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FREED 2023 Committee

Reta Meng

Leader Dragonfly – Communications

McMaster University Representative

Reta Meng is a first year PhD student from McMaster University studying the at-risk Blanding’s Turtle through weaving Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science to achieve best conservation outcomes. Her love for nature and the great outdoors stemmed from watching numerous hours of David Attenborough documentaries as a child. Growing up in the concrete jungle, she did not have much access to the outdoors, which only made her crave being outside more!

Reta is thrilled to be joining FREED for the first time this year, and is managing our social media and communication platforms.

Outside of her research and FREED, you will find Reta doing some casual rock climbing, getting excited about watching birds in the forest, and feasting on some yummy Chinese food made by her mom.

Vanessa Nhan

Leader Fungi –

Hello hello! My name is Vanessa, I’m a graduate from the Master of Forest Conservation program at the University of Toronto (hooray on completing grad school!). My love for the natural world began in my undergrad while working in an urban ecology and evolution research lab at the University of Toronto-Mississauga, focusing on studying plant-insect interactions in cities (specifically, milkweed and their specialist bugs). While doing research with my lab, I experienced the joys of bird-watching, hiking to locate spring ephemerals, and flipping over logs to find salamanders! I moved to northern Michigan after undergrad to work as a forestry field technician in the northern hardwood forests and I learned how to conduct regeneration surveys and identify trees — from there, my passion for forestry was born. Forestry paired well with my interests in sustainability and now after finishing my master’s degree, I am working as a Forest Resource Analyst with a consulting company (Silvacom) involved with forest management planning. Outside of work and in my spare time, I enjoy bouldering, listening to true crime podcasts, reading, crocheting, and organizing my life with Excel sheets.”

Rachel Giles

Leader Willow –

Rachel is thrilled to be joining FREED for another year of outdoor adventures! Her love of the outdoors was nurtured by her parents who took her on countless family camping trips to North America’s provincial and national parks. From these trips, Rachel’s interest in nature grew, and she started to wonder about how human activities impact the natural ecosystems where they are located. As a PhD Student, Rachel now tries to answer this question, measuring the effects of plastic pollution and other human introduced stressors in urban rivers.

Outside of her research, you’ll likely find Rachel trying to cook replicas of her achcha (grandma)’s best curries, biking over to the beaches, or teaching dance to little ones.

Lauren Witterick

Western University Representative

Lauren Witterick is a PhD candidate from Western University studying how the fear of predators affects the brain and behaviour in wild animals.  Growing up it was running that brought her into the outdoors, but it was undergraduate field trips to the Queen’s University Biological Station and a summer biology field course that spurred her interest in ecological field work.  After an undergraduate thesis in aquatic ecology, she moved back on land for her MSc and PhD, first working with captive brown-headed cowbirds and black-capped chickadees, then expanding to add free-living meadow voles.  In her free time, you can find her in a forest hiking or cross-country skiing, at the beach attempting to avoid getting sunburnt, sewing, crocheting, or puttering around in her garden.

Alannah Grant

University of Guelph Representative

Alannah is a PhD student at the University of Guelph studying the impact of urban landscapes on the stress physiology and brain development of Eastern Grey Squirrels (Sciurus Carolinensis). Alannah’s love for urban ecology stems from her childhood growing up in a busy suburb where she would collect bugs from her garden and watch the squirrels that played outside her grandparents’ house. Outside of her degree, Alannah is also the founder of CitiSciSchools, an initiative dedicated to making ecology accessible to BIPOC elementary students living in cities using engaging hands-on activities. When Alannah is not getting squirrely in the field, she enjoys macrame, trying (and sometimes succeeding at) new recipes in the kitchen, and going for walks with her adventure kitty, Nimbus.

Dr. Njal Rollinson

Dr. Megan Bontrager

Dr. Celina Baines

FREED would not be possible without the help of the amazing individuals below:

Diane Yeager

Chief Administrative Officer

University of Toronto Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Jenn English

Payroll Officer & KSR Financial Officer

University of Toronto Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Dr. Stephen Wright

Professor , CRC Past EEB Chair

University of Toronto Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Bharat Saini

Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

University of Toronto Faculty of Arts & Science

Dr. Marla B. Sokolowski

Professor, FRSC Current EEB Chair

University of Toronto Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

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