School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

From industry to environment: Developing skills and giving back to the community

Meet Colton Bentley   

by Mary Anne Schoenhardt
February 2022

Colton Bentley sampling from an acidic stream in Sudbury

The goal of Colton Bentley, a master’s student in the Department of Geological Science and Engineering, is that his research tracking trace metals and emerging contaminants in the Great Lakes basin can be used to help inform policy decisions. A Kingston local, he wanted to work on a project that people in the community could directly relate to. “I wanted to be doing things that I could talk to people in Kingston about and they’d be interested in,” he says. After graduating from Dalhousie University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in earth sciences, he went on to work for an oil and gas company doing geophysical analysis. Not liking the direction that the sector was moving in, Colton decided to switch fields and go back to school for his master’s. “I felt I could use my skillset for something more beneficial to my community” he said, and a master’s degree provided him the opportunity to do that.

Home to about 80 million people, the Great Lakes basin is a center of economic activity and trade between Canada and the United States. This activity makes it especially important to understand what contaminants are present in the basin, where they are coming from, and where (or if) they are accumulating. By measuring levels of contaminants entering the lakes through their tributaries and then the levels flowing out of each lake, it is possible to understand movement of these contaminants. This method has been used to study common contaminants, such as chloride (which frequently enters our waterways through road salt application), but not for those that occur in smaller concentrations. Colton is using this approach to study trace metals and rare earth elements in the Great Lakes basin.

“You can’t fix the problem if you don’t know the problem is occurring” says Colton. For him, the project has highlighted the importance of long-term monitoring programs. “Spending a bit more money on monitoring programs might be beneficial in the future.” Knowing that these programs are often highly subject to budget cuts, Colton says another goal for his project is that “when they do evaluate these monitoring programs, that they pay a little more attention to certain aspects of where they should be monitoring.” The work he is doing is helping to understand exactly what and where problems are occurring.

With his degree, Colton would like to work in environmental management or policy. “It’s very interesting coming from the resource side and working in the environmental side” he says. Being able to understand both the industrial and environmental aspects relevant to policy gives him an additional perspective to bring to the table. “It’s important I think for both sides to hear each other… They’re going to have to work together at some point.”

His project has also given him the opportunity to work with Environment and Climate Change Canada, which he hopes will open doors for future work and allowed him to explore careers that he might be interested in after completing his degree. That being said, he’s not entirely sure what his next step will be. “I think a PhD would be attractive in a lot of ways,” he says, “but I think I’d like to get back into the working world a little bit first.”

For students looking into graduate studies, Colton’s suggestion is to “make sure you like the project and make sure you get along with the supervisor.” It’s something you’ll be working on for the next few years, “so it’ll be a rough time if you don’t!” This has certainly worked out for Colton, who is glad he made the decision to pursue graduate studies. In the last few months of his degree, he’s looking forward to getting back in person, experiencing the hustle and bustle of campus, and finding more ways to use his skillset in a way that contributes to his community!

To learn more about grad studies in Geological Sciences & Geological Engineering, please visit their website.