Work Study opens new doors for undergraduates

Transformative Learning | Strategy 15: Student Experience
Theme: Collaboration
Elizabeth Houghton (left) and Ava Bakala (right) with several specialized tools in their research, including a photosynthesis meter, which measures net rates of photosynthesis.

When she started her fourth year, Ava Bakala knew she wanted more experience — not only in her field of study, but with UBC Okanagan as a whole. Bakala searched for campus work opportunities on UBCO’s Student & Alumni Job Board, where she connected with the university’s Work Study program.

“To date, I primarily studied general biology, and I didn’t really have any tangible work experience related to my degree,” says Bakala. “When I first saw the Work Study posting, I wasn’t sure because the role focused on plant physiology and I didn’t think I had the necessary experience. But I was interviewed and eventually hired for the role.”

Bakala was thrilled to learn that she would be working as a Research Assistant exploring what happens to sweet cherries when irrigation is reduced after harvest—a critical question considering the dependence of agriculture on global water supplies.

Between May and August, Bakala and another student were responsible for collecting various measurements at five different orchards across the Okanagan Valley and inputting the massive amounts of data on open science platforms for graduate students to use. Bakala also spent considerable time in the lab, helping perform tests to determine things like firmness, colour and size of the cherries—all factors that could be affected when irrigation levels are altered. The project was supported by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, and delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

“My role was pretty independent and taught me a lot about communication and time management,” explains Bakala. “I had to learn how to manage my own deadlines alongside the project deadlines. I coordinated our research efforts between five different orchards and then shared this information with other team members, so everyone knew what was going on. It was definitely a lot of detail to manage.”

But perhaps the greatest benefit for Bakala of the Work Study role was its research focus: “I was able to broaden my overall knowledge of biology through the plant physiology work we did. The students involved in the project had a lab group and would get together to learn about each other’s projects.

“It was such a great learning experience; it opened me up to a whole new world that I didn’t know about before, and it also introduced me to what field research is like. I realize now that I really enjoy field research, and it opened my eyes to a master’s program, which I never considered.”

While many work study programs at universities across Canada and the US are geared toward providing financial aid to students, UBCO’s program has a more experiential twist, explains Jana Petrone, Director of Academic and Career Development at UBCO.

“We want to provide exceptional educational experiences to students that build career ready skills. Faculty and staff apply for funding in the program, and then we evaluate and fund the top-ranked opportunities for students. The goal is to help students shape their path forward, whether that’s gaining practical work experience with professors, staff and graduate students, refining their career aspirations, helping them to network or preparing for post-undergraduate studies.”

Please visit the UBC Okanagan website to read the full story.

Through Strategy 15: Student Experience, UBC is expanding holistic, developmental and professional student advising and engagement to support students in determining and realizing academic, career and personal goals.