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Taking the initiative

[PhD Community Initiative]
Five graduate student teams from the PhD Community Initiative presented the results of their work to the wider community at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. (Supplied Photo)

How could the City of Kingston better harness the power of post-secondary institutions like Queen’s University to ensure the local labour force is skilled and competitive?

What are the ways the city could be more welcoming to refugees?

Is there a way to reach more clients in a wider area without spending more money?

These are just a few of the challenges tackled by this year’s PhD Community Initiative participants. The annual program, organized by the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies, unites interdisciplinary teams of PhD candidates with local organizations who could benefit from their knowledge, skills, and time to address strategic planning or research needs.

In return, the students develop meaningful professional connections, gain valuable experiences for their portfolios, and receive the satisfaction of a job well done in support of a meaningful cause.

City of Kingston, Supportive Housing Needs

Gianmarco D’Alessandro - Mechanical and Materials Engineering
Atm Shaifullah Mehedi - Sociology
Sirikul Hutasavi - Geography
Surajo Sulaiman - Rehabilitation Science
Mentor Jane Johnston
Community Partner Ruth Noordegraaf

Kingston Community Health Centres, Pathways to Education
Golam Rabbani - Cultural Studies
Jiahui Shen - Chemistry
Isabel Luce - Art History
Reshma Parvin Nuri - Rehabilitation Science
Mentor Margot Paterson
Community Partner Ellyn Clost-Lambert

Kingston Community Health Centre, Immigrant Services Kingston and Area, Transcultural Mental Health Consultation Service
Matt Drabenstott - Education
Ftoon Kedwan - Computing
Victoria Cosby - History
Yaoting Zhang - Chemistry
Mentor Jo-Anne Brady
Community Partner Rasha Fahim

KEYS Job Centre Team
Patricia Ackah-Baidoo - Political Studies
Matthias Hermann - Chemistry
Sazia Mahfuz - Computing
Mentor George Brandie
Community Partner Amr Elsharkawy

City of Kingston, Micro-Skills Credentialing Program – Team KCert
Shannon Hill - Rehabilitation Science
Katelyn Arac - History
Kathryn McIntosh - Neuroscience
Mentor Sandra Olney
Community Partner Craig Desjardins

“The PhD-Community Initiative, now in its third year, is a unique and transformative opportunity for our doctoral students,” says Marta Straznicky, Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies. “The program pairs small teams of PhD students from different disciplines with a community organization to tackle a research or strategic planning challenge. Students develop skills in project management, leadership, teamwork, and community engagement, while community organizations benefit from the students’ expertise and advanced research skills. The success of this program is difficult to overestimate.”

KEYS Job Centre, Kingston Community Health Centres Immigrant Services Kingston and Area, Kingston Community Health Centres Pathways to Education, and the City of Kingston each participated in this year’s program, with the City sponsoring two projects. Each team featured three or four PhD candidates, one mentor, and a community partner – a representative from the organization that initiated the project.

“This is a great platform for new ideas and thinking,” says Mayor Bryan Paterson (PhD’06), who opened up the event. “The PhD Community Initiative is an example of Kingston at its best.”

On March 12, the graduate student teams presented the results of their work to the wider community at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Their challenge: to distill six months of work into an impactful and thorough six-minute presentation.

“The project was really rewarding for us,” says Sazia Mahfuz, who was part of the team working with KEYS Job Centre to understand the needs of young adult immigrants to Kingston. “The support that we received from the organizers and community partners was amazing, and was crucial to the success of our projects.”

A Project Highlight

Mental health across community boundaries

Fleeing war zones, persecution, and other challenges, many refugees and newcomers arrive in Canada ready to start a new life.

There is help available to resettle these individuals and provide for their physical needs. However, the trauma of their experiences and the culture shock they experience upon arriving is more difficult to address – particularly when these migrants may be hesitant to vocalize the issues they are experiencing.

To explore this challenge, the team of Matt Drabenstott, Ftoon Kedwan, Victoria Cosby, and Yaoting Zhang researched programs in other cities as well as existing services in Kingston.

“Based on our conversations, and our deep dive into local resources, we put together a framework of recommendations for Kingston which would put newcomer mental health at the centre of their experience, and ensuring newcomers are able to access wrap-around services they need,” says Mr. Drabenstott.

Behind the Scenes

The students had plenty of help in preparing for their projects, and their time on the big stage. Throughout the PhD Community Initiative program, the participants were invited to a series of workshops which taught them about design thinking, team building, and presentation skills.

“The workshops were neat in that we all got to use different skills and see the progression from the very beginning to the end where we pulled it all together into our presentation,” says Katelyn Arac from the City of Kingston’s ‘microskills’ team.

They also received guided support from the Experiential Learning Hub in form of regular workshops to help students reflect on and formulate the new skills they develop and to learn about community-engaged learning.

Now that the presentations are concluded, the students will participate in one final workshop to help them articulate how their skills have developed through the course of this initiative.

To learn more about the PhD Community Initiative and this year’s projects, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.