| research furthers innovation and teaching at the University of Lethbridge fall 09 vol 3 issue 1 | ulethbridge.ca
Charting a new course Dr. Daniel J. Weeks brings a well-constructed plan for research development at the University of Lethbridge.
Editor: Alesha Farfus-Shukaliak Associate Editor: Jane Allan Photography: Glenda Moulton, Bernie Wirzba Writers: Caitlin Crawshaw and Natasha Robbie Design: Glenda Moulton, CRDC Printing: University of Lethbridge Printing Services Correspondence should be addressed to: Research Services, University of Lethbridge 4401 University Drive Lethbridge, AB T1K 3M4 Phone: (403) 317-2869 E-mail: email@example.com www.ulethbridge.ca | www.uleth.ca/unews
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Dr. Daniel J. Weeks is an explorer in every sense of the word. When he isn’t busy in the lab pursuing new discoveries in the areas of cognition and motor performance, or pioneering brain imaging applications for individuals with intellectual and developmental challenges, Weeks can often be found at the helm of his sailboat out on the waters of the Georgia Strait. Whether his passion for discovery was born in academia or on the open seas, one thing is certain: Weeks’ innate desire to continually explore new frontiers makes him an ideal choice for the position of vice-president (research) at the University of Lethbridge . Weeks joins the U of L after more than a decade at Simon Fraser University, where he was professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology, and operator of the Psychomotor Behaviour Laboratory located on the Burnaby campus. With an academic background in kinesiology and psychology, Weeks’ research focuses on the mental processes involved between perception and action in goal-directed behaviour, particularly in relation to people with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism. Weeks is very well connected within the international Down syndrome community and is strongly committed to improving the lives of people with the disorder. He is a member on the board of Down Syndrome International and was co-founder of the Down Syndrome Research Foundation in Vancouver – a facility that has become one of the most highly regarded research and imaging labs of its type in the world. “Dr. Weeks is well known on both sides of the border at all levels of the academic and research community,” says U of L President Dr. Bill Cade.
An innate desire to continually explore new frontiers makes Dr. Weeks an ideal choice for vice-president (research). “His work not only helped to build research capacity and attract significant funding at SFU, it positively affected many lives. We’re very pleased that Dan has chosen to join our team, and we look forward to having him in the U of L community.” Weeks brings a well-constructed plan for research development at the University of Lethbridge, with a particular interest in raising the profile of the institution through strategic partnerships and projects. He feels that the U of L is well positioned to take on an even greater research role in many disciplines on both national and international fronts, thanks in large part to the strategic approach the university has taken toward research initiatives thus far. “There’s a tendency for many institutions in Canada to chase available research funding. The University of Lethbridge has taken a much more thoughtful approach,” Weeks says. “The initiatives the U of L has pursued are significant and will have staying power. There’s true leadership here, and careful consideration about the direction the University should go – which tells me that Lethbridge is a place where big ideas can come to fruition.” Weeks plans to leverage local, provincial, federal and international research opportunities for the U of L across all disciplines, maintaining the balance between the Faculties that helped to
draw him to the University in the first place. He cites international recognition for studies done in a diverse range of disciplines as a major factor in his decision to join the U of L. “It’s no surprise that Lethbridge is a world leader in neuroscience, in water research, in the arts and social sciences – in as many disciplines as it is, because liberal education is respected and fostered here,” Weeks says. “Our diversity is a great strength. If all of the Faculties can continue to advance together, the U of L will be stronger for it.” In addition to pushing existing research initiatives forward and facilitating the groundwork for more, Weeks plans to bolster the service infrastructure at the University to ensure projects have the support they need to succeed. He sees the size of the U of L as a major advantage in this regard. “We’ll have to keep up with the momentum,” Weeks explains. “We can’t just be successful – we have to be able to manage the success. The U of L is nimble because of its size, and things often get done with a phone call and a handshake that might take months of paperwork elsewhere.” Weeks intends to work closely with the School of Graduate Studies in order to build programming that will attract students to research programs, noting with emphasis that studies don’t happen without bright young minds to conduct them. “We’re building something here; we’re setting precedents,” he says, with clear excitement. “We’re creating policy and pushing the University forward. That’s the great thing about research – it never ends. There’s always a way to take things to the next level.”
New faces of research Global institute draws renowned demographics researcher
Dr. Susan McDaniel Photo submitted by Bob Cooney
Nothing illustrates the role of the economy in our lives like the current economic downturn. With families across North America foreclosing on mortgages, baby boomers delaying retirement and new graduates scrambling for jobs, almost every demographic has been affected. The economy is an ever-evolving force with tremendous influence on how and where people live. In fact, understanding how global populations and economies inform one another is crucial for understanding everything from international relations to when Canadians retire, explains Dr. Susan McDaniel, the newly appointed Prentice Institute Director and Research Chair. A renowned demography expert, McDaniel returns to Alberta from Utah, where she was a senior scholar at the Institute of Public and International Affairs and Professor of Family
and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah from 2007 to 2009. She will lead the new Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy, which is the product of a multimillion dollar endowment from Alberta agribusiness entrepreneur, the late Dr. John Prentice (LLD ’06) and his family. “It’s interdisciplinary, so the institute is expected to bring in researchers from across Alberta, Canada and the world. It will be a global institute focused on global issues and a global population,” she explains. McDaniel previously spent 15 years at the University of Alberta as a full professor of sociology and another three at the University of Windsor. She currently holds grants from agencies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. One of her current research projects focuses
on perceptions of aging and retirement trends. In a recent study - soon to go to press - she interviewed middle-age Canadians and Americans during the financial crisis to find out how they anticipated their older years. Many Americans expressed panic about how they’d manage their health, while Canadians were more proactive, expressing greater confidence that they’d handle whatever challenges they encountered. “That’s what’s so exciting about doing this research; you discover such interesting things,” she says. While the institute is still in development, McDaniel believes it will become an area of extreme excellence for which the University will become known. “It’s a tribute to the U of L that they managed this. The funding could have gone to any of the universities, but it came here,” she says.
understand why the brains of different animals evolve so distinctly and says the grouse’s unique behaviour will provide information about how its brain evolved. His research is supported by several funding bodies, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which recently awarded him nearly $500,000. Another branch of Iwaniuk’s work explores the neurobehavioural impacts of organic pollutants, also through the lens of bird physiology. For this work, he’s studying the common quail, which is more sensitive to pollutants than wild birds. Supported by Alberta Ingenuity and the Alberta Heritage Fund, this work focuses on perfluorinated chemicals, which are contained
in stain treatments and Teflon coatings and now circulate widely in the environment. “A bit of an unknown with these chemicals is how they’re affecting our bodies and potentially our brains and behaviours,” he says. “The current theory is that these chemicals are upsetting the thyroid gland.” Iwaniuk, who did his PhD at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, conducted research at the University of Alberta and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., before returning to the U of L. “The facilities here were better than the other places I was looking at and the funding was better, which offers me the opportunity to hire post-docs, students and research assistants,” Iwaniuk says.
Bird brains shed light on evolution and pollution
Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk
With its mousy brown feathers and ample frame, the ruffed grouse wouldn’t win any beauty contests. But for one neuroscientist, the Alberta species is a celebrity. One of the University of Lethbridge’s newest researchers in the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN), Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk, says the species is unique in the world. By beating its wings very quickly, the male creates a loud drumming sound to attract females. “It’s completely unique to them. There’s no other grouse or chicken-like species in the world that has that behaviour,” he says. Iwaniuk, who earned his master’s degree at the U of L, has chosen the ruffed grouse as a focal species for his research on brain differences across species. He’s trying to
Canada Research Chair unravels the brain’s role in movement While people like to describe themselves as left- or right-brained, we all rely on both hemispheres to function normally. However, neuroscientists haven’t been certain whether both contribute equally to the production of skilled movements. “There is an abundance of literature on sensory-motor integration and on goal-directed movements like reaching and grasping, but there has been little written about whether there are differences between the contribution of each hemisphere to these kind of behaviours,” says Dr. Claudia Gonzalez, a new researcher in the Department of Kinesiology and a Tier II Canada Research Chair (Sensorimotor Control). But Gonzalez’s research is helping to unravel this mystery. To determine whether there is a hemisphere bias involved in goal-directed movements, she presented participants with an object embedded in a visual illusion and asked them to grasp the object using each hand. Regardless of whether people were right- or
left-handed, their left hand was fooled by the illusion (i.e. their grip was scaled to the illusory size of the object) while their right grip reflected the real size of the object. These results suggest that the left hemisphere, which controls the right hand, may play a more important role than the right side in the integration of visuo-motor information. Gonzalez’s work is relevant to how people recover from brain injury. A more sophisticated understanding of how the two hemispheres control different facets of action and perception could ultimately help tailor rehabilitation practices to specific injuries. Her research may also explain why people favour one hand over the other (“handedness”). If the left hemisphere plays a more pivotal role in grasping – a primitive function crucial for survival – it makes sense that humans developed a more specialized right hand. “This research doesn’t only apply to people with brain injuries but to how we understand cerebral asymmetries,” Gonzalez explains.
Dr. Claudia Gonzalez
Professor revives female composer from the history books The name Hildegard von Bingen may not ring a bell, but her compositions, written in the 12th century, left an indelible mark on music – and women’s – history. It’s only been in recent decades that academics have begun to seriously study the German nun’s contributions to medieval music, explains Faculty of Fine Arts music professor and solo singer, Dr. Janet Youngdahl. For centuries, Hildegard von Bingen remained a footnote in history despite her enduring compositions and clever use of musical notation. Youngdahl, who specializes in performance practice (the study of how vocal music is performed), is studying the works and life of the composer. She says Hildegard was one of the 12th century’s most prolific composers. Her ornamental chants express an original view of the world. “She has a very unique, female sense of the
Dr. Janet Youngdahl
Sense of belonging critical in rural nursing placements Over the last 26 years, Dr. Monique Sedgwick, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, has worked in a variety of rural and urban hospitals as a staff nurse and hospital adminstrator. Sedgwick began teaching undergraduate nursing students in 1990 and has since developed an avid interest in undergraduate nursing students’ experience of preceptorship in the rural setting. Included in this broad research area is the notion of belonging, student professionalization and the rural hospital team’s impact on the student experience and socialization. “Becoming a professional, registered nurse is as much about joining that community as it is about learning the technical skills of what nurses do,” Sedgwick says. Unlike their urban counterparts who are often working within a single nursing unit, she explains that rural hospital nurses must be “expert generalists” who can provide nursing care in diverse medical, surgical and emergent situations.
Rural hospitals often lack specialized medical resources, requiring all health-care practitioners to band together to offer patients the best care possible, Sedgwick explains. For fourth-year students completing their preceptorships – in which they work alongside a registered nurse – working in a rural hospital offers a steep learning curve, as well as a unique opportunity to be part of a tightly knit health-care team. Students’ feeling of belonging has emerged as a cultural theme from the data she’s already collected and appears to be a key ingredient to their success in the preceptorship. This doesn’t surprise Sedgwick, since this is important for all nurses. “I think it is very important for nurses to connect with each other and with all members of the team,” she says. “It’s a very stressful job, and nurses need to be able to confer and consult with each other, so the best patient care is provided.” Dr. Monique Sedgwick
divine, and she used all sorts of beautiful imagery she invented herself to talk about God from a female perspective.” Possibly to circumvent public censure about her work as a composer – which wasn’t something women usually did – Hildegard asserted her work was a divine calling. “She claimed she didn’t know how to write music and that everything she wrote was a direct revelation from God,” Youngdahl explains. Youngdahl first encountered the historic figure as a doctoral student, when she met a woman performing Hildegard’s works. Now, as a new professor, Youngdahl has earned a U of L Internal SSHRC grant to continue her research and involve the choir and a student research assistant in bringing Hildegard’s works to life for modern audiences. “She was a wonderful thinker and someone who needs to be remembered,” she says.
The new face of grad studies
(l-r) Gabrielle Weasel Head, Cathy Aspen, Doug Checkley Melanie Meier Brayton When the School of Graduate Studies emerged 25 years ago, it offered a single master’s degree in education. Since then, it has emerged as a centre for graduate studies in the arts, health sciences, humanities, sciences and social sciences. “All of our programs are growing steadily as the U of L evolves as a research institution with world-renowned faculty members,” says Dr. Jo-Anne Fiske, dean of the school. She explains that the University master’s degree offerings are constantly expanding as a result. This fall, for instance, the U of L will welcome its first students into the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and Master of Music (MMUS) degree programs. In its early years, the master’s program offered local students the opportunity to earn graduate degrees. Today, the program is made up of 13 per cent international students and attracts applicants from all over the world. It also draws bright, engaged students committed to succeeding. “Students are earning their own recognition in national competitions for scholarships and fellowships,” Fiske says. Gabrielle Weasel Head is one such student. One year into a master’s program in Native American Studies, she recently earned the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for her thesis proposal. Her research will examine how Aboriginal people in southern Alberta experience and perceive homelessness. “Lethbridge is traditional Blackfoot territory. There are a lot of homeless Blackfoot individuals living in this relatively small city of 85,000. The numbers are quite staggering,” Weasel Head explains. Her sense is that cultural ties to the land can help explain why some homeless Blackfoot people remain in the area, despite a dearth of housing options. Weasel Head will conduct her fieldwork at a homeless shelter in Lethbridge, where she will interview patrons, not service providers. “A lot of research, I find, is done from an outside lens.
I’m trying to look at homelessness through the eyes of those experiencing it.” She says the $17,500 SSHRC grant will go a long way towards her tuition and living expenses. It will also help her with research costs, which will include gifts like warm socks and meals for research participants. Eventually, Weasel Head says she’d like to do a PhD, but she’s also considering working for a social services agency that focuses on Aboriginal services. A PhD is also the goal of new grad Cathy Aspen, who completed a Master of Science in management (specializing in marketing) this May. For now, she’s putting her social marketing prowess to work at Alberta Environment as an outreach and planning assistant. While academia is her end goal, Aspen says it’s important to work for a while in order to gain hands-on experience. “To conduct research and teach is the ultimate objective, but there will be a couple of detours along the way,” Aspen says. “Once you get into the classroom, it helps you be more credible with students if you have that experience.” Aspen chose to do her graduate studies after earning a Bachelor of Management degree from the U of L. “I got to know the faculty really well when I was doing my undergraduate degree and found them to be really supportive,” she says. The program was also a great alternative to an MBA route, which wasn’t for her, and it offered a cohort program, which also appealed to her. “You make some really great friendships; it’s nice to have people around who understand exactly what you’re going through,” she adds. For Doug Checkley, a full-time high school physics teacher, the part-time master’s of education program, with a thesis option, was an ideal route. “Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I wanted to have the experience of writing my thesis because I’m thinking of doing my PhD down the road,” he says.
While Checkley’s colleagues enjoy two months of summer relaxation, he’s working hard on thesis drafts. But, he says the work is fun and wholly related to his day job. “I’m looking at physics education. I’m analyzing why students are choosing to take physics in smaller numbers than the other sciences,” he says. So far, his fieldwork supports his suspicion that students wrongly view physics as too difficult. This tendency is ultimately a bad thing for society at large, as many of the professions in the sciences utilize physics. “You can’t have engineers without physics.” While students like Checkley are compelled by a passion for their discipline, graduate school is a personal and academic challenge. In fact, the demands on graduate students can be overwhelming at times. That’s where Melanie Meier Brayton comes in. As the new graduate studies awards supervisor, she’s charged with the tremendous task of helping students find and apply for awards, scholarships and grants they’re often not aware of. “Especially with the first year master’s students, they don’t know where to look. A lot of times, I think many of them don’t think there are funds available,” she says. A U of L alumna who formerly worked at a private college, Meier Brayton is glad to be back at her alma mater. “I’ve always wanted to be back in the university environment,” she says. “I believe in education, and I’ve always wanted to help people better themselves with education.” During the year, Meier Brayton will be holding workshops on applying for external and internal awards, and will be providing information for students on the School of Graduate Studies website. Visit www.uleth.ca/graduatestudies for more information.
The LAST WORD
Dr. Dan Weeks
I hope you enjoyed reading the fall issue of FIAT, Furthering Innovation and Teaching, in which we have profiled some of the new faces of research here at the University of Lethbridge, including myself, the incoming vice-president (research). What is it about the U of L that attracts accomplished students, researchers and teachers? Why do students like Gabrielle Weasel Head, who completed her undergraduate studies here, return to enrol in our graduate programs? Why do master’s degree recipients like Dr. Andrew Iwaniuk return here as faculty? There are a myriad of reasons. One is certainly the personal and supportive learning environment they find on this campus. Equally important are the relevant programs and interdisciplinary approach that drives their
work and sparks their imaginations. For physics teacher and graduate student Don Checkley, it’s the flexibility of our programs that allows him to work full time while completing his Master of Education degree. Students at the U of L learn by doing and by working closely with supportive mentors who engage them in collaborative learning and creative research. Faculty here are offered the opportunity to bring their current research and expertise into the classroom and integrate theory with practice. And what drew me to the University of Lethbridge? I come here full of optimism. I am personally attracted to a team approach that utilizes everyone’s strengths in a concerted effort. We all can make unique contributions to a
common shared purpose and I believe that a strong team ensures success. One important task will be to engage the U of L research community and lay out the framework for a new strategic plan that positions us as an emerging researchintensive comprehensive university. I intend to continue fostering an environment that will capitalize on our strengths and build on themes that bring together initiatives from the humanities to the sciences. This is an exciting time for this university. I am happy to be joining the U of L team and look forward to working with our researchers to further their success and to sharing their successes with you in future issues of FIAT.