Learning Through Experience
Sharing our successes with experiential learning at UNB

Joys of the Journey- Nursing Students on Campobello Island

Author: Sandy MacKay

Posted on Mar 25, 2022

Category: Student Champions

Campobello Island is one of the most remote corners of Canada. This island in the Bay of Fundy is accessible -when the seas are calm- by one ferry to Deer Island and then another ferry from Deer Island to Campobello. Otherwise, access to the island is by bridge from Maine. Travelers from mainland NB must enter the USA, travel through rural Maine and re-enter Canada, crossing the bridge back onto the island and back into Canada.


Head Harbour Lightstation, Campobello island

The island qualifies as a remote community. There is no gas station, limited access to groceries and the municipal government is on the ‘mainland’. With no central government office and limited central facilities, Campobello is a self-contained entity. In summer, it’s a tourist haven. In the off season, Campobello’s population is 872 inhabitants, who all know one another.

UNB Nursing students Madeleine Flower and Mary Papadopoulos accepted a placement on Campobello for Fall 2021 and Winter 2022. Program coordinator Kim Wilbur and Assistant Professor Chair Dr Catherine Hamilton are the UNB Nursing staff responsible for setting up placements. Working to build access to better health services in rural and remote spots in NB, they are developing new placements in rural NB.  


Front: Wendy Morrison, Campobello Health Centre Kim Wilbur UNB Nursing
Back:  Mary Papadopoulos & Madeleine Flower

Mary and Madeleine admit that when they accepted the placement on Campobello “We weren’t quite sure what to expect. We had never been to Campobello, and we weren’t prepared for how tightly Campobello was shut down during Covid, or how difficult it would be to get there.”

Without a central focal point, no town hall, no public transportation, limited WiFi, no community centre or hospital, the students quickly realized they had to work getting engaged in the community. One of the 1st lessons was figuring out who community leaders were. Mary said “We just talked to everybody, and tried to figure out the connections and the community leaders organically.”

Madeleine said “We toured the island with a bus driver, and he pointed out people and places as we traveled. We told him where we were staying, and he said ‘Oh, Robbie John’s place’. Everyone knew one another and everyone knew who we were really quickly. They knew our red car, and if we took a wrong turn on our way somewhere, the people at our destination knew of our error before we arrived!”

Dr Catherine Hamilton said “These students quickly learned that remote communities are sometimes tight, somewhat closed and deeply networked. They learned quickly how to engage with community leaders to move their project forward.”

The students conducted a Needs Assessment Survey and ascertained that Mental Health Awareness, Food Security and positive up-take of covid protocols were issues they could approach.  They worked with the local Campobello Health Center. They developed and shared Mental Health resources for adolescents and produced resources pamphlets and cards. They talked to everyone, and with enthusiasm and engagement, gathered information and contacts, and made inroads to the community.

Mary said “In one elementary school project, we did a ‘Germ Glo Kit’, with funding from Experiential Education. We ran this experiment with elementary school children. They put the germ kit on their hands, and then wash afterwards. With UV light, we examined their hands after washing. The UV light showed what remained on their hands after washing. We’d been working to educate adults about the importance of hand washing during Covid, and we realized we weren’t making inroads.”

“However, following our ‘Germ Glo Kit’, we discovered that, in this case, the children were the ‘community education leaders’. They went home, talked to their families about this cool experiment, and through that, we found that we could increase awareness about germ transfer and the importance of hand-washing by providing education and awareness to the right audience, to the right community leaders. Our reflection showed that -in this case- the community leaders were the children. That’s not something we expected! We learned that community influencers might be different people, depending on the messaging and the way we taught!”

Madeleine said “We recognized that Mental Health training was a need too, and we realized that we would not be able, due to timing, to offer training to all the residents. What we did instead- we compiled resources and equipment. We helped provide training and resources to the three nurses who work on Campobello. All the time, we had to figure out how to leverage our funding and our available time to have the most impact.”

Both Kim Wilbur and Dr Catherine Hamilton commented on the students’ remarkable ability to adapt to the situation and build resiliency in the face of challenges. The women were traveling to rural remote NB, through winter conditions, and through international borders during Covid.

 “These two students were the most intrepid,” said Dr Catherine. “They were registered as “Essential Workers” which allowed them to transverse the international borders. The students showed remarkable problem-solving skills during this placement. When they landed in Deer Island and the ferry was canceled, they solved the problem. They stayed the night in Deer Island and drove the extra 4 hours through the Maine woods back to the coast.”

In reflection, Mary and Madeleine concur on the outcome of this authentic Work-integrated Learning experience.

“This placement changed our lives! We learned we are strong, that we could handle any crisis. We can figure things out. We didn’t know what we were getting into, but it was one of the best decisions we ever made! During our placement, we were empowered to make decisions and we learned we could handle any curve ball thrown at us!”

Kim Wilbur calls these Campobello student ‘pioneers’ in the extension of Work Integrated Learning into NB’s remote corners. Dr Catherine Hamilton said, “These students were especially brilliant in the way they leveraged their funds, providing training and resources to others in the community, so that their work could live on after their placements were finished. Work in remote areas is important and expensive, and it could not have been done without this funding.”

The UNB Office of Experiential Education continues with Rural Experiential placements in Summer 2022. Helping students connect to remote and rural locations in New Brunswick is one of the OEE goals.

Madeleine said, “It may sound a little corny, but I certainly left a piece of my heart on that island.”

This project was partially sponsored through a partnership with the Business + Higher Education Roundtable, and with support from the Government of Canada and RBC Future Launch.