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Faculty Profile: Beth Richan


Beth Richan1. What is your original hometown - where and what did you study?

I am a prairie girl at heart having grown up in Regina, Saskatchewan where the flat landscape and wide-open sky allowed for one’s imagination and thinking to be critical and limitless. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn within a school system that had the foresight to nurture individuality and experiential learning before it became the norm. I’d have to say my academic path was non-linear as I collected a few degrees along the way, beginning at the University of Regina with a degree in History and Anthropology, followed by a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Toronto, and then a Master of Science degree from Queen’s focusing on social inclusion for vulnerable populations. My fields of study and geographic locations changed, but each academic experience provided new and important perspectives on education as well as on global issues and challenges.

2. Can you summarize your career path to date? Have you always been an academic?

I actually don’t consider myself to be an academic per se, but rather an educator with a passion for providing students with new ways to discover, explore, analyze and synthesize concepts through problem-based learning. This strategy emerged during my early years teaching at the Toronto Islands Natural Science School before shifting to teach in the inner-city. After teaching for a decade in a variety of environments, I became immersed in multidisciplinary health studies and curriculum design projects with the Social Program Evaluation Group (SPEG) at Queen’s. Several years later I joined the International Centre for the Advancement of Community Based Rehabilitation (ICACBR) and became involved in community development programs that focussed on disability and global health in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. I was fortunate to be a part of a dynamic team developing and delivering education and health programs for students, community members, professionals, government officials, volunteers, and people with disabilities in conflict and post-conflict zones, and areas of natural disaster.

3. When and how did you start at the Castle?

I became involved with the BISC in 2012 when I was asked to develop a summer term program focussing on disability and health. Eight months later we welcomed our first cohort to the Interdisciplinary Studies in Global Health and Disability (ISGHD) specialized program, and we haven’t looked back! For six years I was balancing coordinating and teaching in the ISGHD summer program and in my role at ICACBR; however, in January 2018 I moved to the BISC full-time to continue developing the Health Studies program to include year-round courses for first and upper-year students. The BISC environment provides a unique opportunity for students to study abroad and I feel very lucky to be able to contribute to their broader understanding of our complex world through a health and disability lens.

4. Can you tell us briefly about the work you were doing in Bangladesh prior to joining us?

I was Project Manager for five-years for a Queen’s/ICACBR/Canadian Government initiative. This multi-layered, multi-million-dollar project incorporated all levels of society from government ministries right through to families in outlying villages which focused on children and youth with disabilities accessing education, health services and employment. Policy development, capacity building, gender training, peer counselling, and education and awareness programs were key features of the project. Additionally, we identified and then provided assistive devices and wheelchairs to children and youth and built ramps and accessible washrooms in schools and communities among many other supportive activities. I had a team of over thirty local employees working in thirteen districts implementing activities to ensure those most vulnerable had access to education, health and employment. It was a project of many moving parts, but it was an honour to lead this initiative on behalf of Queen’s and I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to work in this fascinating and complex country.

5. Have your areas of focus, or academic interests as a whole changed over your time at the Castle? If so, how?

Since starting at Queen’s over twenty-five years ago, my work primarily focused on education, health outcomes research, and capacity building (mostly in international development contexts). Over time I feel I’ve come full circle and again focus my commitment on ensuring student success in a more Western context. Probably the biggest change over the years has been to move away from traditional lectures in the classroom to one where students are more actively engaged every day by asking them to think more critically, to ask questions, to take academic risks, and to conduct their own research through engagement with primary and secondary sources. Social media and the internet also now play a key role in young peoples’ lives and their access to information is like nothing we have seen before. It provides a multitude of opportunities and pitfalls to be navigated and as educators, we must be mindful of this powerful tool as being critical to student success.

6. Health Sciences at the BISC is an exciting new stream for us. Can you give us your thoughts on its potential?

The new BHSc first-year program will welcome its first class in the Fall 2020 term and will provide health science students the opportunity to enhance their studies in an international setting. While continuing to maintain the academic rigour that Queen’s is known for, we will provide experiential learning opportunities that will take the students out of the classroom and into the labs, museums and sites that, in many ways, laid the foundation for our current health care systems. We will visit Broad St in Soho and walk in the footsteps of where Dr John Snow mapped the cholera outbreak of 1854, visit a Victorian Operating Theatre in London, and journey to Charles Darwin’s house in Kent. What a fantastic way to learn in the places and spaces where some of our most impactful scientific discoveries and theories were made and created! We are looking at this program as a long-term commitment to the next generation of young scientists, physicians and researchers who will be leaders in the fields of health and medicine well into the 21st century.

7. Why would you recommend the Castle to a prospective student?

The BISC is an ideal place for students to become global citizens, to understand interdisciplinary and differing perspectives, and to begin to discover their path to having a life with purpose. Our holistic approach to education incorporating strong academics, being part of a small community, experiencing enhanced learning inside and outside the classroom, and providing networking opportunities with global researchers and scholars are just a few of the areas where we excel. The BISC is the place for young people to learn about themselves and their world, and to gain academic and personal confidence led by a team of passionate, experienced and knowledgeable faculty.


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