Campus Life - Kamloops  

TRU heads collaborative research into wildfires

A new provincially funded research chair based at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) will help chart a new course in wildfire prediction and response in British Columbia.

The BC Research Chair in Predictive Services, Emergency Management and Fire Science is the result of a two-year effort between the Province of BC, the mayors of Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George, and the Interior University Research Coalition, which includes TRU, UBC-Okanagan, and the University of Northern British Columbia. 

Province invests millions

This position will be funded by a $5-million endowment from the province. Based in Kamloops, the chair will be in close proximity to Emergency Management BC and BC Wildfire Services, and the results of this research will have global impact.

“Interior communities have worked together to advocate for additional research and capacity to help better understand wildfires in order to protect their residents, infrastructure, and economies, and we’re answering the call to action with this position,” said Doug Donaldson, minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. “The health of our forests is critical to BC communities and economies. Improved and collaborative research is part of reducing wildfire risk.”

Partners key to research success

Through fostering effective partnerships, and by harnessing the unique assets available at TRU including world-class researchers, graduate students, labs and equipment, this new research chair will work toward an improved ability to forecast, prevent and respond to wildfires and other environmental emergencies. The chair’s research will also support wildfire data modelling, and will explore the relationship between climate change and its effect on wildfire risk. 

“This effort shows that by working with various partners, universities can help address the complex issues facing local communities,” said TRU President Brett Fairbairn. “I would like to thank our research partners – the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of British Columbia Okanagan ­– and the mayors of Prince George, Kelowna and Kamloops, who were integral in putting this forward. Continued collaboration with these partners and others, including First Nations, BC Wildfire Service and EMBC, will ensure BC has the latest and best information to prevent and respond to wildfires.”

Regional mayors played an instrumental role advocating for this initiative on behalf of their communities and their residents, who have been severely impacted by forest fires in recent years. 

“Kamloops is the ideal location for this research position,” said Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian. “Not only do we have a natural vulnerability to forest fires and in particular urban interference fires, we also have had a great deal of experience dealing with evacuations and recovery. This is good news for Kamloops and for British Columbia.”

The first appointment at TRU is anticipated later this year.

TRU introduces First-Year Student Resiliency Fund


Dean donates $10K to help during difficult times

Students beginning university this fall will have an experience unlike any incoming class. Post-secondary school looks different but education is more important than ever. That’s why Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is creating new bursaries and awards for first-year students embarking on their studies amid unforeseen financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university aims to raise $50,000 to provide up to 100 first-year students with additional tuition support through the new First-Year Student Resiliency Fund. The TRU Foundation will match up to $25,000 donated to the fund and the Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work, Airini, is personally donating $10,000.

“One thing I’ve learned from living in Kamloops is that we give however we can and together our help adds up to something big,” said Dean Airini. “COVID-19 has affected so many in our communities. TRU offers one way forward, preparing students to be active community members and genuine leaders. If there was ever a time to recognize the potential and resilience of our future students, it is now. We don’t want their pace to slow.”

Airini, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work
Airini, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Social Work

Airini sees the passion students have for making a difference in their communities—and wants no student to miss out on the opportunity to realize that calling. The less time students spend worrying about how to finance their education, the more time they can spend excelling. It’s important to set students up for success because they are the ones who will make our communities better and stronger, Airini said.

Education and living-away-from-home costs for the average undergraduate student total $20,000 per year.

“Many students rely on summer savings and part-time work during the school year and both of those opportunities are significantly diminished,” said Gordon Down, director of Student Awards & Financial Aid. “Awards supported by donors are a tangible indication for students that someone cares about their educational journey and is using their own money to invest in them.”

Students who are in dire financial need or are unable to accumulate debt, non-traditional learners and those who are the first in their family to attend post-secondary school are especially vulnerable during this economic crisis and risk postponing their education. No student should have to delay their education indefinitely.

“TRU is committed to addressing these challenges in every way possible,” said Vice-President of University Relations Brian Daly. “The positive impact TRU graduates have in their communities will not be delayed because they cannot afford to start university now.”

Brian Daly, Vice-President of University Relations
Brian Daly, Vice-President of University Relations

TRU recognizes its students’ challenges are closely related to the economic issues faced by Interior cities and rural communities. The university—through its operations, students, and alumni—provides a significant boost to the regional economy, estimated at $705.3 million annually. Put another way, one in nine jobs in the region are supported by TRU, its students, and graduates.  

Anyone can contribute to the First-Year Student Resiliency Fund by visiting tru.ca/limitless and making a donation by Aug. 31 so awards are available for the fall term. To learn more about contributing support, contact Diana Major at [email protected] or 250-320-0954.

Students can learn more about how to apply for the awards starting Aug. 1 at tru.ca/awards.

Thompson Rivers University is hosting a free public event so prospective students can find out more about their financial options. This virtual event, University affordability in a COVID-19 era, is slated for Wednesday, Aug. 5, at 6 p.m. on TRU’s YouTube channel. Prospective and returning students can get answers to their questions about enrolling this fall, including how to pay for school. Anyone can join in here.

Searching for signs of COVID-19 in Kamloops’ sewage

Dr. Jonathan Van Hamme

Thanks to newly funded federal research, if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in Kamloops, Thompson Rivers University (TRU) researchers should be able to spot it days early.

Supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Alliance Grant, and working with the City of Kamloops and engineers at Urban Systems, TRU microbiologists Dr. Jonathan Van Hamme and Dr. Eric Bottos are about to begin sampling the city’s sewage to monitor for the genetic material shed by the virus.

TRU-based genomics lab at the forefront

Van Hamme is the director of TRUGen, the first high-throughput genomic sequencing lab in BC outside of the Lower Mainland, and the tools at his disposal make this research project possible. By the end of July, Van Hamme’s research assistants will be collecting weekly samples from various wastewater collection sites in Kamloops. Those samples will be analyzed in his lab, where he will look for the ribonucleic acid (RNA) fragments from the virus that are shed in feces.

“We’re using the same technology that they use when testing the nasal swabs,” Van Hamme explained. 

Testing sewage to track disease is not new — scientists in several countries have been monitoring sewage for other diseases, including polio, for years. However, testing for the genetic material shed by carriers of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—is new, specifically in the Canadian context.

With a growing network of cities beginning to test wastewater for signs of the virus, scientists are developing standard methodologies and protocols, including determining the lowest levels of genetic material that can be traced, and even deciding when to sample.

“Because people shed it in their feces, we have to figure out what time most people go to the bathroom,” he said.

“We have a lot of questions. Even if you detect RNA in the sewage, what does that mean? You can’t directly correlate it to how many people in a population are ill, because they may be asymptomatic spreaders. It’s a good way to monitor entire populations, cost effectively.”

Pinpointing outbreaks

By sampling weekly and developing a good baseline, Van Hamme expects this research will spot the genetic material as much as six days before an outbreak. 

“The City of Kamloops has been a great partner. They are giving us access to the treatment plant and we should be able to sample from different collection points. So, theoretically, we can sample outside of a school or even a long-term-care facility,” he said.

“If an outbreak starts, or cases start to go up, we should be able to spot it,” he added, noting that this testing wouldn’t account for anomalies, including a bus of tourists passing through the city.

While Van Hamme wanted to begin sampling sooner, he held off on buying materials needed for the research as he did not want to remove equipment necessary for human testing from the supply chain. Now, however, supply chains have stabilized, and he is excited to begin. 

More information

Dr. Jonathan Van Hamme, Professor
[email protected]

Co-op work in high gear despite COVID slowdown

What does a children’s day camp leader have in common with an urban agriculture technician, software developer, health and safety assistant, and copywriter? They are just some of the co-op positions that TRU students are completing this summer. In fact, nearly 125 students are putting their classroom learning to work within BC and across the country, despite the COVID-19 health crisis. Noah Bergman, a third-year computing science student, is part of the coding team with Axis Forestry, a Kamloops company that rebuilds heavy machinery and equipment for the forestry industry and upgrades the software and computers needed to run the equipment’s electronics. “Co-op is the place where you can really use the tools you learn,” says Bergman, who is working onsite rather than from home. “In the real world, you get the practise of finding a problem, thinking through the solutions, choosing the best solution and really getting to see how the theories and tools you learn in your classes work in the real world. You also get the experience of working on projects and with a team. Co-op has reinforced my degree by giving me a way to use the tools I’ve been learning throughout my degree.”
Co-op student Noah Bergman.
Computing science student Noah Bergman explains how computer coding operates different parts of an industrial machine. He is doing a second co-op work placement with Axis Forestry in Kamloops.
Students in a variety of programs are eligible for co-op, from business and accounting to natural resources, engineering, sciences and arts, and are able to get real-world job experience to build their resumés while earning credits and getting paid.

Learn more about co-op 

Get the most out of your LinkedIn profile

Co-op work terms have been a little more complicated during the COVID-19 health crisis, and the number of TRU placements is down approximately 15 percent from last summer. But Shawn Read, chair of the Career & Experiential Learning department, says, “Considering the environment the pandemic has created, we are quite happy with our work-term placements, Co-op 1000 enrolment, student appointments and wage subsidy progress.” Read believes that being close to last year’s numbers speaks to the relationships co-op and its coordinators have built over the years with employers of all sizes—whether it’s those with less than 10 people to governments and organizations with thousands on the payroll. Most of this summer’s placements are in computing science and business and baccalaureate programs, numbering 44 and 36 respectively. Those 80 students represent nearly 65 percent of the total. The balance represents students from sciences, natural resource science, engineering, architecture engineering technician and arts. Nancy Bepple coordinates placements for computing science, math and physics, and says the continued growth of digital technology has kept her numbers strong. The world needs people to fill roles in everything from programming software and websites to artificial and predictive intelligence, 5G, autonomous vehicles, smart devices, computer vision, block chain, network systems and supports running small organizations and large cities. “There was some impact from COVID—there were some computing science students who were laid off because of the impact of COVID—but most were rehired by other firms,” says Bepple. “Even in a pandemic there is demand for computing science positions. Computer systems and software are core parts of all types of businesses.”

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