Assessment of FREED Student Experiences for Accessible Experiential Learning

On November 23rd 2023, co-founders Mariel Terebiznik and Aranya Iyer presented recent research from FREED, Field Research in Ecology and Evolution Diversified. FREED is an organization dedicated to increasing access to field work for Indigenous, Black, and/or Racialized (BIPOC) individuals who are underrepresented in EEB and related fields.  FREED addresses these barriers by creating a field-based curriculum that is led by majority BIPOC graduate students and early-career professionals for BIPOC undergraduate students. In their presentation, Mariel and Aranya discussed how their team assessed the impact of accessible, experiential learning experiences for BIPOC undergraduate students in field work and ecology and evolutionary biology. By conducting surveys during the 2023 event that assessed student experiences before and after participating in FREED, they measured how student perceptions of their own skills and confidence in field work, sense of community in conservation and ecology sectors, and likelihood of pursuing a conservation-based career changed after participating in FREED.  Preliminary results demonstrate an increase in all three areas, suggesting a positive benefit of experiential learning to FREED participants. FREED co-founders also discussed future plans to organize more FREED events within and beyond the University of Toronto community.