U of T alumnus Justin Reid is on a mission to get students out of the classroom and into the world.
“Our industry needs people,” says Reid, who earned his master’s degree in geology from U of T in 2002 and who now serves as CEO and director of Troilus Gold.
“We need proficient geoscientists with core mapping skills and experience identifying rocks. The only way to acquire those abilities is to spend weeks living in tents, banging rocks and exploring the unseen corners of the world,” he explains.
“We need to get students out into the field to see, touch and feel what they’ve only learned about in lectures.”
An exciting new gift to the Department of Earth Sciences, the Troilus Experiential Learning Fund, promises to do just that. Thanks to the organization’s generosity, as many as 175 undergraduate students will be able to participate in core field courses and gain firsthand experience with mapping and geophysical instruments.
“This gift will make our program more equitable,” explains Charly Bank, an associate professor in the department’s teaching stream, who brings students into the field with the geophysics courses he teaches. “We know that a few of our students have faced challenges participating in these trips because of family commitments, the associated expenses or missed income from part-time or summer jobs. This fund will alleviate some of the financial concerns for students.”
This gift — which will cover travel, lodging and other costs associated with these trips — removes a significant financial barrier for students. Students will be able to give their complete attention to applying mapping and documentation techniques in the Manitoulin Island area (for the Introduction to Geological Field Methods course). Some could be headed to Benny Greenstone Belt, just outside Sudbury, to compile geoscience data (as part the Advanced Geological Field Methods course) or to Deep River, near Algonquin Provincial Park, to get hands-on experience using geophysical instrumentation (as part of the Geophysical Field Techniques class).
Ultimately, field experiences are crucial in developing students' thinking and skills, and students with diverse abilities benefit. Most of our students enjoy going into the field and connecting information from the classroom with observations in nature, while also experiencing different cultures and making friends.
“Ultimately, field experiences are crucial in developing students' thinking and skills, and students with diverse abilities benefit. Most of our students enjoy going into the field and connecting information from the classroom with observations in nature, while also experiencing different cultures and making friends,” adds Bank.
This new fund aligns well with work the department is currently doing to ensure its offerings are accessible to all students. In addition to establishing a new equity, diversity and inclusion committee focused on inclusion across all aspects of its work, the department offers hands-on, lab-based learning opportunities in its new cutting-edge microscopy lab for analysis of rocks, minerals and microfossils. As well, the department has a new computational geology course where students work with data to develop coding and analysis skills to solve problems in earth sciences.
Students like Xuefei Fan — who earned her bachelor’s degree in geology from U of T in 2021 as a member of Innis College — knows firsthand the profound impact of these courses.
In fact, she gained a true sense of the hands-on nature of geoscience on one of her field courses to Whitefish Falls, near Manitoulin Island — which the Troilus gift will help current and future students attend.
Things I had learned in the classroom started making sense on that trip. It was a defining trip in terms of my development as a geologist.
“Things I had learned in the classroom started making sense on that trip,” explains Fan, who started her master of science program at the Department of Earth Sciences at U of T earlier this fall. “It was a defining trip in terms of my development as a geologist.”
Fan went on a number of other trips as an undergraduate student — including another field course to Benny Greenstone Belt (which the Troilus gift will also now support) and exploring the landscapes of South Africa and Turkey as part of the International/Indigenous Course Module Program. She feels fortunate that the department’s geoscience field education fund looked after some of the costs of many of those trips.
“For something as essential as field education, it’s important for students to get support,” she says. “I wouldn’t have been able to make those critical learning connections without seeing those landscapes and rocks in person.”
Beyond giving students these experiential learning opportunities, Reid and his colleagues at Troilus want these trips to give students perspective. By seeing the natural beauty of various terrains up close and in person, they hope the next generation of geoscientists will be inspired to approach their work responsibly.
If you love adventure, learning about the world and living outdoors, there’s nothing better than being a geologist in the field. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve had, and this fund is really about making sure others get the opportunity.
Since the outset, Reid and his partners at Troilus have been steadfast in maintaining a strong environmental, social and governance perspective in their work. They look to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities as much as possible.
Ultimately, Reid feels lucky to have the career he’s had. He credits the experience and knowledge he acquired from years spent in the field with setting him up for success in the resource sector. He wants to pay that fortune forward.
“If you love adventure, learning about the world and living outdoors, there’s nothing better than being a geologist in the field,” he explains. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the experiences I’ve had, and this fund is really about making sure others get the opportunity.”