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A community commitment

Queen’s PhD students lend expertise to strengthen growing community initiatives.

Six teams of Queen’s University doctoral candidates will soon compete for the top prize in the second annual PhD-Community Initiative – an effort that brings together PhD students from a variety of research fields into interdisciplinary teams to assist organizations in the Kingston community.

On March 14, participating teams will gather with their community partners at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts to present the results of their projects to a local audience and a panel of judges who will select a winning team – based on how well they addressed the challenge presented by their community partner and the plans proposed to help the organizations move forward.

“Following the overwhelming success of last year’s pilot PhD-Community Initiative we’ve expanded the program to engage more community partners which provides more experiential learning opportunities for our graduate students,” says Brenda Brouwer, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “The interdisciplinary team approach allows students to draw upon their collective knowledge and skills to make meaningful contributions supporting the priorities of our partner organizations. It’s a truly collaborative learning experience for everyone involved.”

This year’s teams were paired with a number of community organizations in Kingston with a unique set of goals. One group – the KEYS Job Centre – partnered with a team of PhD students to improve aspects of their Refugee Resettlement Services Kingston program by devising new ways refugee families could engage and integrate into the community.

“The KEYS Job Centre staff identified tech literacy amongst their clients as the most pressing issue they faced and gave our team quite a bit of freedom in how we could address this need,” says Heena Mistry, doctoral candidate in the Department of History. “We first interviewed various groups of refugees in Kingston to narrow in on their tech knowledge gaps, and then designed learning modules for an array of computer skills. We are now testing these modules with KEYS clients, with plans to set up a sustainable program that KEYS volunteers can carry into the future.”

A total of 33 families have arrived in Kingston through the refugee resettlement program since the fall of 2016 – mostly from Syria and parts of Eastern Africa. Through the PhD-Community Initiative, Queen’s students worked with the families to improve things like computer literacy, so newcomers could become more familiar with communication software, stay safe while using the internet, and seek employment online.

“Being part of this initiative has been an eye-opening experience,” says Ms. Mistry, who worked alongside her teammates Ebenezer Dassah and Matthew Kan, as well as their team mentor, Sandra Olney, Professor Emerita in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy. “It has allowed us to apply and hone our research and communication skills while analyzing complex barriers facing refugees in their resettlement process, and provided an uplifting opportunity to contribute positively to the Kingston community.” 

Other teams partnered with local organizations to address workforce and employment issues, bolster academic enrichment and language training opportunities, and strengthen philanthropy in Kingston. The teams worked closely with their partners under the guidance of an alumnus or retiree mentor to determine the scope of the project, develop and implement a plan of action, and present deliverables.

The panel of judges who will select the winning project includes: Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic); Bhavana Varma, President and CEO of United Way Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington and; Rob Wood, CEO of 8020Info Inc.

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson and Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf will be on hand to officially open and close the competition, and the event is open to the public.

Learn more about the PhD-Community Initiative.