Work Integrated Learning in Toohey Forest
At 640 hectares in size, Toohey Forest is one of the few remaining ‘green lungs’ of Brisbane and provides a vital habitat for many native plants and animals once common across South East Queensland. As the home of Griffith University’s Nathan campus the forest provides environmental science students with a range of learning opportunities. One such opportunity is for our students to work with industry partner, the Toohey Forest Environmental Education Centre, which operates within the Griffith University EcoCentre. The Centre develops and provides public awareness programs across the community, government and multiple industries to promote sustainable living and working environments.
Two environmental science students, Daniel Atkinson and Jonathon ‘Jonty’ Wunsch shared their Work Integrated Learning (WIL) experiences with the centre and the skills they have gained during their placements.
Tell us a little bit about your Work Integrated Learning (WIL) placement
My WIL placement has given me the opportunity to use the skills and knowledge gained through my degree over the last three years to design and implement a water quality monitoring programme for the Toohey Forest Environmental Education Centre. The project involves the monitoring programme, a comprehensive report detailing the results and recommendations, and a presentation to university staff and industry partners.
My project is designed as a pilot study to monitor water quality factors in multiple locations in the Mimosa Creek system across a temporal scale. Mimosa Creek flows through Griffith University and provides one of the only semi-permanent water sources within the local ecosystem. The ephemeral waterway is a lynchpin for the biodiversity of Toohey Forest, with many of the forest’s fauna moving within the vicinity of the creeks during drier periods.
My role in the project will be to monitor various water quality factors in the system using the HORIBA U-50 multi-parameter water quality meter. I will then create a report noting the temporal and spatial trends of the creek system water, including a brief exploration into potential drivers and with future recommendations for environmental management programs.
Our research and results will both assist in the education of school children through the centre by providing robust data sets as well as identifying potential issues within Mimosa creek for the possible future provision of environmental management programs.
How important is WIL to studying environmental science at uni?
As an aspiring environmental consultant, real, relevant experience of undertaking an environmental monitoring project is essential for consolidating not only my knowledge and skills as a graduate, but also confidence in myself as a capable young professional.
The specific WIL project that I am undertaking is very open-ended – the design of the programme and methodology of the research is entirely up to my project partner and myself to devise. This is a challenge that I really enjoy and look forward to overcoming. Having this kind of experience behind me will prove to myself that I am adept in my field.
It’s important to me to undertake an industry placement so I can get a real taste of the operation of environmental science contractor and advice/report writing. Given my current career path that I have envisaged is in the environmental sector of the legal industry. I thought that it would be great life experience to undertake the WIL Program and complete field work and testing to gain a better understanding of rigours involved.
What skills and experiences have you gained?
By the time you have reached your third year of study, you’ve written enough essays, put together plenty of PowerPoint presentations, and endured many final exams. It’s time to prove to yourself, your peers, and your future employer that you are ready to excel in your field by finishing your degree with a work integrated learning placement.
Designing and implementing a monitoring programme as part of a working team has honed my organisational and communication skills, as well as my ability to problem solve when inevitably faced with unexpected challenges. Furthermore, undertaking the monitoring activities has given me more hands-on experience with specialised testing equipment including working around technical difficulties.
It has been so rewarding to be placed in the position where you are able to dictate your own workflows on a project and plan out the placement. Although it was daunting when I first commenced the project, through the assistance of our industry partners and academic supervisors I’ve been able to bounce questions and concepts off them successfully.
In my WIL Placement, thanks to the EcoCentre, I’ve enjoyed the use of top of the range equipment such as the HORIBA to test the quality of the water. Furthermore, the placement has allowed me to engage more deeply with the topic of freshwater systems water quality which was an interest of mine. Researching and formulating an effective testing program has been an enjoyable experience and a great skill to learn through the placement.
What would you tell other students yet to do a WIL placement?
The WIL placement has exceeded my expectations by giving me a genuine front seat position in the direction of the project. You are not here to plug numbers into a spreadsheet or do coffee runs for the office – the WIL experience has been designed to test your skills and draw on your specialised knowledge to deliver something of real value to your field.
The WIL Program is a worthwhile investment of time and a great capstone to your university degree. The level of autonomy given in the WIL Program is unlike any other course I have undertaken and under the guidance of your industry partner and academic supervisors you can really flourish. Keep the program in the back of your mind and investigate going into your final year the industry placements available – the experience granted is invaluable.
Brad and Darren at the Toohey Forest Environmental Education Centre have been outstanding in assisting in any way that they can in the program, whether it be by the lending of resources, guidance on testing structures or just bouncing ideas for the report. Their knowledge and assistance has been a massive boon for the placement and I couldn’t imagine undertaking this without their guidance.