Discovering What Citizen Science Means to Us – Volunteer Week 2022

National Volunteer Week (16 May to 22 May) is Australia’s largest annual celebration of every volunteers’ vital dedication towards a better society. During this week, we’re sharing stories from a range of wonderful EcoCentre volunteers; exemplifying why we’re ‘Better Together’ when it comes to caring for our land, water, wildlife and wellbeing.

Continue reading for insights from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) students: Ashley Burke, Brent Ditzler, Jack Charbonneau, Maddie Sanborn, and Will Lapointe – who we’re grateful for volunteering with us for 14 weeks to help develop plans for Australia’s first Citizen Science Lab at the new EcoCentre.

A special thank you to Jonathan Chee (Banksia Gardens) for providing the interview footage.

When we came to Melbourne to work with the EcoCentre, we didn’t have much knowledge of Citizen Science. Our backgrounds include: Computer Science, Aerospace Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering – Citizen Science was a whole new concept to us!

After arriving in Australia, we were surprised to discover how citizen science projects allow for impactful data collection; often only involving common household items.

While participating in various citizen science projects, we expected very broad projects that weren’t too in-depth, but were means for large-spread data gathering. After volunteering at different events, we realised that we actually didn’t fully recognise the true impacts of citizen science on the scientific community.

From drain strains to dune surveys, citizen science projects are well thought out small-scale projects that focus on gathering specific pinpoint data from a certain area. All equipment we used was well tested, and assembled to gather the desired information effortlessly; making participation as simple as possible for each volunteer.

Meet the WPI Team

Ashley Burke
“I really enjoyed working with the EcoCentre and participating in a range of citizen science projects that they have to offer. The projects were fun and engaging and I learned a lot about how a simple task such as collecting seashells can provide scientific data that can be used to help track the health of the Bay”

Brent Ditzler
“While I knew the EcoCentre contributed to the community around the Port Phillip Bay Area, I didn’t realize how far the network reaches and how much this new hub and lab are needed because of the growth of the EcoCentre. Participating and being in several of the programs opened my eyes to how influential citizen science is. The physical space will provide so much for the programs the EcoCentre already runs and allow for even more community participation in future projects!”

Jack Charbonneau
“I have been very impressed by the work done by the EcoCentre and their partners in the areas of citizen science working to improve their local ecosystems. The level of community engagement, research initiatives, focus on micro and macro issues, and partnership with other organizations is something I have never experienced in the charity sector before. This level of initiative lead by private or government-affiliated groups is not common or at least not well known to the area I grew up in within the US and is something I see as only beneficial to the environment”

Maddie Sanborn
“Before being placed on the project with the Port Phillip EcoCentre, I had never taken part in citizen science projects as expansive as what the centre has to offer. It is a powerful concept to be able to play a role in valuable scientific research knowing that the data you are collecting would otherwise be unavailable to researchers. Working on this project made clear the need for a new physical hub to support the growth of the projects and staff, so the EcoCentre can continue to support the Port Phillip Bay. I am so glad I was able to play a role in the future of the new laboratory, and I am looking forward to hearing about and hopefully seeing the new facilities when they are up and running!”

Will Lapointe
“I didn’t know much about citizen science before working with the Ecocentre but the volunteer opportunities we did with them opened my eyes to what can be accomplished. My favorite volunteer project was the Erosion and Dune survey because it was a simple and well thought out activity in which I learned a lot about the environment and that measuring the dunes can give insight into their health and how to preserve them in the future!”

These Citizen Science experiences are ones that we will never forget. Each experience was vastly different from the last, but was engaging and important in its own way.

We learned how amazing the environment is in Melbourne, but more importantly, the challenges we face daily to keep it this amazing. These volunteer activities gave us lasting impressions on what we need to do as a human race to slowly keep our planet clean and healthy.

To learn more about how the WPI team was able to help the Port Phillip EcoCentre in co-designing Australia’s first citizen science lab, you can visit their website.

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The EcoCentre acknowledges the Kulin Nations, including the Yalukut Weelam clan of the Boon Wurrung language group, traditional owners of the land on which we are located.

We pay respects to their Elders past and present, and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Elder members of our multicultural community.