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  • Writer's pictureThe Cleanup Team

A SWEP Summer: Learning Through Experience

By: Anna Bryan, Community Engagement Coordinator (Kingston)

The City of Kingston has been traditionally inhabited and protected by Indigenous Peoples. The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup (GLPC) would like to recognize that it is the traditional homeland of the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and the Huron-Wendat. The Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup acknowledges their historic connection and stewardship for the Kingston and Lake Ontario Region.


Anna in the QE3 Lab

Growing up on a small island off the coast of British Columbia, I have always been taught to have the utmost respect for the environment, a value which I still hold today. This respect, along with my love and curiosity about the outdoors, led me to apply for the Great Lakes Plastic Cleanup (GLPC) Community Engagement Coordinator position through the Queen’s Student Workplace Experiment Program (SWEP).

As a student at Queen’s pursuing a Life Science Major and Environmental Studies Minor, and someone who wanted to gain more experience working in the environmental sector while also having the opportunity to work with a variety of people, this position spoke to me. However, it is important to note that this job involved more than just acting as a Community Engagement Coordinator. The job focused on the intersectionality between three different groups; the GLPC, the Queen’s Environmental Ecology and Ecotoxicology Lab (QE3) and the Beaty Water Research Center (BWRC). This was the first year that this unique position was offered, and it provided broader opportunities for collaboration, learning and active participation in so many different areas.

Capturing images of microplastics using a microscope

As part of the QE3 Research Group, I had the pleasure of working with Sam Gene, a PhD student, on her project investigating the developmental effects of microplastic exposure in wood frogs. I was able to assist in the microplastic analysis which involved using software to measure the microplastics found in each sample and hands-on lab time subsampling and working with the microscope.

I enjoyed getting to spend time in the lab. As someone who missed out on lab time during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to work on these laboratory skills reminded me of why I love science. As the lab is on campus, this part of my job also provided me the opportunity to connect with professors and graduate students in similar fields while acting as a liaison between academic partners and the GLPC.

Anna at the Kingston Public Farmer's Market

Being a Community Engagement Coordinator for the GLPC has been such a rewarding position. From participating in community events to compiling waste characterization data, I have been able to thoroughly engage with the work and raise awareness in the Kingston community. Through collaboration with my supervisors and fellow coordinators, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the Great Lakes, the importance they hold and how the GLPC is working to preserve them.

Sorting debris at a volunteer event

One of the most interesting facts that I learned was that an estimated 10 million kilograms of plastic enter the lakes every year. I had no idea the quantity was that large. Some of my favourite experiences with the GLPC were when we hosted waste characterization events in Portsmouth Olympic Marina Harbour in Kingston. At these events, I connected with community members who were also passionate about cleaning up the lakes and I was able to show them how the GLPC is working to reduce plastic pollution. It is empowering to be able to work with like-minded individuals and to actively assist in removing plastic pollution from the Great Lakes.

Wave flume set up

With the BWRC, I had the opportunity to work with graduate students on wave flume projects. The BWRC focuses on interdisciplinary water-related research and education initiatives, striving to support research related to traditional and emerging water-related disciplines. Wave flumes are special wave tanks that can stimulate specific wave patterns to allow for research into coastal oceanography and other related topics. It was fascinating being able to work with these types of tanks, as I did not have any prior experience with this area of civil engineering. This work not only broadened my knowledge of the engineering field, but gave me the opportunity to work hands-on with technical equipment.

Volunteer event at Portsmouth Olympic Marina Harbour

As each of the three groups are committed to environmental stewardship, I was able to establish the connection between them and create unique opportunities for collaboration. During my time in this position, I learned the value of these relationships, and how important it is to create pathways that allow for greater knowledge and growth opportunities. It has been an amazing summer, and I will always be grateful for the personal and professional skills acquired through this role!


Anna is currently studying Life Science and Environmental Studies at Queen’s University. She has always held a deep passion for the environment and is grateful to have the opportunity to educate others on the importance of environmental stewardship in the Great Lakes.



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