Samantha Sendzik loves dogs. And children.
So what better way to begin her master’s program than to combine all three loves? She’s doing it with the help of a scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
A long-time volunteer with the Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara’s “Reading Rocks” program, Sendzik works with children who struggle with literacy and self-esteem skills.
Recently, St. John Ambulance began to supply the program with therapy dogs. Sendzik theorizes that reading to these dogs instead of human tutors will help children in the program relax and develop their self-esteem, improving their reading skills in the process.
Sendzik plans to conduct research that compares measurements of children’s literacy skills and self-esteem levels before and after the dog therapy program and compare the results with children who don’t have a therapy dog.
She says helping children to master the skill of reading is crucial.
“Once children reach a certain age and a certain grade - usually Grade 4 or 5 - they switch from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn,’” she says. “So now they have to know how to read in order to succeed in all of their courses.”
Sendzik is one of 31 Brock graduate students who received a share of $975,000 of funding under SSHRC’s Talent Program, designed to give master’s and doctoral students a boost.
Most of these students, including Sendzik, received funding under SSHRC’s Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships - Master’s category. The remainder had grants under two doctoral categories.
Sendzik’s supervisor, Child and Youth Studies Prof. John McNamara, says the department - and Brock University, in general - has had great success winning Talent grants.
“It’s that connection between Brock and the community that makes this research attractive,” says McNamara. “It fits well with Brock’s strategic plan about connecting with our community. It has some really hard, applied results.”
McNamara says SSHRC’s Talent funding makes an “absolute world of difference” to graduate students.
“The financial benefit is not even the major benefit. It sets them on an academic trajectory where they see their potential,” he says. “I think they now recognize that they have it in them. (This funding) will lead them down roads they haven’t even thought about yet.”
“Graduate students are involved in outstanding research that matters in so many ways to people of all ages living in our closest neighbourhoods, in communities around Canada, and in the far reaches of the world,” says Mike Plyley, Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies.
“We are very proud of the success of our students in these highly competitive awards. This is a measure of excellence and recognition of the scope and calibre of work that our students pursue as they create their distinct identities as the researchers, scholars, and leaders of tomorrow.”