Brock PhD student wins Ontario research award


Applied Health Sciences student Kelly Pilato (BA ’00, MSc ’04) is one of eight recipients of the Ontario Graduate Policy Research Challenge.

A Brock University doctoral student is among a group of graduates to win an Ontario-wide student research award.

Applied Health Sciences student Kelly Pilato (BA ’00, MSc ’04) is one of eight recipients of the Ontario Graduate Policy Research Challenge (OGPRC), a pilot initiative that the Ontario government introduced near the beginning of this year.

“It was a big surprise to me,” says Pilato. “I applied for it. I thought, ‘I want to get myself out there,’ and was so thrilled to be one of the recipients.”

Pilato, who is in her second year of her PhD, submitted a policy brief on the “Fall Break” policy that Brock University and other institutions implemented last year. At Brock, it is a one-week holiday for students over Thanksgiving week, similar to the Spring Break, usually held in February.

Pilato’s submission to OGPRC’s Review Panel was about “how this policy (Fall Break) was implemented without evidence to suggest whether it was effective or not.”

Pilato, along with Applied Health Sciences professors John Hay, associate professor Madelyn Law and associate professor Kelli-an Lawrance, were awarded a grant through Brock Student Services to study the impact of the Fall Break on students’ stress and retention rates over three years.

So far, she has conducted student surveys and focus groups along with pursuing “proxy measures” such as studying student health and counselling service records and examining trends in dropout rates before and after the Fall Break to establish a baseline.

“Our initial analyses are showing that the Fall Break is effective in reducing school-related student stress, that students overwhelmingly are in favour of the break,” she says, adding that it’s too early in the study to tell whether the time off helps students to retain more of what they’ve been learning.

Common stressors for students include multiple deadlines, heavy workloads, performance anxiety, financial pressures, balancing school with extra-curricular activities, says Pilato.

Pilato says her Ontario Graduate Policy Research Challenge – which includes a one-time research grant of $2,000 – will help her in her research.

“This helps me to be recognized, to build my CV, get my name out there in terms of being a researcher, and to show how important this research is,” she says. “It feels wonderful to be recognized and to know that this research will make a difference and have an impact on peoples’ lives in a positive way.”

The Fall Break research is just one part of Pilato’s doctoral work, which focuses on student’s mental health. This award recognizes that aspect.

“Kelly is a young researcher with a bright future in health-related fields,” says Nota Klentrou, associate dean, Research and Graduate Studies in Applied Health Sciences.

“Our faculty focuses on high quality health research. Kelly Pilato’s achievements demonstrate that our graduate students are gaining the necessary knowledge and skills to be recognized as top researchers in the province.”

The Ontario Graduate Policy Research Challenge (OGPRC) is a pilot initiative that the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities launched in February 2014 to reward high-quality graduate student research relevant to postsecondary education, training and labour market policies in Ontario.

Applicants submitted research briefs to a panel of well-known policy and research experts from the academic community and the Ontario Public Service. In addition to Brock University, the other seven winners came from the University of Toronto, Western University, and York University.

Recipients represent various graduate programs and departments (education, geography, engineering, public policy and health sciences) across universities.

Pilato and her colleagues will be honoured at the Ontario Graduate Policy Research Challenge’s Award Ceremony, scheduled to take place at the University of Toronto Dec. 8. For tickets, click here.

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