From a young age, Jenna Quinn always loved nature, science, and learning. Though she considered becoming a science teacher after leaving Guelph to pursue her university education, at Laurentian University, she really discovered the joys of environmental research and applying that to education
“The Laurentian campus has 750 acres of trees, forests, lakes, beaches, rocks and wetland,” says Quinn. “It provided an education immersed in nature. I fell in love! I enrolled in every and any class where I could learn more about animals and ecosystems and soon switched my focus from science education to scientific research. I worked with amazing student and teacher role models and completed an undergraduate thesis project. My curiosity was in overdrive, and I wanted answers to the never-ending questions I had about animals, ecosystems, and conservation.”
Jenna Quinn graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science specializing in Zoology. She then went to New Brunswick to earn a Master of Biology at Mount Alison University. After graduating, she returned to Guelph to live with her parents and start her search for her next job. Today, Jenna is rare’s Program Scientist – Research & Education Priorities, Partnerships & Monitoring, overseeing the research and education programs. She joined rare on May 7, 2012, meaning that this year is her tenth anniversary at rare, making her the longest-standing partner at the organization.
“I spent that first summer chasing butterflies as rare’s Ecological Monitoring Intern,” Quinn recalls. “Similar to the summer I spent working at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory – my first job ‘in the field’. In the fall, I returned to school part-time and pursued my Master of Education from Western University while continuing with rare through a leadership transition.”
“This was a full-circle moment for me,” Quinn goes on, “returning to the field of education that had originally drawn me in way back in high school. Only this time, instead of learning how to be at the front of the classroom, I was learning how the whole education system works, how different people and students learn, the barriers that exist within the systems in place, and how to design curriculum programs, with a particular emphasis on outdoor education. I spent my days at rare and my evenings and weekends studying. Fast forward one-and-a-half years, and I was graduating again, renewed in my focus to bring together science, education and nature, and already with a job to do just that, because in the meantime, a full-time, permanent Research Coordinator position at rare had become available.”
For Quinn, rare was a place that fed her passions. “Before, I’d stocked shelves at Chapters for eight months. I was sent the job ad by a friend. She thought rare’s Ecological Monitoring intern position was perfect for me. The job description highlighted monitoring butterflies, salamanders and benthic invertebrates – all creatures I’d had experience with. Even better, it was right in my community where I could be close to family and friends. How had I never heard of this place? For me, starting at rare was like a homecoming, returning to Waterloo Region – the place I’ve always considered home – after years away.”
Working at rare advancing through roles with increased levels of responsibility has given Jenna Quinn a diverse experience. “No two days are the same,” says Quinn. “My job duties are quite varied and can change depending on the season. Each week, I spend at least a couple of days on the property meeting with researchers or artists for site visits or project meetings. I conduct fieldwork or monitor projects. I train staff and volunteers. I also participate in or lead nature-based activities for community members or youth – all in the outdoors!”
“There’s also paperwork,” she adds. “I spend time corresponding with community partners and our team, working on collaborative projects, reviewing applications or resumes, depending on the time of year. I often get involved in grant writing, presentations, program development, event planning and organization, permit applications, fieldwork scheduling and prep, and more. I enjoy having a wide variety of tasks that engage different skills and abilities.”
Jenna Quinn’s position has evolved over her ten years at rare, as she’s used the experience gained to become more involved with rare’s Education Team as well as working with researchers spending time at rare. She has also watched rare evolve over the same period.
“What immediately stands out is how much we have grown in the last decade,” says Quinn. “We are stewarding and protecting more land now, with the start of the Eramosa River Conservation Corridor and the hard work of the raresites team to identify more lands for conservation in consultation with community partners. Our staff size has about doubled, with a greater capacity to run programs, an expanded Community Garden including the 16,000 square foot Food Bank Garden, and more support on the administration, communication and fundraising side of things which enables staff to focus on the programs and to collaborate and be present in the community.”
“We’ve grown in our values and direction,” she adds, “opening up beyond our science focus to be more inclusive of diverse disciplines and forms of inquiry. We’ve made a commitment to recognizing and removing barriers for underrepresented groups to have equitable access to jobs, programs and services. We became a living wage employer. We formed the Anti-Racism and Equity Taskforce. Staff have been supported on a learning and un-learning journey toward reconciliation with Indigenous People. There has been a strong commitment to both organizational and personal growth in these areas.”
“And we’ve grown in recognition. There has been a dramatic shift over time as people have come to know and respect rare as an environmental leader in the community. The days of explaining “what is rare?” to everyone seem to be behind us, as more of our growing reputation precedes us.”
Jenna Quinn’s work led to her being awarded Cambridge YWCA’s Women of Distinction Award in 2016 in the field of Science, Technology, Research and Environment. “That was truly an honour and quite a surprise,” says Quinn. “I had been a STEM mentor with the YWCA Cambridge Girls Centre, a girl-led after-school program with a focus on STEM and STEAM-related activities and experiments. I’ve been inspired and educated by amazing women role models throughout my life – Dr. Jackie Litzgus at Laurentian, who sparked my love of fieldwork, wetlands, and all things herpetology; Dr. Diana Hamilton at Mount Alison who taught me how to run a lab and conduct research, be a balanced leader not to mention understand statistics and stable isotopes. And, of course, my mom, sister, aunts, cousins, grandmas, friends, and coworkers who just leave me in awe on a regular basis with their hard work, creativity and passions. It was my pleasure to pay that forward as a mentor in this program.” Jenna’s volunteer work has been inspiring to others, and to foster more such engagement, rare implemented a new benefit that enables staff to take three paid days off per year to volunteer in the community.
Working in science and research, Jenna is very aware of the work needed to encourage and support more women in their pursuit of research and scientific careers. “Most are probably familiar with the leaky pipeline metaphor that describes how women become more and more underrepresented in science over time, from education through careers. Support and encouragement needs to take place all along that pipeline, and I think workplaces in every field should be looking not just at how to support women within their current environments, but also take accountability for repairing that pipeline throughout the entire experience. They need to be intentional in creating accountable spaces. Ask not ‘how to hire more women’ but rather ‘how do we change to become a more welcoming and safe place for women, BIPOC and all underrepresented people’, and then commit to those changes.
For women aspiring to be researchers, scientists and conservationists, Jenna Quinn has this advice: “Take advantage of the opportunities you earn and always do the best job you can. Be a life-long learner, centre your values, and try not to be too hard on yourself. For many of us working in conservation, the work is closely tied to our values and passions. It can be a real gift to both enjoy your job and feel like you are making an important contribution to an area important to you, but this can also lead to blurred lines between work and personal time, and ultimately burnout. For me, it’s been important to stay engaged in environmentalism outside of my job, such as by volunteering with Waterloo Region Nature.”
Having worked for rare for ten years, Jenna is committed to staying on, and helping the organization grow and develop. “I look forward to seeing rare continue to grow and become a more inclusive space. I’m excited to expand our monitoring and research efforts to new priorities and spaces. I like to think about 100 years from now who may be using the data we collected here to compare and understand how the land and habitats have changed. I like to think about what the land will look like then, how the forests and corridors have grown and, hopefully, how it will still be a place for learning, exploration, recreation and conservation.”