N.W.T. students learn the ropes on research vessel's maiden voyage

A new program is setting students adrift on the waters of Great Slave Lake.

For six days in October, five students from Lutselk'e, Dettah, and Yellowknife, N.W.T. took part in the maiden voyage of the Nahidik, an environmental research vessel.

"It was amazing," said Zhanayii Drygeese, a Grade 12 student from Dettah, N.W.T. and one of the students aboard.

The program — a joint project of Northern Youth Leadership, Nature United and the Arctic Research Foundation — gave students the chance to learn the ropes of environmental research.

"What we're trying to do is trying to create a vision for youth and students … working alongside professionals," said Adrian Schimnowski, CEO and operations director for the Arctic Research Foundation. "That's how you learn."

"They got to do everything," said Ali McConnell, the project director for Northern Youth Leadership, which selected the students with help from school administrators.

Drygeese, who's considering a degree in environmental science, said she learned how to use environmental surveying equipment, alongside nautical skills like tying knots.

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"We kind of just did everything together as one," she said. "I thought we'd just, kind of, be awkward… [but] we got really close to each other."

Schimnowski said when the students first came on board, they were "very quiet, just observing."

"But within the second day, you could see that they're becoming part of the crew," he said, "and by the end of [it], they are right in there."

"They were operating winches and dropping down profilers and helping to … do the actual work," said Tracey Williams, the N.W.T. lead for Nature United, who also travelled on board. 

"Then you look at results or data that come off of those pieces of equipment and learn something," she said.

Gabriel Doctor, a Grade 9 student, had the honour of operating the winch for part of the journey.

"My favourite part of this whole trip was operating the equipment," he said.

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Williams said the crew was eager to teach students while on the job.

"You know, sometimes, it's a busy job, you've got things to do," she said. But, "they were tremendous."

Schimnowski said the crew also took the opportunity to query the students on what they'd like to learn from a program like this — including what other marine trades they might be interested in.

"We're building a program together," said Schimnowski. "From youth to scientists to ship operators … we're all moving in one aligned direction."

All three organizations hope to continue and expand the program in the future.

"This is just … the start of it," said McConnell. "There's going to be … lots more opportunities for kids to get involved in the future."

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