interactive realtime broadcast program they have with other schools. Rachel will be heading to that school next month to speak with students and learn more about the facilities and technology so that she can provide better information for participating experts who may take advantage of this same platform.
It's a new relationship, we are excited to develop it over time and collaborate closely with the LDSB and the broader Kingston community.
This morning I had a meeting regarding the status of our incorporation as a non-profit organization and am happy to report that things are on pace for this to become official within the next couple of months. Yay!
I've talked about the importance of being a legal entity before (like here), and I want to emphasize some of those points again. The mission of Conference2Classroom is to create a pathway between experts attending conferences across Canada and local classrooms in the host city. While this is a simple idea there is a lot of time, energy and costs that go into it. As a new initiative, we need to get our name out, promote our mission and advertise to attract users. We need to have funding to mobilize our participating experts to our participating classrooms, and as we are particularly keen on addressing accessibility issues for communities that may not typically have this kind of service available (like rural communities) sometimes that means the costs of mobilizing is higher. And then there are operational costs (like those associated with running this website).
Incorporating as a nonprofit is important because it will give us access to funding we need to support our mission.
Part of the incorporation process involves identifying your initial board members. I am fortunate over the years to have become friends with an amazing group of individuals, and this list of amazing friends has grown each year. After my meeting this morning, I contacted a few friends who have encouraged and supported me as I have worked to build Conference2Classroom to invite them to act on my first board. I am trying to build a board that represents the types of users I would have, I think that we will make better decisions if we have a teacher and if we have an expert who has participated in an activity with us and if we have somebody who has experience in the nonprofit sector. Asking friends for a favour is always risky business, but I am hopeful to see favourable responses and looking forward to their thoughts and contributions. I can't wait to get things settled, to be able to announce our first board and introduce this amazing group of people, people I am proud to call my friends, to you.
I am filled with the same excitement in building my first board as I can only imagine getting a band together must be!
This week I sent an email. Well, to be fair, I send a lot of emails, but I wanted to share one in particular that I sent to Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science in Canada. I follow Minister Duncan on Twitter and the other day I saw she was speaking at the University of Saskatchewan, I've seen her travel and give talks all across Canada. Obviously someone as well known as Minister Duncan can approach any school in the country and speak with students. However other less well known individuals may be respected experts in their given field, and they may not be able to come to classrooms with the same ease.
Conference2Classroom provides a pathway between experts, like Minister Duncan, attending conferences across Canada to connect with local classrooms. I know a lot of people are interested to participate in outreach or engagement activities, but don't know how. And what might seem like little challenge is not really that little, not knowing where to start is a major deterrent from starting anything. I have invited Minister Duncan to participate in an activity with Conference2Classroom to highlight our initiative, to bring it to a wider audience, so that other respected but less well known individuals have a chance to connect with classrooms, share their knowledge, and inspire the next generation.
I look forward to hearing from Minister Duncan.
This is the email I sent.
To the Hon Kirsty Duncan,
My name is Rachel Kuzmich and I am a PhD student at Queen's University in the Department of Geography and Planning. My undergraduate was completed at Trent University and I received a Hons BSc in Geography and Biology, with a minor in International Development Studies. My current research allows me to draw from this diverse academic background and I am looking at bird habitat for species of conservation interest using airborne laser scanning data.
Recently I founded Conference2Classroom, a scicomm outreach organization that creates a pathway between experts and researchers attending conferences across Canada with local classrooms in the host community. I was inspired to start this initiative for two reasons. First, as a graduate student I am fortunate to attend and participate in some conferences. In November 2018 I attended two conferences: ForestSAT hosted at the University of Maryland and the Canadian Association of Geographers Ontario Division conference hosted at the University of Toronto. Both conferences provided me amazing opportunities to share my work so far and learn from others in my field, and yet I perceived a missed opportunity at both conferences to engage with the local community. Second, I am particularly interested in engaging with students because I have ended up doing work that I had no idea even existed when I was growing up. I am from a very blue collar town and family and the realm of possibilities that I had in my mind of what I could be when I grew was shaped by that environment. The goal of Conference2Classroom is to provide the opportunity to share their work and inspire the future generation. And I think this is an important task.
I wanted to share this with you, as Minister of Science, I know that you do a lot of science outreach, communication and engagement activities. In fact, the impetus to write this email today comes from seeing on Twitter yesterday that you were participating in the Women in Science Speaker Series at the University of Saskatchewan. While I recognize that someone in your position doesn't really need any assistance in connecting with local classrooms, but I wanted to invite you to register with us nonetheless because other people may not have the same ease or resources in making that connection. By participating with Conference2Classroom you would be leading by example and highlighting the service we provide. It is my hope that your participation will inspire other experts and researchers attending conferences to register with us, and together we can facilitate further outreach activities and the knowledge transfer between this generation and the next.
You can get more information and register to participate here. And if you have any questions or would like to speak more about Conference2Classroom or science outreach and communication in Canada more generally, please feel free to contact me at any time.
Before the holidays I discovered the wonderful thing that is the Curiosity on Stage series at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The Curiosity on Stage series brings people working or doing research in science and technology to the museum for short interactive presentations followed by a Q & A period. I reached out to them, and while it took a bit of time (on my end) to work out a date that worked, and we have a date and that date is March 9!
Happen to be in Ottawa? Come hear my talk! Looking for an excuse to come to Ottawa? Now you have one! And bring the family as one of the goals is to engage with all kinds of people and for talks to be accessible for all.
I am so excited to share the songbird habitat research I have been doing at Queen's University as I work towards my PhD.
After launching Conference2Classroom and starting off with a bang at the end of 2018, we are ecstatic to get the new year rolling. We have three big goals this year to support our main initiative and one additional goal for how we aspire to grow. You might have noticed our spiffy new logo that popped up on our social media pages already too.
In terms of supporting our main mission, which is to connect experts attending conferences to classrooms across Canada, we need to complete the process of becoming a legitimate non-profit, increase our number of participating experts and classrooms and raise money.
So we've launching a Patreon!
The goal of this campaign is threefold. First, Patreon provides a way for our supporters to provide us support at a predictable time and in a predictable amount. Second, this platform makes it easier for us to say thanks by offering perks. And third, we hope that this will increase our visibility (which will in turn help increase our participants).
We hope you will support and share widely to your network!
Our additional goal, which is tied into the success of our Patreon campaign and other fundraising initiatives, is to develop an online scicomm/outreach workshop. This will benefit our participating experts and others who wish to engage with their communities in a meaningful manner.
Hello and here we come 2019!