An interdisciplinary team of Brock graduate student researchers were recognized recently for their contributions in helping to produce a report built by the Niagara-wide community, to gauge quality of life in our region.
Mary Wiley, executive director of Niagara Connects, thanked Brock for being a partner in assisting the community in developing the report. She praised the role of graduate student researchers, for “helping to guide the research process and gathering data.”
The graduate students, as part of the Social Innovation Research Associate Program (SIRAP), worked to generate new indicators of socio-economic wellness while gathering data and information about existing community assets. They worked with front-line experts in the community to help inform vital and innovative solutions for addressing social, economic, environmental and cultural challenges in Niagara.
The research associates included Micheal Boateng (Geography), Zipparah Stephenson (Social Justice and Equity Studies), Chris Ventura (Education), Jason Ribeiro (Education), Saranjah Subramaniam (Applied Health Sciences), Sathya Amirthavasagam (Applied Health Sciences), Kayla Lee (Applied Health Sciences), and Meaghan Csikos (Critical Sociology).
Each student took on responsibility for researching specific Living in Niagara sectors – 12 in total – that the Niagara-wide community has described as the basis for the report. Brock researchers also assisted Niagara Connects (formerly known as the Niagara Research and Planning Council) in producing the 2008 and 2011 versions of this triennial snapshot of “how Niagara is doing” in terms of the social indicators of health.
Jason Ribeiro, an MEd student who focused on the critical indicators in the “learning and education” sector in Niagara, describes the project as a thoroughly rewarding experience.
“The majority of our work ended up being part of the final report,” he says. “It was amazing to be at the launch and see the results of your work reflected within the overall presentation on the screen.”
“The role of being a research associate meant that we were very much involved in the identification of existing critical indicators, finding new data sets, and identifying new indicators that could help build on the previous report. We met monthly throughout the year and communicated and shared progress via email but overall we were given a great sense of ownership and responsibility for our work.
“My work came very organically through the relationships with school boards that I had established as part of my master’s research. Also, we were connected to knowledgeable community leaders who we could go to for information and feedback as we moved along in our research.
“Niagara Connects is one of the only networks of people in Canada to create a living document that is constantly being refueled. They are creating a dialogue and from dialogue will come real change. Improvements toward community wellness will emerge.”
Wiley says the students came away from the project knowing their work would make a difference, and, along the way, they learned about the collective power of many people “leading from behind.”
“At the launch of the report, it was an amazing experience for the students to see for themselves, in a room of almost 500 people, the community support for the release of the report,” says Wiley. “As young researchers, I believe they will continue to draw from the experience of being part of a collaborative, community-driven project. Their work will live on as the report provides a powerful blend of statistics and knowledge to inform wise decision making for a stronger future for our community.”
The SIRAP program was facilitated by Dr. Madelyn Law, Associate Professor, Applied Health Sciences, and Karin Perry, Graduate Officer of Development and Training in the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS). Its objective is to provide graduate students with direct community-based research experience that is meaningful, relevant and complements their graduate education.
Law, chair of the Niagara Connects Board, also facilitates another community-university partnership I-Equip program and is the new chair of the advisory committee for the FGS’s Vitae Essential Skills program. She knows the value of harnessing the curiosities, passions and research expertise of graduate students.
“Bridging the talents of graduate students with a community research project like Niagara Connect’s Living in Niagara-2014 report allowed students to explore another potential outlet for a career in research,” says Law. “Graduate skills are highly transferrable skills.”
“Our aim was to bring graduate students together to learn about the community consultative process,” adds Perry who coordinates Vitae Essential Skills programing. “The sector-specific topics of the report aligned well with the disciplinary interests of the students, so the students were naturally engaged.”
Perry agrees that when the students saw the finalized report and understood the value of their contribution, being publicly acknowledged made working on this with the community the ultimate capstone project.
“Madelyn and Karin saw the opportunity to get graduate students involved in an innovative model of thinking and I immediately gravitated to that,” adds Ribeiro. “They had full confidence in us and that helped motivate everyone along the way.
“I live in Stoney Creek and I wasn’t that familiar with Niagara. Coming to Brock for my master’s and getting involved in SIRAP gave me an opportunity to learn about Niagara and to be part of contributing to the whole story about the quality of life for those who live in Niagara.”