York educational adventures – a whale of a tale

One incoming student to York University experienced the ultimate adventure in late August – a York Educational Adventure. First-year psychology student Alysia Roy from Burlington, Ont., was the lucky contest winner of a whale-watching trip to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. Roy, the recipient of a York entrance scholarship, was very excited when contacted about being the winning student. “I couldn’t believe when I was notified that I’d won the contest. No other university gave away a prize at the Ontario Universities’ Fair quite like this.”

Right: The three whale watchers – Traci Warkentin (left), Alysia Roy and Shelby Verboven

The York Educational Adventures contest, hosted by the University’s Admissions, Recruitment & Marketing Department, was aimed at prospective students to York. Several once-in-a-lifetime interdisciplinary experiences, including whale-watching on the St. Lawrence River, were offered as prizes. The contest was launched at the 2005 Ontario Universities’ Fair and was marketed during in-school recruitment visits.

Accompanied on the whale-watching excursion by Traci Warkentin, an environmental studies PhD student, and Shelby Verboven, from Admissions, Recruitment & Marketing, Roy journeyed to Quebec City and then to Baie St. Catherine where the group boarded a boat for a three-hour excursion on the St. Lawrence.

Left: Roy and Warkentin on board the ship Le Grand Fleuve as it sets sail on the St. Lawrence River

Almost as soon as the boat left the dock, Beluga whales could be seen swimming near the shores of the Baie. Once out in deeper waters, the three were treated to sightings of Minke and Finback whales, grey seals, harbour porpoises and the elusive Humpback whale.

Warkentin, who studies the interactions between animals and their human tourists, was able to provide a different perspective to whale watching. She offered insights into both the behaviours and biology of whales as well as the meanings and consequences of how humans interpret such encounters with wildlife. “The best part was having Traci there to tell us all about her research,” said Roy. “I can hardly wait to start my own program at York.”

Right: The shoreline near Baie St. Catherine

Roy said that even though it was great to see all the whales, she felt the value of the trip far exceeded the whale adventure. She learned a lot about how complex different issues are and how York looks at issues from all kinds of perspectives – as well as enjoying personal time with an admissions expert who was able to answer all her questions about starting at York. The trip provided the perfect way to wrap up her summer before she moved into residence.