In this month’s Faculty Spotlight, we’re speaking with Rhonda Bell-Allen, professor of Environmental Engineering and Technology at Georgian College, and professor in the Environmental Sustainability program with the Lakehead-Georgian Partnership.
Professor of Environmental Engineering and Technology, Rhonda Bell-Allen, has been with Georgian College since 2010. She has been involved with the Lakehead-Georgian Environmental Sustainability degree-diploma program from the beginning. “It’s exciting watching the numbers increase and the program take hold,” she says. “It’s been great to be a part of that evolution with students.”
Rhonda feels the students from the combined diploma/degree program are at a real advantage. “The merger between the two programs is providing Lakehead students with the opportunity to get those hands-on pieces in a different way. It’s taking that blurred line that you normally see between university and colleges and merging them together so that you are getting the best of both worlds.”
Combining the level of detail usually traditional to university training with the hands-on approach of college training is very interesting to teach, she explains. “Engineering is very hands-on. There is lots of application and in-field work that has to be done (and the partnership program sets the students up for success.)”
As an example of that hands-on training, Rhonda’s waste management strategies students have been out in their communities performing waste audits. “Normally, in the pre-pandemic world, students would have been sorting waste on campus and looking at diversion rates and waste stream analysis. With COVID, I’ve had to tailor that so they’re out surveying the neighborhoods they live in and doing weekly walkabouts and visual tally counts on municipal solid waste collection day.”
The hands-on approach to waste management is designed to show students the importance of diverting waste and helps them to understand that waste doesn’t just disappear after we take it to the curb.
“Many of them have already said to me, they can’t believe how their neighbors lack participation or knowledge about waste programs (how to recycle properly, what can go in a green bin and what cannot) and this is an eye-opener for them.”
Historically, a lot of students go into wastewater careers or environmental technician positions, but very few go into waste management, Rhonda says. “There’s been a switch in the last few years with students seeing the waste sector and the fact that it’s not just “garbage”, there are so many different career opportunities and it’s a growing industry with lots of challenges ahead that require innovative thinking.”
Waste is something we all generate and we are running out of land for landfills. Students are realizing that and wanting to do something about it, she says. “They’re a very engaged generation, are passionate about the environment and really want to see the difference. They want to make a real impact and they understand the importance of pushing towards zero waste/circular economy. It’s a great time to teach them.”
Additionally, Rhonda is a part of the Research and Innovation team at Georgian College. She is a faculty professor research lead and takes on applied research projects. If a company comes to Georgian with an idea and needs someone with expertise in her field, Rhonda will do research for them to help them grow their business.
“I’ve done several different contracts on everything from wastewater to waste management, from compost solutions to plant growth studies. I hire students, usually one to three at a time, and I work as their professor lead. We liaison with the business owner through the Centre for Research and Innovation and prepare proposals for what we’re going to do to provide them with the research they need to advance their business idea. It’s a win-win because I get to work with business owners with great ideas and I also help support the research and innovation at Georgian. Having students learn new skills that they can apply in class, while helping out these business owners is what it’s all about and I love seeing the results that come from this.”
Rhonda’s own education includes an Honours in Environmental Resource Science and a Master of Science degree in Waterhead Ecosystems, both from Trent University. Through her graduate research she studied invasive species and their effects on freshwater ecosystems in the Kawartha Lakes.
In 2018, Rhonda received the Teaching Excellence Award which recognizes professors who demonstrate commitment to excellence in teaching practice, facilitate student learning and impact the larger teaching and learning community of Georgian College.
Outside of working for the Lakehead-Georgian Partnership, Rhonda is busy with various kinds of volunteer work. “This past year I took on a Board of Directors role as the Director of Volunteers for the Barrie Soccer Club. I’m in my tenth year of managing a boy’s rep soccer team and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that.”
Rhonda’s is married and has two sons who are both actively involved in rep sports—watch for her at a soccer pitch or hockey rink. “We also really enjoy time at the cottage, camping, hiking and boating—all those fun activities—and I do still play soccer myself. We’re a very active family who enjoys being outside as much as possible.”