PhD program in Child and Youth Studies celebrates first graduates

Canada’s first PhDs in Child and Youth Studies (CHYS) officially received their degrees from Brock University on June 18.

Prarthana Franklin-Luther (MA ’16, PhD ’21) and Yana Berardini (MA ’15, PhD ’21), both members of the first cohort of the PhD program in the Department of Child and Youth Studies, graduated during Friday’s Virtual Spring Convocation.

Under the supervision of Professor Tony Volk, Franklin-Luther was the first member of the cohort to defend her dissertation, focusing on how parents’ personality traits are associated with parenting decisions and interactions with children.

Now a post-doctoral fellow at McMaster University in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics studying neurodevelopmental and mental health outcomes of pre-term infants and their families, Franklin-Luther says that anyone interested in studying children and youth would be well-served by Brock’s Department of Child and Youth Studies.

“CHYS is a one-stop-shop for everything you need to learn about children and youth — high-level advanced statistics, qualitive research methods, socio-cultural theories, psychology, neuroscience and so much more,” she says. “If you are interested in learning about or working with children and youth in any capacity, CHYS is the place to do it.”

Yana Berardini completed her dissertation under the supervision of Associate Professor Heather Chalmers, looking at self-compassion and well-being in young caregivers who spend many hours of their day caring for others. After her defence, she began a post-doctoral fellowship at the Students Commission of Canada.

“I would like others to know how unique this program is and how personable the department is,” she says. “Everyone puts so much effort into making sure every student is supported, respected and valued and it makes for such a wonderful experience. The faculty is made up of such wonderful professors who are there to offer support and guidance every step of the way.”

Chalmers, who oversaw the launch of the PhD program during her tenure as Graduate Program Director, says she is very proud of the students’ success.

“Our students in this first cohort were exceptionally strong and have served as mentors for the cohorts which followed,” says Chalmers. “They grew with the program and are an indication of the quality of students in our doctoral program.”

Associate Professor and current Graduate Program Director Hannah Dyer agrees, noting she has been “continuously impressed” with the cohort’s transdisciplinary research.

“They are skilled at gathering theory and method from disciplines and fields otherwise held at a distance from each other, and their work enacts numerous ways of producing knowledge and practice,” she says. “I’m so excited for the students and for the people, communities and organizations they will work with — collectively, this cohort will play a large role in reshaping conversations about children, childhood and youth.”

Three additional students rounded out the first cohort and are all expected to graduate in the fall. Natalie Spadafora (BA/BEd ’13, MA ’15), who successfully defended her dissertation on incivility among adolescents in classroom settings earlier this month under the supervision of Professor Tony Volk, describes the faculty and staff in the department as “unmatched” and says that she will always be grateful for the personal relationships she fostered during her time at Brock.

“What I have enjoyed most about the program is the way my thinking was pushed and expanded in a way that was civil and collegial,” says Spadafora, now a post-doctoral fellow at the Offord Centre for Child Studies and McMaster University. “In every class and situation, I was always learning new information and new ways to look at things, and that has largely shaped the way I now conduct myself as a researcher.”

Anne Readhead, an Educational Developer in Brock’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation, will soon defend a dissertation under the co-supervision of Professor Maureen Connolly and Professor Emerita Frances Owen on the Niagara Region’s integrated tri-sector planning process for teens with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities who are transitioning to adult supports and services. The community-based study is being collaboratively conducted in partnership with Contact Niagara for Children’s and Developmental Services.

Readhead says she was drawn to the program by the “amazing” faculty members, as well as the department’s transdisciplinary approach.

“The program is extremely engaging and promotes a friendly and supportive environment for the diversity of students enrolling in it,” says Readhead. “This is a program that can well serve both the student who wishes to move forward into further academia and the student who wishes to move forward into community-based employment endeavours.”

Nabin Maharjan, who will defend his dissertation in the fall, has been studying under the supervision of Professor Tom O’Neill, focusing on Nepali youth participation in the community in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake. He completed a community placement in Nepal working in the Lalitpur Metropolitan City Office/Child Development Section as part of his program, and credits this and other opportunities with helping him grow as a scholar.

“The program regularly organized national and international colloquia and conferences specifically focusing on children and youth, which helped me not only to present my academic works, but also to learn from other national and international scholars and their scholarly work on children and youth,” says Maharjan, who also says that the department’s holistic approach has changed the way he thinks about the field. “Being a Social Sciences student, I hardly encountered altruism or social capital from another perspective before, but understanding these concepts from the evolutionary or neurological perspectives made me rethink my own world view.”

Associate Professor Shauna Pomerantz, who held the role of Graduate Program Director for the bulk of the cohort’s time in the program, has fond memories of “warm and bustling” department gatherings where PhD students would gather with master’s students and undergraduates, along with staff and faculty, to share stories and show one another support.

She says that building a PhD program requires a huge effort and is never without its challenges, but she appreciated the students’ willingness to share concerns with her and go with the flow.

“These students displayed patience, loyalty, enthusiasm and passion for what we, as a department, are building in the PhD program,” says Pomerantz. “I’m really proud of our first cohort of PhD students for doing so well, for handling any of our missteps at the dawning of our PhD program, and for beginning to graduate and enter the job market with stellar CVs.”

Ingrid Makus, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, says she is grateful for the energy and creativity of the committed faculty members who brought the PhD program to life in 2016, and is delighted to see this first cohort going out into the world as ambassadors for the Department, the Faculty and the University.

“These new PhDs have wasted no time in continuing their research at other institutions and committing to growing the field of Child and Youth Studies,” she says. “We are proud of their accomplishments and eager to hear more about the mark they will leave on the world.”

Suzanne Curtin, Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Professor of Child and Youth Studies, calls the moment an exciting milestone.

“Child and Youth Studies is the first program of its kind in Canada bringing together researchers from a broad range of fields to create a truly multidisciplinary approach to exploring issues impacting children and young adults,” she says. “As our first class of PhD graduates moves on to their next chapter, I am confident they will have very bright futures and will positively contribute to research and scholarship in this field. I look forward to hearing about their outstanding accomplishments and offer my congratulations.”

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