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#OdySci Profile Day 2: Dr. Rebecca Harbut

As part of Science Odyssey, we are interviewing a variety of STEM innovators to investigate pathways into STEM and to discuss the future of STEM learning and careers. 

Rebecca Harbut is a native of British Columbia and is delighted to have returned to BC after spending several years in Ontario and the US. Rebecca received both her BSc and MS degree from the University of Guelph in Ontario and then completed her PhD in Horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY where she conducted research on fruit crops. Most recently, Rebecca was a faculty member in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin where she developed a fruit research and extension program. Rebecca is now the chair of the Department of Sustainable Agriculture at KPU.  

We asked Rebecca about her career and the future of STEM in BC. 

What sparked your interest and eventual career in agriculture and food science?

I always enjoyed working with plants, but I never really considered that I could build a career around my love of plants. While I was in my first year of University, I volunteered at Vancouver General Hospital in the Horticultural Therapy program. I had the opportunity to see what a powerful impact plants had on the patients as they worked in the gardens. They would recount their memories of growing food and tending a garden when they were young. This got me thinking about what a powerful connection there is between people and the act of growing food. It also got me thinking more about how we grow food today and how so many people are disconnected from it. The more time I spent in the garden, the more I was reminded of how much I love plants and how important they are to society, but I also realized how little I really understood about them. I switched my major to plant science and was brought more and more into the world of food production and agricultural science. 

Plants are amazing to study and I am very excited by the idea of using plant science and ecology to develop more sustainable systems for growing food. I believe that developing a better understanding of how to grow crops in a sustainable agroecosystem is a critical component to addressing some of the very real challenges around food and sustainability that face us in the next 50 years.

Tell us about your work with Sustainable Agriculture group at KPU. How does your job promote greater STEM learning or understanding?

I currently teach in KPU's Sustainable Agriculture program and carry out research with fruit growers in British Columbia. I have had the opportunity throughout my career to work with kids in elementary and high school on different projects such as building school gardens, discovering the wonders of plants and most importantly building an appreciation for the importance of agriculture. There is an enormous need and opportunity for creative, bright young people to get engaged in our food system and contribute innovative thinking about how we will sustainably grow healthy food that is accessible to all members of our community. When we have science based discussions with young people about the challenges that we face in agriculture such as resource use, biological diversity and the importance of finding innovative, ecological solutions to how we grow and consume food, students are opened up to a very exciting way to apply science in a powerful and meaningful way. Young people in our schools and universities are the change makers that will apply science in ways that we have never thought of to ensure we have a sustainable future. 

What do you think the future of STEM looks like in BC?

I think the future of STEM in BC is incredibly exciting! We are seeing a great emergence of ideas, programs and businesses that are connecting STEM with the real world and applying it to solve problems and create opportunities in our communities. I can see that our students are coming into STEM programs with the expectation that they will use it to change their world, and I believe they will!  BC is an exciting place to be in the world of agricultural science because we have amazing potential to demonstrate the value and power of reconnecting our society with agriculture and reimagining our relationship with the plants and ecosystems that grow our food. The future is exciting and bright.

What is Science World’s role in promoting and supporting STEM learning and careers in BC?

Science World plays an important role in exposing our community to the many facets of science and to help people understand the critical role that science has and continues to play in our own lives. It is difficult for those of us that have careers in STEM to get out into the communities as much as we would like, and it is essential to have organizations like Science World that can play that role of community educator and advocate. The importance of science can hardly be understated in my mind, but it can certainly be underappreciated by many people that may feel detached from it. Science World also plays a critical role in sparking the imagination of young people that will become our leaders and scientists of tomorrow!  

Learn more about where your food comes from by trying some activities from Plants All Around Us on Science World Resources

Who is KPU? 

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has four campuses located in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia. KPU offers bachelor's degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates and citations in more than 120 programs. Almost 20,000 students annually attend courses at KPU campuses in Surrey, Richmond, Langley and Cloverdale. KPU is a member of the BC Science Charter, partners with Science World to host a bi-monthly speaker series, and regularly supports Science World's annual Around the Dome Science Festival. 

What's happening today for Science Odyssey

At TELUS World of Science it's Meet a Scientist Day—learn about population and public health with Mina Park, PhD candidate at UBC 
In Port Alberni we're hosting a Community Science Celebration at the Alberni Athletic Hall 
Join us at the KPU Science Rendezvous in Langley, or at other Science Rendezvous events at SFU and UBC