Campus Life - Kamloops  

This summer job is for the birds

Matthew McIsaac bird research

Matthew McIsaac has landed the best summer job of his life.

Not only is the fourth-year biology student being paid to do research, he is the lead researcher, he works in his area of interest, sets his own hours and works outside. His findings could create change on campus, in Kamloops and around the world. He expects to present his findings at a conference and experts and influencers he wouldn’t have otherwise.

And because this summer job meshes with his courses, he won’t have to re-orient his brain when classes resume in September.

“This project has kept me sharper than I’ve been in past summers, and this is the kind of work I hope to do for the rest of my life: thinking about things, working on problems, reading papers, hunting things down. Keeping your brain active is pretty important and it’s cool when you can do that for work.”

The project

McIsaac is looking into the frequency that birds crash into TRU’s windows—referred to as bird-window collisions—and what preventative measures can be using for buildings whether they are still in the planning stages or longstanding. Although McIsaac’s area of interest is molecular plant biology, he also enjoys diving into unfamiliar territory and searching for and finding answers. So for him, the bird research is a terrific fit.

The study is an initiative of the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) and is being funded by the TRU Sustainability Grant Fund. McIsaac learned of the opportunity through Tom Dickinson, EAC member and TRU’s dean of science.

McIsaac is collecting and generating data, including reports of dead birds from TRU’s grounds crew. He walks around campus photographing windows, analyzing them for signs birds have struck the windows, such as smudges and marks. For high windows, he uses binoculars.

Found a dead bird on campus?

Everyone can play a part in McIsaac’s efforts to find a solution by reporting dead birds to [email protected] Be sure to include a description of the location where the bird was found and if possible, a photo or two. It also helps if photos or the bird’s locations are geotagged through a GPS location, doable with Google Maps. Anecdotal evidence of a collision is welcome as well.

Why fly into glass?

Birds hit windows for many reasons. The glass reflects trees and open sky so birds believe they have a clear path. Or it looks like they can fly through an open space in the building. Or, because of how their eyes work, they can’t see glass at all. Solutions range from simply putting stickers on windows to installing windows that birds can see.

How big is the problem?

Window collisions rank second behind cats for human-caused bird mortality in North America. Third is human impact on their habitat such as the removal of trees, development, re-configuring of land and paving. Large North American cities like Toronto, Chicago and New York have created remediation strategies, while it’s estimated that between 300,000 and one billion birds die each year in North America from window collisions.

Though many birds avoid crashing by flying up at the last second, those who are hurt or die can be safety and health risks. They can attract unwanted scavengers and predators from insects and worms to carrion birds like crows and magpies to larger mammals like coyotes and bears.

Bird loss could have unpredictable consequences

“I think we have a responsibility to do something about this because we’re responsible for changing the environment,” said McIsaac. “As we lose birds, we lose biodiversity and the loss of biodiversity leads to a lot of damage across the entire planetary ecosystem.

“There is an argument to be made for not mitigating the harm to birds, but I don’t think it’s a very strong one. As humans evolve and take over this habitat, this is part of the evolutionary process and birds are being winnowed out that can’t handle humans. The problem with that thought is that we then get a largely homogeneous group of birds that are able to deal well with the problem. I think all birds are cool and it would be a shame to lose an entire songbird species. The songbirds are definitely a lot more interesting to listen to than the crows.”


TRU’s Ombaashi hosts national gathering

More than 150 Indigenous and allied researchers from across Canada arrive at TRU next week for the National Gathering of Graduate Students.

The gathering is geared toward those conducting research in Indigenous health and wellness, and is being organized by Ombaashi — the Indigenous Mentoring Network Project led by Dr. Rod McCormick, BC Regional Innovation Chair in Aboriginal Health, and organized by Research Associate Sereana Naepi.

Ombaashi is an Indigenous word that means to soar upwards or to be lifted up by the wind. The goal of the Ombaashi network is to provide students in Indigenous health research with a sense of belonging and support within a wider community of peers involved in Indigenous health research. The National Gathering of Graduate Students, which is hosted by Ombaashi and the Institute of Indigenous Peoples Health, provides attendees with validation with regards to Indigenous research philosophies, ideologies and approaches.

“A gathering like this provides participants with a renewed perspective about the importance of their focus on the field of Indigenous health. By hearing other researchers talk about their work attendees also experience increased confidence in terms of their abilities and motivation as Indigenous health scholars in training,” explained McCormick.

During the gathering, graduate students will be joined by a number of senior Indigenous health researchers, who will provide mentorship.

“The goal, always, is to increase capability and capacity of Indigenous researchers. Students rarely have opportunities like this to meet such scholars in such an intimate venue,” Naepi said.

Event keynotes include Dr. Maree Toombs, Director of Indigenous Health for the Rural Clinical School Faculty of Medicine at the University of Queensland, Dr. Carrie Bourassa, Scientific Director, Institute of Indigenous People’s Health for the Canadian Institute of Health Research, Dr. Graham Smith, Te Whare W?nanga o Awanuiarangi, Kukpi7 Ryan Day of the Bonaparte Indian Band, and Dr. Margaret Kovach of the University of Saskatchewan.

The gathering features graduate student presentations on education and wellness, healthcare, and research methodologies, as well as many opportunities for networking, and several off-campus events that bring the researchers into the communities. Guests will have the opportunity to visit the Kamloops Residential School, and Pipsell — the land surrounding Jacko Lake that has been designated a Secwepemc Nation cultural heritage site.

Engineering the future with software

The first thing that sparked the interest of second-year TRU engineering student Brian Burciaga when it came to technology was his iPod touch he got when he was in Grade 6. “I couldn’t believe that something so small could do so much.”

He was introduced to basic programming languages in high school. Even then, he knew he wanted a career where he could help people and use his love for technology, which led him to TRU’s  Software Engineering program.

The new Bachelor of Software Engineering program is gearing up so students like Burciaga can be trained to become technological innovators that build the future of software. Software engineering is in the top 10 fastest-growing and high-demand careers in Canada and is expected to stay on that track for the next 10 years. Companies from small, local start-ups to brand names like Microsoft and Apple hire software engineers to build on their current products and create new cutting-edge software.

The TRU Engineering difference

Dr Faheem Ahmed, chair of Applied Science and Engineering, worked as a software engineer for 10 years and has been teaching software engineering for more than a decade. For him, his industry and academic experience come together to culminate in the new Software Engineering program.

Burciaga has been studying engineering through the Engineering Transfer program which has been offered at TRU for the past 30 years. Students have been able to complete their first one or two years of engineering courses at TRU, then finish their degree at another university.  This new program allows students to complete their education at TRU, so they can remain in smaller classes and get hands-on work experience that may not be offered elsewhere. Burciaga said his favourite things about studying at TRU are the small class sizes and faculty members’ open office hours, which Ahmed says the university prides themselves on maintaining and having available for students. Engineering is a concentrated and challenging program, so extra support from professors is an asset.

Computer Science versus Software Engineering

Software engineering is a unique program in BC, as it’s only offered at TRU and one other institution in the province. TRU’s program is designed to zero in on practical applications of the theory and knowledge students learn, including mandatory Co-op work terms in the third and fourth years. Ahmed said there is a big contrast between it and the Computer Science program.

“One is focused on theory and the other on the practical application of the theory – turning theory into a tangible concept,” he said.

Burciaga is considering pursuing a career in building security systems and work on something fun like video game development as a hobby. Ultimately, he wants to be a part of the future of technology and make the world better. Something he wants people to know about engineering is the effect it has on the safety of the public.

“I want to help further technology and have a career that benefits people. As an engineer, you are doing work that if not done correctly can be harmful to people. When you are building houses, bridges or electrical systems, there are people depending on the work you are doing.”

To apply for the program and for more information, visit the Software Engineering website or contact Dr Faheem Ahmed.


Canada is…

Canada Day video streeter

In recognition of July 1 being Canada Day, the Newsroom took a quick walk around campus, asking people for their thoughts on Canada. Drawing a random question from a bag, this is what they had to say:


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