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Graduate school initiative continues to build ties in the community

More than two dozen Queen’s PhD students partner with Kingston area businesses to solve pressing community problems.

The latest session of the PhD-Community Initiative has now concluded, highlighted by a virtual capstone event featuring Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson, Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane, and Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Mark Green, among others.

The PhD-Community Initiative, which began in 2016 as a pilot program, is led by the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs and fosters partnerships between Queen’s students and community organization within and beyond Kingston, including the City of Kingston. Each year during this initiative, interdisciplinary teams of graduate students are paired with community partner organizations to tackle challenges important to their partner.

This year, six teams, each partnered with a distinct organization, worked to provide meaningful toolkits, recommendations, or research to address a pressing need or issue, helping their partner move forward. The teams are supported in their work by mentors (including retired faculty members and staff), and participate in a series of professional development workshops to enhance their learning throughout the year. The program attracted 26 students from across the Faculties of Arts and Science, Education, Engineering and Applied Science, Health Sciences, and Law.

These projects serve as a valuable opportunity for graduate students to translate their research skills and training into action, creating real impact in our local communities. In addition, many students participate to give back to the community they call home and to develop stronger relationships with other students from across campus – some of these ties last long beyond the end of the program.  

For participating organizations, the fresh, interdisciplinary, and analytical approach graduate students bring to the projects help them to take the next steps towards achieving their goals. The 2021/2022 Projects included:

ABLE2 | Support for People with Disabilities

ABLE2 collaborated with students to review and make recommendations on its volunteer recruitment and retention program, as well as their Volunteer Handbook. Ottawa-based ABLE2 (the first organization to participate outside of Kingston) supports people of all ages across the disability spectrum and their families to live life as valued members of their communities. ABLE2's Matching Program believes that community connection is the way to ensure seniors, people with disabilities and mental health challenges can live a good life and enrich their home community. ABLE2 matches volunteers, also known as Allies, in the community with a person with a disability (Friend) in an intentional relationship. The impacts for the person experiencing disability when someone chooses to be in their life are profound. This connection is shown to reduce loneliness and isolation, develop personal networks, decrease vulnerability, increase self-confidence, and improve mental and physical health.

Little Forests Kingston | Youth-led Neighborhood Climate Resilience Assessment Project

This collaboration aimed to create a toolkit to be used by youth to carry out an assessment of the climate resilience of their neighborhoods. The PhD-CI team worked with Little Forests Kingston’s community team to create/codesign the Neighborhood Climate Resilience Assessment to measure these important parameters. The methodology will be piloted in Summer 2022 in a student employment project, led by a mentor.

Little Forests Kingston is a local grassroots group focused on reforestation of urban spaces with diverse native species inspired by the Miyawaki method. The reforestation is based on local landscape conditions and planted intensively at 300 trees/100 sq meters. Miyawaki forests have shown rapid growth, with beneficial effects on biodiversity, carbon sequestration, management of stormwater and microclimate cooling, thus strengthening the climate resilience of the local ecology. Local communities are involved in planning, planting and caring for the Little Forest.

Higher density neighborhoods with limited canopy are at risk for heat island effects and flooding. Therefore, it is important that these communities understand the impact of the local ecology on the microclimate resilience of their neighborhood and what they can do about it as a community, including reforestation on public lands. Little Forest believes that youth who live in the neighborhood hold a great potential to lead change while centering the needs of their families, neighbors and elders. 

Royal Kingston Curling Club

The Royal Kingston Curling Club (RKCC) asked their team of students to determine how to best utilize its facility and evaluate current services to provide high value for members and attract new members to the club. To better serve the community, RKCC has placed a high value on equity, diversity, inclusivity, and Indigeneity and partnered with PhD students to investigate the needs of its membership and the broader community to further contribute to the club’s mission.

The Royal Kingston Curling Club (RKCC) is a non-profit organization run by a volunteer Board of Directors, established in 1820. The club’s goal is to enhance the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of members and the community as a whole.

Elginburg Public School | Forest School in a Public School Setting

To better meet the needs of its learners, Elginburg Public School (EPS) paired with a group of graduate students for its Forest School program. The team investigated the behavioural impact an extended time outdoors in a natural setting has on children who are at risk of or diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or other behavioural conditions. EPS was interested in a quantitative study that is as scientifically rigorous as possible within the rules and regulations currently in place.

City of Kingston | Social Enterprise Sustainability and Growth

Students involved in the Social Enterprise Sustainability and Growth Program helped build out a ‘social enterprise incubator’ for new groups looking to create impact in the Kingston community. Programs like this play a critical role in the Kingston economy, particularly for socio-economic program delivery. The global pandemic further highlighted the vital contribution of these organizations and the continued need for their services. But there exists a need to provide support (in the form of mentorship, training and skills development, resources- human and financial) to many existing organizations to ensure sustainability, growth, and operational success. This project aligned with Kingston City Council Priorities and Principal Deane’s vision for Queen’s in the Community.

School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs | Community Partner Onboarding and Toolkit

As part of the School of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs’ efforts to expand and improve the PhD-Community Initiative, students considered how to better support community partners involved in the program. A key time in the cycle of the program is the recruitment and onboarding of new partners each summer. To help ensure partners get the information they need to make an informed decision about their engagement in the program and to help them formulate and frame the “challenges” they’d like students to address, the team working on this project were asked to review current PhD-CI onboarding practices, identifying strengths and areas for improvement.

If you’d like to learn more about past PhD-Community Initiative projects, please visit the program website. If you have any questions about the program, please email Heather Merla.