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A successful transition for RARC

The Regional Assessment and Resource Centre continues to help students with invisible disabilities or mental health challenges prepare for postsecondary education.

A teen girls uses a laptop
Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) moved its introductory workshop for two of its programs online. (Unsplash / Annie Spratt)

For the past 15 years the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) at Queen’s University has been helping high school students with invisible disabilities such as specific learning disabilities or mental health challenges prepare for the transition to postsecondary education. As with practically everything else, COVID-19 has forced a change of plans with how the program is delivered.

The two programs involved – On-Line to Success (OLTS) and Successful Transition Online and Mentoring Program (STOMP) – are both primarily provided online over a six-week period. However, one of the key ingredients for both has been a two-day introductory workshop that is conducted in-person and allows the participants to meet with RARC staff as well as their peers in the program.

Under the current circumstances this was no longer possible, so the staff and clinicians at RARC pivoted quickly and, with the support of IT Services at Queen’s, moved the introductory workshop online.

With this being a first there were some concerns on being able to replicate the vibrancy and engagement of the in-person experience.

Thanks to the team effort, the results have been very positive.

“Because we were not able to have our face-to-face workshops this year, we’ve added new video content to the website, including recording our presentations, adding video introductions for all moderators, conducting one-on-one phone and video calls to students and starting a weekly interactive riddle contest with prizes,” says Marie McCarron, Clinical Services Manager. “We are also starting some group conversations over Zoom to facilitate more student-student interaction.”

Safe transition

PROGRAMS
OLTS and STOMP are designed specifically to target and address areas that research has shown are problematic for students with learning disabilities, ADHD, ASD and/or mental health disorders as they make the transition to postsecondary education. There are several modules in OLTS and STOMP that cover different topics such:
• Understanding yourself
• Differences between high school and postsecondary education
• Researching your school/Finding your way around/resources
• Study Strategies
• Time Management/Scheduling/Work-Life Balance
• Accommodations at postsecondary
• Self-Advocacy

For this group of students, having a safe place to talk with peers and to feel less alone is important, McCarron adds. The programs have proven very successful, with participants enjoying a much higher overall success rate in post-secondary than their disabled peers who did not participate in such a transition program.

One of the strengths of the program is its online flexibility; it allows participants to manage their own schedules, become accustomed to online learning environments, and complete the course at their own pace over a six-week period.

“The online format works quite well, as it allows students to take this course on top of their schoolwork, without having to do it during the summer or on weekends. They are able to choose when it fits in their schedule, whether it’s during a spare or in the evenings, or on weekends if they want,” says Alison Parker, Transitions Coordinator at RARC. “It also allows students to go at their own pace, which is especially useful for students with disabilities that effect their reading, writing and attention. For some of our students, there is also some comfort in being able to type out answers – to review them before they share, and to offer a little less spotlight and attention then if they were speaking in front of a group. Many of our students also realize that completing online courses is an incredibly useful skill as they approach post-secondary school, and they’re happy to take this opportunity to test it out.”

Learning opportunities

The program also receives support from teacher candidates from the Queen’s Faculty of Education who moderate the course as part of an alternative practicum placement provided by RARC. The placement also provides the teacher candidates with valuable experience in the areas of online teaching and learning, and training in how to support students with learning disabilities, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and mental health disorders who are participating in an online learning environment.

“To me, this course offers a win-win to both teacher candidates and students with disabilities” says RARC clinical director, Allyson G. Harrison, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. “The teacher candidates receive direct instruction and practice in learning how to deliver content online and to assist students with disabilities as they navigate this platform, and the high school students need to learn the skills of how to interact and participate in an online environment.”

University 101

Dr. Harrison says that the beauty of the online programs that RARC has developed is that the content could easily be used to assist all students making the transition to university.

“Almost all of the content of this transition course is like the University 101 courses offered in many institutions in the U.S., and would make transition to a university environment easier for most students. The fact that we’ve modified and improved this course with student input over the past 15 years means that it is extremely engaging, dynamic, and easy to do,” she adds. “We’d be happy to share this course with any department or program on campus, and given the current COVID-19 crisis this might be an ideal time to expand what the university offers to all incoming students”.

Over and above the two transition programs, the RARC team also developed an online transition resource guide to help all students in Ontario with disabilities make the transition from high school to college or university.

RARC operates as part of the Queen’s Division of Students Affairs.

To learn more about the programs and services, visit the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) website.

The 5-minute workout

Queen’s researcher Brendon Gurd has developed an exercise protocol that requires no equipment, can be completed anywhere, and helps improve muscle endurance in under five minutes a day.

[Woman performing a crunch exercise]
Brendon Gurd’s research has identified a set of whole-body interval training with wide application that can help solve the problems for people with limited time, space, and no access to equipment. (Image courtesy of Unsplash/Jonathan Borba)

With gyms closed and fitness classes cancelled, many of us are experiencing the challenge of exercising within cramped spaces. In fact, for some, it is not unlike the situation for someone stationed on a submarine for weeks at a time.

Queen’s researcher Brendon Gurd (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies), an expert in how exercise improves mitochondrial functions related to health and disease, was originally inspired to discover an exercise protocol that could be performed successfully even in the most confined of spaces, like on a submarine. As Principal Investigator of the Queen's Muscle Physiology Lab (QMPL), Dr. Gurd’s research has come to identify a set of whole-body interval training with wide application that can help solve the problems facing many, particularly now, of limited time, space, and no access to equipment.  

Whole-body interval training incorporates exercises such as jumping jacks and burpees to engage major muscle groups for short periods at high-energy bursts. Most commonly affiliated with routines such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Tabata, or short-duration interval training, the appeal of this form of exercise is that it can be accomplished in as little as five minutes, requires no equipment, and can be completed in an average-sized room.

“Among the most commonly cited barriers to being physically active in most populations are time and access to equipment,” says Dr. Gurd. “Our research studies demonstrate that whole-body interval training improves aerobic fitness similar to traditional endurance training (such as running on a treadmill for 30 minutes), but provides the additional benefit of improving some strength and muscle endurance outcomes.”

Several of these exercises may be familiar and can be an activity for the entire family. In fact, Dr. Gurd has also been using this training protocol with his family, including his children, to stay physically active and cope with stress during this time.

“Physical fitness is an important determinant of health and disease risk,” explains Dr. Gurd. “Remaining active and fit are two things that we can control. Maintaining some control in our lives through regular exercise, in addition to the direct benefits of exercise on our mental and physical health, may help us to cope with the stress associated with the current environment.”

For those interested in incorporating Dr. Gurd’s whole-body interval training into their health routine for their individual fitness levels, please see the following sample exercises or follow along with Dr. Gurd and his children in the video above.

A complete set includes eight exercise intervals, a combination of burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or squat thrusts, for 20 seconds each followed by a rest period of 10 seconds. A total workout can be completed in under five minutes. When completed four days a week for four weeks, the added benefit of improved muscle endurance has been found.

For more articles on maintaining health and wellness, see the Queen’s GazetteConfronting COVID-19” series.

Modelling the spread of COVID-19

Queen’s professor Troy Day is helping Ontario develop models to predict the future of the virus in the province.

As Ontario works to contain the spread of COVID-19, the provincial government is drawing on the expertise of researchers from its universities. Troy Day, Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Queen’s, has been chosen to serve on the Provincial COVID-19 Modelling Consensus Table.

On Monday, Ontario released new models projecting the future spread of the virus in the province. The Gazette connected with Dr. Day to learn about his role at the table that generates these models and also to hear his thoughts about the state of the pandemic in Ontario.

Describe the Provincial COVID-19 Modelling Consensus Table and how it is contributing to the province’s efforts to contain this coronavirus crisis.

Day: The Table is composed of people with expertise in a variety of areas including public health, epidemiology, infectious disease biology, data sciences, and mathematics and statistics. One of its main goals is to use mathematical models to rapidly address questions about the likely consequences of different public health interventions in the control of COVID-19. The Table is chaired by Dr. Adalsteinn Brown of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (who you have likely heard in Monday’s media conference giving updates and projections on the status of COVID-19 in Ontario) and by Dr. Kumar Murty of the Field’s Institute.

What is your role at this table and what types of insight do you bring as an applied mathematician who focuses on mathematical biology?

Day: Much of the research that my group does centres on developing mathematical theory for the epidemiological and evolutionary dynamics of infectious diseases. I am one of several people on the Table that conducts this type of research and together our goal is to draw on several mathematical results and models (both from our own work and that of others) to form a consensus opinion about the likely future dynamics of COVID-19.

The Province just released updated models of the spread of the virus. What do you think the most significant findings in these models are? Are there any surprises in the data?

Day: Perhaps the most important message from Monday’s briefing is that the physical distancing measures are working. Spread within the community at large is decreasing, although we are probably only now cresting the peak of the first wave of infections. So, these measures will need to be maintained for some time still. More surprising to me at least is the importance of long-term care homes and other congregate settings in disease spread. Roughly one half of the deaths in Ontario are people living in these settings and it is obviously difficult to enact physical distancing measures to control the spread in these places.

Confronting COVID-19 Read more articles in this series

What do you think people in Ontario should prepare for as we look ahead? How long might we need to continue embracing physical distancing or other preventative measures?

Day: It is difficult at this stage to be very specific about how much longer physical distancing will need to be in place. However, since we are just now reaching the peak it will be important to maintain these measures so that we come down the other side of the wave. If we relax these measures too soon we risk losing all the ground that has been gained during the past month and having things get out of control.

For more information on the latest models from the province, see the Government of Ontario's website.

Living with a physical disability during the pandemic

Queen’s University researchers working to support people living with physical disabilities.

Exercise during isolation is important for people living with physical disabilities. (Supplied Photos)

Academic lead for the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance and Queen’s researcher Mary Ann McColl (School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Public Health Sciences) says people with disabilities face unique challenges  based on the current circumstances imposed by COVID-19. 

These include: 

  • Depending on a personal support worker to come every day to perform intimate care duties, such as toileting and personal hygiene 
  • Needing expendable supplies such as surgical gloves, antiseptic wipes or catheters, to perform hygiene routines 
  • Being afraid to leave the house at the best of times, never mind now when a life-threatening virus is afoot 

“These are just a few of the scenarios that confront people with a variety of different types of disabilities in the current crisis,” says Dr. McColl. “Not only are people with disabilities particularly vulnerable during times of instability such as this, but difficult times can also substantially add to their challenges.” 

Exercise at home

Something critical that could add to their independence and well-being at home is exercise. As part of the advice on how to properly self-isolate, public health authorities have also been prescribing people a round of daily fitness whenever possible. However, there is one segment of the population that is not being properly addressed, according to Queen’s University researchers Amy Latimer-Cheung and Jennifer Tomasone (Kinesiology and Health Studies) 

The research duo, along with Kathleen Martin Ginis (University of British Columbia) have launched a free, evidence-informed, telephone-based physical activity coaching service for Canadians with a physical disability. 

Run by the Canadian Disability Participation Project (CDPP), Get In Motion provides Canadians with a physical disability an opportunity to speak with a Physical Activity Coach (PAC) who provides support to start or maintain an at-home physical activity program. Physical disabilities supported by Get in Motion include spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke, cerebral palsy, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, post-polio syndrome, or an amputation. 

Support for staying healthy

“Canadians with a physical disability are high risk group for COVID-19,” says Dr. Tomasone (Kinesiology and Health Studies). “Self-isolation is critical to the well-being of individuals with a physical disability. With social distancing restrictions, being active is proving difficult for all Canadians, especially individuals with a physical disability.” 

Dr. Tomasone, a leading researcher with CDPP, says the coaches will assess what their clients currently have available in their home and work with them to set goals and create a plan. 

“A challenge for persons with a physical disability is often not knowing where to start or not realizing they have the tools right in their home to stay active,” she adds. “It’s also a great way to a create social connection among Canadians who are self-isolating.” 

Strength and endurance

Building and maintaining strength and endurance helps with everything from getting into and out of bed, cooking, cleaning, preparing for work and maintaining good hygiene. Physical activity coaching may be especially helpful for coming up with creative solutions to stay active for people with a physical disability whose in-home care worker is unable to meet clients in their home. 

Confronting COVID-19 Read more articles in this series

“Twenty per cent of the population is living with a disability, many of whom do not have a partner, spouse, or children for support,” says Dr. Latimer-Cheung, leading researcher with CDPP. “This means they are home and completely on their own. We need to place an emphasis on the health of persons with a physical disability as they are a high-risk group for contracting COVID-19 and other chronic conditions.” 

However, people with disabilities can teach us a great deal about adaptability, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and interdependence.  People with disabilities often act as a bell-weather group, facing difficult circumstances before the general population does.  As such, they can provide an opportunity to help policy makers and service providers to anticipate future needs. 

To sign up for Get in Motion, visit the website or email CDPPprojects@queensu.ca

Lending a helping hand

An interdisciplinary team of Queen’s researchers and industry partners have mobilized to formulate hand sanitizer for Kingston hospitals

Graduate student tests a sample of hand sanitizer
Department of Chemistry graduate student Hailey Poole takes samples from a prototype batch of sanitizer.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to worldwide shortages of personal protective equipment and, very early on, products like hand sanitizer. This has a great impact on hospitals where these products are critical to limiting the spread of the virus, especially for frontline health care workers and patients.

A team of Queen’s researchers from the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering along with GreenCentre Canada have partnered with Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Tri-Art Manufacturing (Kingston) to develop hand sanitizer. Having just received Health Canada approval, the team will use three sites (two at the university and one at GreenCentre Canada) to make 300 litres of product per week to help meet the needs of Kingston hospitals.

“Our health care professionals have enough to worry about at the moment and should not have to be concerned about rationing hand sanitizer as we try to ‘flatten the curve,’” says Richard Oleschuk, Head, Department of Chemistry. “We know that we are not going to be in the long-term business of supplying hand sanitizer, as eventually supply will be brought online to meet demand. However, we felt that our interdisciplinary team had the skill set and infrastructure to make a difference in the short term.”

The World Health Organization has approved two formulation recipes (ethanol and isopropanol) for sanitizer. To create the isopropanol recipe the team is producing, large amounts of isopropanol (commonly known as rubbing alcohol) needs to be mixed with smaller amounts of water, hydrogen peroxide, and glycerin, in exactly the right proportions. The mix then needs to sit for 72 hours so that it can sterilize its own container.

While production of hand sanitizer is not a complicated process, it involves the use of chemicals that can be hazardous if not handled correctly. To make the isopropanol sanitizer, the team at Queen’s needed to develop a process that ensured quality control of the product, but still maintained social distancing rules at each of the three sites. They developed a “buddy system,” in which a second individual acts to monitor each and every chemical addition/volume added to the mix, so that the integrity of each batch is maintained.

“At this unprecedented time, it is important that the university and Kingston community work together to ensure our citizens remain healthy and safe,” says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “I am proud of our researchers and our community partners for both their resourcefulness and initiative undertaking this project.”

Confronting COVID-19 Read more articles in this series

The team’s protocol was developed in collaboration with Queen’s Environmental Health and Safety, who are also essential in transporting the raw materials and finished sanitizer to and from the formulation sites. A training video was also created, so that the students, faculty and staff involved in formulations could learn the same formulation process.

“I applaud the innovation and creativity of our researchers and industry partners in addressing these critical shortages,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).  “This project shows the strength of the Queen’s research community in mobilizing their expertise and resources to deal with pressing global challenges.”

While the team hopes not to be in the hand sanitizer business for long, they are thankful for the opportunity to be able to support the needs of Kingston hospitals and for the contributions of the Queen’s faculties and Physical Plant Services in this effort.

A team effort for dissertation defence

A student in the Department of History was one of the first ever at Queen's to defend her dissertation remotely.

Photo of Sanober Umar after successfully defending her dissertation over a video conference on Microsoft Teams
Sanober Umar after successfully defending her dissertation over a video conference on Microsoft Teams.

Queen’s has had graduate degree programs since 1889, but is still having new firsts in its approach to graduate education. Over the past few weeks, the university has held its first remote defences of theses and dissertations. One of these defences was for Sanober Umar, who on April 6 became the first PhD candidate in the Queen’s Department of History to defend her dissertation using Microsoft Teams.

Nine people joined the video conference, including Umar, her committee members, a facilitator, and a staff member from IT Services for support. Most were in Kingston, but one person joined from New York City and another from Halifax.

"Even though it was a momentous occasion, I felt surprisingly calm going into my defence. Mainly because I received so much support from Barrington Walker and Saadia Toor, my supervisors; Adnan Hussain, Graduate Chair in the Department of History; and Betsy Donald, Associate Dean in the School of Graduate Studies. Because of their help, I was able to focus on preparing and didn't have to worry about whether the new situation would affect my defence," says Umar. "The advisors at the Ban Righ Centre, who have provided me with so much support throughout my time at Queen's, also helped to keep me calm in the days before the exam."

A successful remote defence

Shortly after learning that classes were transitioning to remote delivery, Umar says she was contacted by Hussain, who let her and the other graduate students in the department know that there were plans in the works for holding defences and exams remotely. The School of Graduate Studies (SGS) also reached out with the same message. “I never had to worry if my defence or degree would be delayed,” Umar says.

Making sure no technical glitches got in the way, David Smith, a staff member in IT Services at Queen’s, stayed on the video call for the duration. All the committee members were also eager to make sure that the defence could focus on Umar’s dissertation rather than whether everyone’s technology was working properly. So they all agreed to join the virtual meeting half an hour early to sort out any potential issues.

Typically, successful defences end with a celebration of the accomplishments of the student. While there could be no in-person gathering, the facilitator of the defence did bring out balloons and a congratulations sign to recognize Umar’s achievement. As her dissertation studies global Islamophobia in the second half of the twentieth century, Umar appreciated having this light-hearted note after discussing such a serious topic for three hours.

Best practices for remote thesis examinations

As Queen’s continues to practice physical distancing, it will rely on this remote format for administering graduate exams and defences. And SGS is providing support and guidance for all students and departments. It has put together a guide to best practices for remote exams which were followed during Umar’s defence, helping to ensure it went off without a hitch.

“Queen’s is one of the first schools in Canada to compile best practices for remote thesis examinations. And we have already seen many departments put them to use as they hold their first-ever remote defences,” says Betsy Donald, Associate Dean, School of Graduate Studies. “I served as the facilitator for Umar’s defence, and it was a pleasure to see her thrive in the remote setting.”

To read the SGS best practices guide for remote thesis examinations, see their website.

Making the most of the summer

Queen’s online course offerings are proving to be very popular with students facing summers disrupted by COVID-19.

Photo of a person using a laptop.
Faculties at Queen's are seeing an increased demand for their popular online summer courses.

COVID-19 has abruptly changed summer plans for many students across Queen’s, as many employment and internship opportunities have been put on hold. To help students make the most of this unexpected gap, the university is ready to connect students with a host of popular online courses and programs around campus.

Arts and Science Online (ASO) has the largest enrolment out of the units offering online degree credit courses at Queen’s. It’s aiming to become even more accessible to students through measures like increasing enrolment caps for popular classes, extending the application deadline and start date for summer courses, and by expediting the application process for prospective students and visiting students from other universities, such as allowing them to submit unofficial transcripts to support their applications. To support the larger class sizes this summer, ASO will also be hiring an additional 40 graduate students as teaching assistants.

“From last year, there is already a 25 per cent increase in course enrolments in Arts and Science Online. We understand that many students suddenly need to find new plans for their summer, and we are working hard to make accommodations while maintaining the high level of education that we are known for. Whether students are looking to earn credits toward their degree or explore an interest, ASO has something for them,” says Bev King, Assistant Dean (Teaching and Learning), Faculty of Arts and Science.

Arts and Science Online has a long track record of offering innovative online education. Students in ASO can take courses in a wide variety of disciplines, including art history, drama, astronomy, computing, and psychology. Courses in ASO are taught by Queen’s faculty members who often teach in-person courses on similar topics. Their courses are open to Queen’s on-campus and distance students, and students from other higher-education institutions who apply.

Launching careers remotely

The Smith School of Business has also been making their programs more accessible for students facing a summer of physical distancing. Notably, they have adjusted their popular Graduate Diploma in Business (GDB) program so that it is now delivered remotely.

The GDB course is designed for recent graduates from any discipline and gives them a chance to build business skills that can help launch their careers. Credits earned in the program can also be transferred to a Smith MBA program, and completion of the program could qualify students for entry into other Master’s programs at Smith. Throughout the program, students also work with dedicated career coaches who provide mentorship and build important professional skills, such as communication, resiliency, and emotional intelligence.

“This is the seventh year for Smith’s Graduate Diploma in Business. In four intensive months over the summer, students gain a deeper confidence in all areas of business through ten masters level courses plus professional coaching, communications skills, training in high performance teams, career planning, and more so they stand out as a great job candidate,” said Jim Hamilton, Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Sales Management, and Director Graduate Diploma in Business at Smith. “We are excited this summer to deliver the program fully remotely using our teaching studio technology and virtual support. It will be a completely immersive and engaging experience that a student can do from anywhere.”

Health Sciences online

Like ASO, the online Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) program is already seeing growing demand for its courses this summer. Compared to 2019, enrolments are already up 71 per cent. Queen’s undergraduates are driving most of this increase, but there are also many students from other institutions requesting to enroll.

To accommodate more students, the BHSc is adding more courses. Originally, the program planned to offer 18 courses, which was already an increase over the 15 offered in 2019. But now they will be adding 3 to 5 more courses on top of the 18. The preferences of students are being considered as the BHSc plans for this expansion. They have asked for feedback from students about which courses they are most interested in taking, and they have received over 100 responses so far.

“Seven years ago, the Faculty of Health Sciences made significant investments to develop state-of-the-art, fully online courses that would become the foundation of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. The result is that we can now offer a diverse array of courses online, enabling us to respond to the student demand because of this COVID-19 pandemic. We are very pleased to be able to help the students out,” says Michael Adams, Director, Bachelor of Health Sciences.

The BHSc is designed for undergraduates who are interested in pursuing the health professions, and it offers online courses on a wide range of topics, including infectious diseases, pharmacology, physiology, and global health. This academic year, it launched an on-campus version of the program, which received over 4,000 applications for its first cohort.

Queen’s Faculty of Law

Having seen several years of steady growth for the Certificate in Law, the law school is continuing to see increases in enrolment in both individual courses and the Certificate program itself as the summer nears. Queen’s students represent about 60% of students in the program, but off-campus students, both undergraduates and lifelong learners, are a growing cohort for the program. Law 201, Introduction to Canadian Law, is a perennially popular course, but speciality courses such as Aboriginal Law and Intellectual Property are rapidly accruing interest and enrolments as May nears. 

“We have increased our caps for most courses, hiring more teaching assistants from our Juris Doctor and graduate students,” says Hugo Choquette, Academic Director of the Certificate in Law program. “We are continuing to invest in course renewals and improvements for the courses, and the quality of the courses are reflected in their growth both on- and off-campus. We’ve also extended our program enrolment deadline for Queen’s students by a week, to April 27, to accommodate this higher level interest.”

The Faculty’s online Graduate Diploma in Legal Services Management is also seeing growing interest among legal professionals with a series of courses to train legal professionals in business skills ranging from financial literacy to project management. One of its summer courses, LSM 840 – Working With Teams and Managing People – has proven especially relevant in the current context.

“The COVID-19 epidemic has, among other things, highlighted how important leadership and management skills are to weathering a crisis,” says Shai Dubey, Academic Director of the Graduate Diploma in Legal Services Management. “We’re reaching out to small and mid-sized law firms with a series of tools, created by the course developers, to help them with remote team management and mentoring, and seeing a strong positive response and interest in this course, as well as the other courses in the program.”

Exploring online programs

For more information about Arts and Science Online, visit the ASO website.  Learn more about the Graduate Diploma in Business on the program’s website, or find out about other programs that Smith delivers remotely on the school’s website. The website for the BHSc has information about both the online and on-campus versions of the program. 

If you are interested in summer online courses in other academic areas, see the website of the relevant faculty or school to learn more about their programs.

Racing for air

More Confronting COVID-19 Stories

Multi-disciplinary team designs and builds life-sustaining ventilator in only 14 days.

The team's device is comprised of more common or easily-sourced components.
The team's device is comprised of more common or easily-sourced components.

Any other time, having two weeks to design and prototype a respiratory ventilator that can outmatch those created by hundreds of international teams would be a daunting task. These days, however, the stakes are much, much higher than bragging rights.

A multi-disciplinary team comprised of Queen’s University faculty and students, as well as health professionals from Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), entered the Code Life Ventilator Challenge earlier this month. Together, they are hoping to be among the top three groups whose designs could go into production and soon start saving lives threatened by COVID-19. With the challenge about to close, the Kingston-based team worked steadily through the weekend to finalize their functioning ventilator model.

“In people infected with COVID-19, parts of the lungs fill with fluid, which prevents oxygen from passing into the blood, and causes the lungs to fatigue and stiffen,” says Ramiro Arellano, Head of Queen’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, and team member responsible for ensuring the device will provide the life-sustaining respiratory support patients require. “As an analogy, imagine how your legs would feel walking on pavement compared to walking in knee-deep mud; eventually your muscles tire and fail. For the lungs, a ventilator takes over the work so muscles can rest, and the body can better fight infection.”

Dr. Arellano says the brilliance of their team’s design is its use of items readily available in the community in combination with items that are easily sourced or 3-D printed.

In pairing two continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, commonly used to treat conditions like sleep apnea, the team was able to harness the air pressure required to provide a patient with the correct amount of oxygen. Since CPAP machines provide constant airflow to users, they next had to innovate a way for the device to provide a steady, on-and-off supply of air more akin to the natural tempo of breathing. Combining a small computing device, a series of tubes linked to the CPAP devices, and mechanical arms that compress the tubes intermittently, the team was able to simulate the proper timing to provide regular spurts of oxygen.

The Queen's/KHSC team's ventilator design.
The team's ventilator design combines machines typically used to treat sleep apnea with a computerized control centre that governs airflow.

“Our ventilator design goal was to make the production of the device as simple and versatile as possible,” says Reza Najjari, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical and materials engineering whose expertise in fluid dynamics has him overseeing that the device will deliver the precise volume of air to a patient. “I think the simplicity and modular features of our device give it the potential to help a lot of people, as it provides the production flexibility that local producers need to manufacture them rapidly with the materials they have on hand.”

Drs. Najjari and Arellano feel that the team’s cross-disciplinary approach makes their Code Life Ventilator Challenge submission highly competitive, while recognizing there may be strong competition from across the globe. They are focused on creating an effective, life-saving device with an open-source design that can be used by anyone around the world.

“Our ventilator design would not have been achievable without the wide-ranging expertise and collaboration of our team of researchers at Queen’s,” says Dr. Najjari. “We had specialists in fluid and solid mechanics, biomechanics, electrical engineering, computer science, and health sciences; all who showed the utmost dedication to creating this important device.”

Dr. Arellano took it further, comparing the team’s complement of experts to an ensemble of musicians.

“In many ways, the team is built like an orchestra,” he says. “Each person plays a unique instrument and the amalgamation and organization of each unique sound produces music that would be impossible otherwise.”

Contest finalists will be announced soon. Watch the Code Life Ventilator Challenge website for the list of winners to appear. In the meantime, read about another ventilator design project being led by Queen's Nobel Laureate Art McDonald.

See the world from home

Experience art from around the globe through online collections and exhibitions with #AGNESFromHome.

Leiden, Netherlands
Leiden, Netherlands (Photo: Jose Zuniga via Unsplash)

If you are itching to take a trip, there may be no better time to do so than right now. No need to worry about COVID-19 or going against our efforts to physically distance – you can explore the cultural richness of Europe, Africa, and Canada’s far north from the comfort of your living room with #AGNESFromHome.

“There are few things capable of expanding our horizons in the ways that art can,” says Alicia Boutilier, Interim Director of Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University. “Artists energize our imaginations and illuminate our individual experiences and our shared histories. As we maintain physical distancing, we hope you can find a connection to people, past and present, through our online collections and exhibitions.”

Leiden, Netherlands

Setting foot in Leiden is said to be like stepping into the 17th century. Heralded as the “city of discoveries”, the university town has been a science powerhouse for centuries — cultivating any number of groundbreaking researchers — but it is perhaps most notable as the birthplace of legendary painter, Rembrandt van Rijn.

As part of Agnes’ Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges exhibition you can take in the vibrancy of the Baroque master’s hometown in this short documentary, and get an up-close look at some of his most memorable works. Visit an interactive map of 17th-century Leiden for a look at the city’s incredible landmarks, and to see where the artist honed his craft and helped nurture the talents of countless pupils.

Afterward, take a deep dive into the free, fully-illustrated digital catalogue (in both English and French) detailing the early careers of Rembrandt and his peers, highlighting the exhibition’s included works, and offering broader context to Leiden’s historical and cultural profile at the time.

These online assets were produced as part of Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges, a touring exhibition which debuted at Queen’s University’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre in August 2019 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death. Experience many of the pieces included in the exhibit online by visiting The Bader Collection.

Africa

African Ivory exhibit brochure cover
Ivory figure created by a Lega artist from the region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The world’s second-largest continent boasts rich cultural diversity and an abundance of natural wonder.

As part of #AGNESFromHome, you can learn about the long-running exhibition The Art of African Ivory, which explores how African communities have used ivory to teach morality, convey social standing, heal wounds, safeguard communities, and in commerce.

The use of ivory does carry baggage however, so be prepared to spend some time at the intersection of art preservation and animal conservation. Art curators across the world have the dual responsibility of protecting ‘cultural ivory’ works, while also combating the pursuit of contraband ivory. Past Director of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African Art, Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, spoke at Queen’s on the matter last fall—discussing historical African ivory art and wildlife conservation in her lecture Displaying Historical Ivory in Museums: Let’s Talk about the Elephant in the Room.

The Art of African Ivory exhibition features a number of pieces from the Agnes’ Justin and Elisabeth Lang Collection of African Art—one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind in Canada, with over 500 works created by primarily west and central African artists. You can view much of the African historical art collection online.

Baffin Island, Canada

Drawing
Celebration and Drum Dancing from Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964

The most memorable elements of any journey are the people we meet along the way.

With the Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964 exhibition’s online interactive experience, we are introduced to Terry Ryan, an artist and arts advisor who encouraged and collected drawings by Indigenous people in the North Baffin region over three months in 1964. Traveling to three communities that had no formalized art programs—Clyde River (Kanngiqtugaapik), Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik), and Arctic Bay (Ikpiarjuk)—Ryan would distribute paper and pencils to local people at the start of his trips and purchase finished drawings on his way home. Together, the collection of drawings depicts profound perspectives of daily life, history, and memory during a time of profound social change for Inuit communities.

You can now reveal the stories behind the drawings with #AGNESFromHome. A selection of illustrations spanning Inuit identity, land, and history, can be viewed online. Each drawing is accompanied by special video interviews with the artists’ descendants and friends, who provide an intimate connection to the people, events, and themes of the era, while underscoring the importance of cultural heritage to communities today.

To learn more about contemporary and historical media created by Inuit, First Nations, and Métis artists from Turtle Island and across the world, visit the Agnes’ Indigenous Art Collection.

Music played from coronavirus isolation shows how the arts connect us

Professional and amateur musicians-in-isolation offer community expressions of human spirit through social media.
 

Steve Martin plays the banjo
Two Steve Martin banjo video tweets have been viewed more than 10 million times since March 21, 2020. Here, stills from the ‘Banjo Calm’ video. (@SteveMartinToGo/Twitter)

Many musicians are reaching out from isolation on balconies, in condos or the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Italian tenor Maurizio Marchini sings “Nessun dorma” from his balcony while the police in Mallorca, Spain play music, dance and sing in the streets and people watch from balconies. Many people are posting #songsofcomfort.

American actor, comedian and musician Steve Martin’s March 21 viral Banjo Balm tweet (at the time of this writing, about 9.8 million views) followed by March 27 “Banjo Calm” (one million views) are two videos that bear witness to the ways we rely on the arts within social media to build connections and create community in times of isolation.

Music educators, community music facilitators and ethnomusicologists value the power of music to build community. These three fields coincide when they examine the notion of music for all that transforms societies and people. They identify humans’ basic drive towards “making things special,” as explained by Ellen Dissanayake, an affiliate professor of music education at University of Washington School of Music.

Our communities make the music we need when we need to do so. We mark significant events, both traumatic and joyful, with the arts.

Banjo Balm

For years, Martin’s comedy hijinks included his banjo; the public increasingly became aware of how talented he is as a musician.

Martin’s album The Crow: New Songs For The Five-String Banjo won best Bluegrass Album at the 2009 Grammy awards; he also received awards for 2001 Best Country Instrumental Performance and the 2013 Best American Roots Song. He is now as respected as a musician as he is as a comedian and actor.

Martin’s stand-up comedy and early film roles were zany. His movie characters gradually transitioned into ones who were a little odd but wise. This shift in his acting roles parallels his rise as a prominent figure in roots and bluegrass music.

Space and place influence music

Musician David Byrne describes ways space and place have always influenced music. From operatic stages and philharmonic concert halls to punk rock concerts at CBGB in New York, composers and musicians write and play for spatial and acoustic qualities of specific venues. What works in an outside amphitheatre may well fail at Carnegie Hall.

Martin presents us a talented musician who becomes our beloved great uncle in the “Banjo Balm” viral clip. We see him alone, as many of us are — or at least feel — in social isolation, but he does not appear lonely. He stands outdoors, relaxed, just as many of us wish we could be today.

He smiles gently at us with compassion. Thus, Martin transforms his outdoor space into an intimate venue that millions share in mostly indoor settings. We feel he’s come to visit us at home and we’ve welcomed our buddy inside. We are all family in this context, isolating apart together.

Banjo ‘ill-suited’ for conveying sadness

Michael Schutz, associate professor of music cognition/percussion at McMaster University, explores composers’ cues for musical emotion and concludes that “the challenges in producing low pitched, slow moving melodies” on the banjo make the instrument “ill-suited for conveying sadness.” Martin himself has made the same point in his stand-up comedy.

Martin’s “Banjo Balm” overcomes this tendency with rich, warm tone and a slow tempo. The major sounding melody descends with each phrase, suggesting repose, up until the final coda where it leaps and ascends, offering us some optimism. We tend to hear music in a major keys as happy or light, while minor keys tend to suggest sadness or darkness. This music calms us; we feel lifted from melancholy.

However the high lonesome sound associated with bluegrass music returns in “Banjo Calm.” It begins in a minor mode, a darker but still warm tone, and slowish tempo. At 50 seconds in, Martin fills in the spaces between the warm, slow and melodic notes with traditional clawhammer — fast, high pitch fill — that identifies the cheerfulness of bluegrass, even in sad songs.

Martin developed “Banjo Calm” into a more finished, more professional, more bluegrass piece. Personally, we feel more calm after “Banjo Balm.”

Music for community

Martin’s ever-changing social and cultural capital provides traction for both video tweets. His musicality and star power alone made “Banjo Balm” viral, however, this social media phenomenon occurs with so much music in so many places around the world.

Canadian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac says musicians make music because “we have no choice — that’s just what we are, we’re artists.” Through these YouTube and Twitter experiences, both professional and amateur musicians-in-isolation engage community expression and audiences appreciate their demonstration of solidarity.

This phenomenon transcends individual performances in any one genre, and functions as community building, or at least community expressions of human spirit. We see professionals performing, community singalongs and Canadian rockers Arkells offering free, online music lessons. Then, there are countless artists performing online from their homes.

Amateurs too are performing for their communities, including doctors at the Mayo Clinic, children and grandmothers.

Let’s all join in this community apart together!The Conversation

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Roberta Lamb, Professor emeritus, Dan School of Drama and Music and Faculty of Education, and Robbie MacKay, Lecturer in Musicology, Dan School of Drama and Music.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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