It all started with one question on a survey that Royette Tavernier would later analyze for her master’s thesis: “Have you ever experienced a major turning point in your life that changed how you thought about something or how you behaved?”
“That question grabbed my attention,” she recalls with a chuckle.
Tavernier could relate profoundly to the issue, having gone through a dizzying array of turning points in her own life: winning several debating championships after overcoming a stuttering problem, leaving her home country of Dominica to pursue education in St. Maarten and, eventually, Canada, and the loss of her mother.
Now, Tavernier is celebrating her latest “turning point.” She is one of two Brock University recipients of the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship for 2012 for her upcoming research “Turning Points: The Association Between Positive Meaning-Making and Psychological Well-Being Among Canadian Students.”
Over the past three years, Tavernier and her colleagues in the Adolescent Development Lab asked 1,100 undergraduate students to describe their experience of a significant life event, such as the loss of a parent, parental divorce, or illness.
The students also answered questions about their psychological well-being, touching on issues, such as stress level, anxiety, self-esteem, and symptoms of depression.
Tavernier and her colleagues plan to administer the survey again next year and will then analyze the data.
Tavernier will be looking at if and how the students created “meaning” out of that significant life event, either by learning a lesson or by gaining a new insight, such as appreciating family and friends following the death of someone close to them.
She will also examine whether the students view the lessons, insights and other meanings in a positive or negative light.
The research aims to determine whether students who created positive meanings from their turning points also experience greater psychological well-being and successes in their academic and social lives.
“This research will increase our understanding of how Canadian students cope with significant life events and will give counsellors important information about how they can help Canadians deal effectively with the stress of their life events,” Tavernier explains.
“Teachers, parents and individuals also will be able to use this information to help promote resilience.”
The foundation of Tavernier’s success, she says, was laid when her “No. 1 choice” for academic supervisor, Teena Willoughby, accepted her master’s application. She says Willoughby urged her to apply for the Vanier scholarship.
Willoughby says she thinks Tavernier was the ideal candidate.
“Royette has been at the top of class in academic achievement since childhood,” Willoughby says. “She also has an exceptional history of devoting her time to helping underprivileged youth, from championing literacy skills to being a Big Sister in-school mentor.”
Tavernier says she is also grateful for the funding she received from Brock.
“It meant that somewhere out there, somebody shared my dream and believed in my potential and ability,” she says.
“It was everything.”