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StFX Advancement Department wins six national CCAE awards

Department News - Mon, 2020-05-25 14:22

It was a very successful week for StFX’s Advancement Department, which picked up six national medals out of 10 categories entered at the recent Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE) 2020 Prix d'Excellence Awards.

StFX is a member of the CCAE, along with over 130 other Canadian post-secondary institutions.

“The CCAE recognizes best practices in the realm of fundraising, alumni relations, and communications at advancement departments across the country. Annually, the CCAE awards “Prix d’Excellence” through a peer-led evaluation process. We were thrilled to recently learn that StFX won six of these awards, second only to McGill in the number of awards an institution had received,” says Murray Kyte, VP Advancement.

“It is a huge honour to receive one award, let alone six of them! To me, it highlights the quality of our people within Advancement and also across the university as much of the work involves various units working together.”

StFX Advancement was recognized with awards in the following categories:

• GOLD—Best Alumni Initiative - Celebrating 50 years of Women Athletics, St. Francis Xavier University

• GOLD--Best Donor Relations Initiative - Mulroney Liaison Officers, St. Francis Xavier University

• GOLD—Best Indigenous Relations Initiative – Indigenous Women in Community Leadership Alumni Gathering, St. Francis Xavier University

• SILVER–Best Media Relations Initiative - Mulroney Institute and Mulroney Hall Grand Opening, St. Francis Xavier University

• BRONZE–Best Alumni Initiative – Homecoming 2019, St. Francis Xavier University

• BRONZE–Best Print Magazine – 2018-19 Donor Impact Report, St. Francis Xavier University

StFX computer science student’s research on interactive musical accompaniment tool accepted at top international conference

Department News - Fri, 2020-05-22 16:30
Travis MacDonald

Summer research work conducted at StFX on an app that combines music and computer science to help assist musicians practicing their instrument—the app listens to the user play and matches the key—has proved so successful for undergraduate student Travis MacDonald of Greenhill, NS, that he will present his work at a prestigious international conference.

Mr. MacDonald conducted the research last summer in the StFX Computer Science Department under the supervision of Dr. James Hughes.

Mr. MacDonald wrote a scientific article from the work, which was accepted for publication in a top international venue, New Interfaces in Musical Expression (NIME), and he was invited to present a poster at a conference that was scheduled to take place at the Royal Birmingham Conservatory, Birmingham, UK. He was also awarded funds through StFX’s James Chair student travel program to attend. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the conference has since transitioned online. Mr. MacDonald will participate virtually.

“It feels pretty cool to be part of a conference of this level,” Mr. MacDonald says. “Music and computer science is a niche field, so to have all these experts condensed into the same place is pretty special.”

NIME, he says, encompasses all kinds of areas in which computers can forge new ways to explore musical ideas.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what people are doing, as I’m sure there are specific areas that I’m unaware of. I’m hoping to walk away with some new ideas to think about.”

The conference takes place July 21-25th and will be modeled after an in-person conference, consisting of paper and poster presentations. The paper presentations will be pre-recorded and streamed at specific times, followed by Q&A’s. The poster presentations will be linked from their website during the conference. “We are encouraged to be creative, considering the circumstances, so we are thinking of making a poster with embedded videos to make it a bit more interactive.”


“The work Travis did last summer really is something remarkable,” Dr. Hughes says. “Not only do his achievements speak to the quality of the work, but the project was entirely done by him. I provided very little guidance and Travis independently worked out the problem and implemented the software. To me, this really highlights his abilities and speaks to the maturity level of our CS students here at StFX. Further, it’s really great to see what happens when talented students are given the opportunity and resources to work on what they find interesting; this is the type of work that doesn’t get done without these unique research opportunities.”

Mr. MacDonald says once the project to create a tool that provides interactive musical accompaniment started to get off the ground last year, Dr. Hughes found some conferences that seemed liked a good fit. “Of those, NIME sounded the most relevant, so we aimed for that one first. We submitted the paper in January, and just recently found out it was accepted as a poster presentation.”

Mr. MacDonald says he got into music at a young age and was fortunate to have some great teachers along the way. “However, computer science is brand new to me. Fortunately, the intersection of those fields aligned with some of James’ ideas and it pretty much started from there. I’m beginning to understand how computers can work with music, especially with the rise of machine learning, and potentially come up with new solutions to current problems in the field,” he says.

“The work from last summer is just one step in that direction. I’m looking forward to continuing that research.”

Mr. MacDonald, who would like to get into the software industry after StFX, says the computer science program at the university offers a wide range of courses, so students get exposed to many different areas.

With his research last summer, he focused on a single area the entire time. “You really get a chance to go deep into a topic this way,” he says. “In my case, I got some real hands-on experience in conducting research and writing software. Although my project was small and simple, I got a sense of the research process, and I’m looking forward to doing it again this summer.”

Mr. MacDonald was again awarded summer research funding, this year in the form of the Alley Heaps Undergraduate Research Internship Award. The focus of this work is on machine learning and music—seeing if they can get artificial intelligence to generate some satisfactory sounding music, and then studying exactly how it did this. “Hopefully, this leads to some discovery about underlying rules and relationships between different types of music,” he says.

Three StFX students among 10 innovative, inspiring students named as 2020 3M National Student Fellows

Department News - Thu, 2020-05-21 13:15
L-r, StFX students and 3M National Student Fellows Emma Kuzmyk, Adelaide Strickland and Claire MacDougall

Three incredibly innovative and inspiring students at StFX—Adelaide (Addy) Strickland, Claire MacDougall, and Emma Kuzmyk—have been named as 2020 3M National Student Fellowship Award recipients.

The fellowship honours up to 10 full-time diploma and undergraduate students at Canadian post-secondary institutions who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in their lives, at their post-secondary institution. These students embrace a vision of education that enhances their academic experience and beyond, the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education has announced.

Only 10 students from across Canada were awarded the 3M National Student Fellowship Award. Three are StFX students. “This speaks volumes to the calibre of students we attract and the quality of education we offer,” said StFX President Dr. Kevin Wamsley. “A StFX education is known for instilling leadership skills in its students. Addy, Claire and Emma are shining examples of leaders on campus, and I congratulate them for their hard work in and out of the classroom. These are students who make a difference in the classroom and beyond – a glimpse at a very bright future.”

"I am incredibly honoured to have been selected as a 3M Student Fellow!” says Ms. MacDougall. “I am very proud of Emma and Addy for their accomplishments as well. They are both inspiring leaders who do incredible work at StFX. I am so grateful for all of the incredible opportunities I have received as a StFX student and to have so much support from my community.”

“I'm beyond proud of the accomplishments of myself and of my friends, Addy and Claire,” says Ms. Kuzmyk. “The fact that the three of us have been selected for this award reflects the community of StFX, and how we often raise each other up to accomplish great things.”

"I am so honoured to have been selected for this fellowship, and excited that I get to experience it alongside two other amazing women from StFX," says Ms. Strickland. "I'm also looking forward to seeing what we're able to achieve this year in partnership with the rest of the fellows."

For more on each StFX student, please see below:

Adelaide Strickland, Development Studies and English

Adelaide (Addy) Strickland is a third-year undergraduate student living and working in Mi’kma’ki. Addy is pursuing an honours degree in Development Studies with an English subsidiary at St. Francis Xavier University, concentrating her studies on artistic methods and storytelling in social change and community development. Outside of the classroom, Addy aims to use her passion for stories as a tool for leadership—elevating and amplifying the stories of others, and working to change problematic narratives, particularly surrounding sexualized violence on university campuses. Addy has been deeply involved in sexualized violence protests on the StFX campus and is one of the founders of the StFX Peer Support Program, a mental health and sexualized violence resource navigation and listening service run by students, for students. She also sits on the organizing committee for the Antigonish Youth Activism Conference and edits the StFX student newspaper—The Xaverian Weekly. Following her undergraduate studies, Addy plans on pursuing a master’s degree in either forced migration or border studies, with the goal of contributing to scholarly interact with and facilitate change in contested spaces.    

Claire Ainslie MacDougall, Physics and Mathematics

Claire is a Physics and Mathematics student from Halifax, Nova Scotia in her third-year at St. Francis Xavier University. As a science student, there are many exciting opportunities, she has chosen to follow a career path that incorporates her values of social responsibility and humanitarianism through a climate justice lens by involving herself in researching global warming effects of atmospheric molecules and pursuing a career in the field of atmospheric physics or sustainable energy engineering postgraduate. As a woman in STEM, she works to break down barriers for underrepresented groups through outreach and advocacy both locally, at StFX and nationally, as Chair of the Canadian Association of Physicists Student Advisory Council. In her community she strives to create equal access to education while reducing waste through a project launched in August 2019 with aims to provide donated school supplies leftover from her university to school aged children experiencing poverty. From a young age, she has always been involved in sports. She competed in varsity soccer at StFX and is currently training for a marathon this summer. Claire hopes to inspire the same joy in others by coaching local youth and special needs persons in soccer and baseball.

Emma Kuzmyk, English and Political Science

Emma is a third-year student studying English at St. Francis Xavier University. She is the Vice President of the Students’ Union, a varsity athlete on the soccer team, and is known on campus for her sexualized violence prevention work. Since beginning university she has co-founded a sexualized violence awareness campaign, worked for the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, been an assistant project coordinator and facilitator for Waves of Change training, sat on over 30 university committees, developed and co-founded a peer support program on campus, given a TedX Talk at a Maple League retreat, and has been helping to drive a cultural shift at her institution. Emma considers herself to be an activist and channels her artistic abilities to fulfill that role — she has done illustrations for prevention programs and has shared her spoken word poetry in coffee houses, Take Back the Night marches, theatres, and more. Her activism began in her first year when she shared a poem on YouTube which was then discussed in news outlets nationwide. She is hoping to continue advocating against sexualized violence in the future and is currently planning on going to law school, where she would like to learn to advocate for survivors of sexual assault navigating the legal system.    

StFX professor Dr. Laura Estill’s Shakespeare expertise quoted in New York Times

Department News - Wed, 2020-05-20 16:41
Dr. Laura Estill

Dr. Laura Estill, a StFX English professor and Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities who specializes in Shakespeare and early modern culture, was recently sought out for her expertise in an article that appeared in the New York Times, where she also found herself among heady company.  

Dr. Estill is quoted in Alexis Soloski’s article, “Is This a Livestream I See Before Me? All the world with an internet connection has suddenly become a stage. A lot of those stages have programmed Shakespeare.

“It was an honour to be quoted in the New York Times,” says Dr. Estill. “W. B. Worthen, one of the other experts quoted in this article, is the editor of The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama, which was one of my first textbooks in undergrad; it was one that helped me appreciate the importance of historical and cultural contexts of plays. Michael Witmore is director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C., one of my favourite places in the world. I have conducted a lot of the research for my book and articles at the Folger.”

Dr. Estill, who is also editor of Early Modern Digital Review, says her research focuses on the reception history of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries from his own historical moment to today. Her first book, Dramatic Extracts in Seventeenth-Century English Manuscripts, focused on what parts of plays early play readers and playgoers copied into their manuscripts; her recent articles (such as her chapter in Shakespeare’s Theatrical Documents, edited by Tiffany Stern) looks at how Shakespeare is catalogued more than other dramatists of his time in library catalogues, which changes how we can search and find information. She recently guest edited an issue of Early Modern Digital Review about the different kinds of Shakespeare texts online. The article that led to being quoted in the New York Times considers how Shakespeare is represented in digital humanities projects. “I love to think about the questions of how and what we read in both my research and in my teaching here at StFX, where I teach English literature, book history, and digital humanities,” she says.


Plague closed theatres in Shakespeare’s day; coronavirus closed our theatres this summer. Dr. Estill says that Dr. Soloski, who wrote the New York Times piece about online Shakespeare in the time of coronavirus, contacted her as she had seen a journal article Dr. Estill published last year called “Digital Humanities’ Shakespeare Problem,” in which Dr. Estill talks about how we build digital projects and how that reflects our understanding of canon.

In the New York Times article, Dr. Estill, who too has a fondness for the Bard, argues that now is time also to take artistic rinks and look at the work of others beyond Shakespeare.

“Yes. I love Shakespeare as much as (probably more than!) the next person, but there are a ton of other fantastic playwrights whose work also deserves to be heard,” she says.

“It’s great to see online attention to Shakespeare now, when we are all at home, like Sir Patrick Stewart reading the sonnets on Twitter. The Stratford Festival is streaming Shakespeare plays online for free this summer! It would have been great for Stratford to stream plays by their other playwrights, too. I was particularly looking forward to Ann-Marie MacDonald’s new play Hamlet 911 and Thomson Highway’s modern classic The Rez Sisters—while it might not be possible to mount a full-scale production in these times, this moment offers opportunity for online play readings and book clubs.”

Dr. Estill has written a blog post for the British Council about Shakespeare’s enduring appeal. She says Shakespeare’s popularity comes from a confluence of factors, including his position in our educational system and theatres, which in turn comes from generations of tradition. “Many of Shakespeare’s plays are excellent; but there are many other excellent plays that have not achieved the revered status of Shakespeare.”

On a personal level, Dr. Estill says she realized she loved Shakespeare when, at seven years old, she went to the Stratford Festival of Canada to see A Midsummer Night's Dream with her grandmother. “I was transfixed by everything from the language, to the romance, to the day-glo gymnast fairies (the latter of which appalled my grandmother),” she writes in a post for the Folger Shakespeare Library.

“Shakespeare is magical because he matters: to this day, he inspires countless directors, actors, musicians, and writers who use, borrow, and adapt his words. Shakespeare matters because he is magical: we continue to return to his works so we can conjure new ideas of our own.”

Martin Vlk

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
Assistant Coach Soccer (M)Martin Vlkmvlk@stfx.caAthletics

Amanda Vosman

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
Lab InstructorAmanda Vosmanaevosman@stfx.ca902-867-3679Earth SciencesPhysical Sciences Complex Rm 2035

Deborah P. Vossen

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
Associate ProfessorDeborah P. Vossendvossen@stfx.ca902-867-3885Human KineticsAmelia Saputo Centre Rm 208A

Mary Walker

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
Mary Walkermwalker@stfx.caRetired Faculty

Jeff Vossen

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
Senior Lab InstructorJeff Vossenjvossen@stfx.ca(902) 867-3328Human KineticsExercise Sciences Centre Rm 122

Anne Walsh

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
Payroll CoordinatorAnne Walshawalsh@stfx.ca(902) 867-4872Human ResourcesMacKinnon 543

Katherine Walsh

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
Stores Clerk, Service DeskKatherine Walshkwalsh@stfx.ca(902) 867-2149Facilities ManagementMacDonald Hall 19

Wilma Van Der Veen

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
ProfessorWilma Van Der Veenwvanderv@stfx.caSociology

Jenny Wallace

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
Jenny Wallacejwallace@stfx.ca902-867-5556Earth SciencesPSC 2016

Laurie Wadsworth

Department News - Tue, 2020-05-19 13:58
_Laurie Wadsworthlwadswor@stfx.ca902-867-2190Human NutritionImmaculata 401

StFX researchers receive funding for projects to help inform best COVID-19 practices, support NS healthcare decision making and planning  

Department News - Wed, 2020-05-13 14:39
Pictured, l-r, are StFX faculty Dr. Karen Blair, Dr. James Hughes, and Dr. Katie Aubrecht

StFX faculty Dr. Katie Aubrecht, Dr. James Hughes and Dr. Karen Blair have each received funding to conduct research to inform the best COVID-19 practices and support healthcare decision making and planning that benefits Nova Scotia. 

The three researchers are recipients of nearly $130,000 in funding from the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition. Partners include the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Dalhousie University, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, IWK Health Centre, IWK Foundation, QEII Health Sciences Foundation, Dartmouth General Hospital and Research Nova Scotia. 

Dr. Aubrecht, a StFX sociology professor and Canada Research Chair Health Equity & Social Justice, has received $54,908 and will work to enhance supports for vulnerable older adults living with dementia and their caregivers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dr. Hughes, a computer science faculty member, has received $42,000 and will lead a project to provide direction on deployment of COVID-19 tests and other interventions.

Dr. Blair, a psychology professor, is recipient of $32,559.99 and will co-lead a study with Dr. Kathryn Bell of Acadia University that looks at interpersonal relationships as a source of risk and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, including LGBTQ+ experiences.


Dr. Richard Isnor, StFX Associate Vice President, Research and Graduate Studies, says StFX researchers responded strongly to the Nova Scotia Covid-19 Health Research Coalition rapid response initiative. 

“We are delighted at the excellent success rate of our researchers in this highly competitive initiative, as well as how research efforts have been quickly adapted to this pressing health priority. It speaks to the exceptional quality of research at StFX,” he says. 

The projects include: 

Dr. Katie Aubrecht

Project: “Evidence to assess the impact of COVID-19 on community-based dementia care in Nova Scotia.”

This study will contribute to, clarify, and enhance the best evidence-in-the-moment about programs and supports for vulnerable older adults living with dementia and their caregivers in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Amount: $54,908

Within the current context of social distancing and social isolation, Dr. Aubrecht says evidence about the resources, services and supports that make it possible for dementia care to continue at home in the community is lacking. “This project addresses the pressing need for information that can be used to assess the impact and health equity implications of COVID-19 on community supports for vulnerable older adults living with multiple chronic conditions, including dementia, and their family/friend caregivers in Nova Scotia.” 

The project (the work will be led by the Spatializing Care Lab at StFX) will contribute to the best evidence-in-the-moment about dementia-relevant supports and program service delivery by using surveys, interviews and focus groups to collect and summarize information about dementia-relevant formal health system and local grassroots resources, services and supports.

Drawing on interviews with diverse populations of people living with dementia and their family/friend caregivers, she says they will create a snapshot of service realities for socially and medically vulnerable populations. “The documentation of service realities will provide a crucial resource for current and future efforts to track, analyze, interpret and address issues of health (in)equity for older adults living with dementia and their caregivers in the province. Project results and outputs will highlight gaps in existing service provision and prioritize areas for action in accordance with resource availability within a dynamic and changing context.” 

She says this research was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Planning Grant in 2017 that laid the foundations for a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional international project team and partnership with the Alzheimer Society Nova Scotia and Alzheimer Society of Ireland. The idea emerged after a series of engagement sessions with people living with dementia and their caregivers in Nova Scotia, and continuing care decision makers and knowledge users. The key message from the sessions focused on the importance of community in caregiver resilience, but that not all communities have access to the same kinds of resources or experience them in the same ways.

“Supporting people living with dementia and their caregivers requires attention to diversity. In a public health emergency issues of differential access and experience can be intensified. The new knowledge generated from our current research will develop a baseline that can be used to assess the impact of COVID-19 on service delivery both during and post-pandemic, and support efforts to transition from emergency measures and adjust to the post-COVID-19 realities,” she says. 

“Our team of emerging and established researchers, students and trainees is heartened by recognition of the importance of better understanding and supporting dementia care at home and in the community, documenting promising approaches, and acknowledging and addressing systemic barriers to health equity for Nova Scotians in all of our diversity. We are excited to get to work and to learn from Nova Scotians about how best to strengthen dementia-relevant supports,” Dr. Aubrecht says. 

She says the project will identify evidence and provincial resources, services and supports for people living with dementia and their caregivers can access in Nova Scotia under the emergency constraints of COVID-19. “This information is crucial in supporting vulnerable Nova Scotians in sheltering in place and avoiding emergency hospitalizations and institutionalization during a time when the capacity of hospitals and long-term care facilities is already under threat. The project will highlight the centrality of the continuing care sector within the COVID-19 Response, with a focus on the challenges for, and contributions of, family/friend caregivers and community resource, service and support providers. This rapid research project will also support recognition of the structural determinants and health inequities that shape whether and how caregivers access and experience supports needed to provide care at home during times of crisis.” Dr. Aubrecht says those interested in learning more about the study, can contact her at caubrech@stfx.ca.

Dr. James Hughes

“Employing Hyperheurisitics to provide direction on deployment of COVID-19 tests and other interventions.” 

This study will employ a type of artificial intelligence called a hyperheuristic to provide direction on how to deploy COVID-19 tests, vaccines, or other interventions.” 

Amount: $42,000

Says Dr. Hughes on the project: “Effectively, given a constrained mitigation strategy, such as a limited number of COVID-19 vaccines available, how best can we apply these vaccines to a population of people to minimize spread? For example, in Antigonish, is it best to vaccinate individuals that come in contact with many people on a daily basis, like front line workers at the Superstore or Sobeys? Individuals that travel between communities like mail carriers? Or perhaps the best thing to do is apply the vaccines randomly throughout the population. We likely have a hunch on what's best to do, but unfortunately some of the most common ideas based on our intuition tend to be ineffective.” 

Dr. Hughes says they will be developing a system that uses very powerful types of artificial intelligence to help find strategies that minimize the spread of a given disease. It will consider things like the number of people in a community, the current number of people infected, and how many people an individual comes into contact with to help derive a set of easily understandable rules that can be followed by public health officials. 

As the project moves forward, Dr. Hughes says they aim to include additional information, such as the age of an individual, recovery time, and even if they have preexisting health conditions. 

“One of the large benefits of using this AI is that, not only will it provide us with ways for reducing the spread of the disease, but we will know that the ideas developed will be tested on well-known epidemic simulations. In the end, we will have strategies that are data-driven and evidence-based.” 

Dr. Hughes says the idea came from frequent collaborators of his who have experience working on computational epidemic modelling at the University of Guelph (Dr. Daniel Ashlock) and Brock University (Dr. Sheridan Houghten). “When SARS-CoV-2 came about, it was only natural for them to prioritize it. 

“We hope that the research outcomes will provide evidence-based vaccine/mitigation strategies that will provide insight and guide policy makers and other stakeholders' decisions on how best to maximize public health outcomes for Nova Scotians. It will also be possible to generate custom tailored strategies for a given community as there may be differences in what is best for an urban area like Halifax and what's best for a place like Antigonish.”

Dr. Hughes says that although computer science at StFX is already considered one of the top programs in Canada, it has been exciting to see how fast computer science has been growing at StFX lately. “With this funding, we now can support more research students on campus to not only improve the outcomes of our research, but also to provide unique training opportunities for young Canadian computer scientists with real-world outcomes; students today are looking for a university experience that can provide them not just with classroom experience, but real-world problem-solving experience – that's where computer science research at X comes in.”

Dr. Karen Blair

“The Ties that Bind: Interpersonal relationships as a source of risk and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This study will compare Nova Scotians’ wellbeing and coping during the COVID-19 pandemic with other jurisdictions, assess LGTBQ+ Nova Scotians’ wellbeing and coping during the pandemic relative to LGBTQ+ individuals in other jurisdictions, and examine Nova Scotians’ experiences with intimate partner violence during the pandemic in comparison to other jurisdictions.

Amount: $32,559.99   

Dr. Blair and Dr. Kathryn Bell, Acadia University, will co-lead this study that explores how Nova Scotians are coping during physical distancing and stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19. Both faculty members had been working on research (Dr. Blair, with Debby Herbenick of Indiana University, had launched the COVID-19 Interpersonal Coping Daily Diary Study), and this grant allows them to merge and expand their two existing studies to focus specifically on Nova Scotians, including the LGBTQ+ community. 

Dr. Blair says this study will address a gap in the knowledge about the risk and resiliency of Nova Scotians during a time of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders and will offer insights into appropriate mental health and policy solutions. “Nova Scotians like to focus on our strong social ties and tend to see those connections as a source of resilience in times of stress. Indeed, research repeatedly demonstrates that those with close personal connections thrive in terms of physical and mental health, compared to those with fewer or looser connections. Yet in these times of physical distancing due to COVID-19, might this source of resilience become a risk factor?” she says. “Will those who normally have close face-to-face connections with their friends, families, and neighbours struggle more when those close connections are disrupted? Will members of the LGBTQ+ community, who often turn to ‘chosen families’ for support, benefit from their existing online communities, or will they experience disproportionate disruptions, including the necessity of living with unsupportive families? Even worse, will relationships turn dark in these stressful times, with heightened risks of interpersonal and intimate partner violence?”

The researchers will launch a new diary study that leverages the infrastructure of two ongoing COVID-19 studies in order to identify sources of risk and resiliency within Nova Scotia, including both the broader population and Nova Scotia’s LGBTQ+ community. The study will focus on mental health outcomes, optimal coping strategies, social connection, and experiences of interpersonal violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. By building upon two existing studies, the researchers will be able to provide useful comparisons between Nova Scotians, including LGBTQ+ Nova Scotians, and other North American populations. 

Dr. Blair says project results will be shared with relevant stakeholders and are anticipated to inform Nova Scotia public health and allied professionals whose work during disease outbreaks directly impacts the well-being of individuals, couples, families and the LGBTQ+ community, providing evidence to guide optimal provincial responsiveness to the current outbreak, future COVID-19 waves and other disease outbreaks. 

“Our key outcomes will be three reports: 1) To provincial decision-makers, comparing Nova Scotians’ well-being and coping during the pandemic relative to others across Canada and the U.S.; 2) To LGBTQ+ organizations, assessing LGBTQ+ Nova Scotians’ experiences, relative to LGBTQ+ individuals in other parts of Canada and the U.S.; 3) To domestic violence organizations, focusing in more depth on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), with subsections comparing Nova Scotia to other jurisdictions, and LGBTQ+ participants to others,” Dr. Blair says. 

Initial reports will be shared with decision-makers in June-July, with follow-up reports in July-August. 

Other expected benefits of the research include individual respondents who may benefit in terms of better mental and physical health when they think through and write about their experiences during a stressful event; organizations from insights on how their constituents are being affected by the pandemic, to help prepare optimal support plans; and the province by learning how Nova Scotians are faring compared to other provinces, and where specific challenges and strengths lie. 

Participants will also be invited to Dr. Blair’s ongoing research on collective grief responses to mass shootings. Data between the studies will be linked, allowing researchers to control to some extent for mental health issues attributable to the recent tragic shooting, and to share data on its impact within the context of the pandemic.


Keeping You Informed: Message from StFX President Dr. Kevin Wamsley, May 8

Department News - Fri, 2020-05-08 13:51

Dear Members of the StFX Community,

I’m writing to provide you with an update regarding StFX’s ongoing response to the operational realities created by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In my last communication to campus, I acknowledged the tremendous efforts by all StFX faculty and staff to support our students. It has been through our collective work that we have made it through the ‘emergency phase’ of our response to COVID-19, and that we are now able to shift our mindset to delivering the best educational experience possible in September.

Since the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak here in Nova Scotia, Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, have provided strong and stable guidance in the face of deeply challenging circumstances. StFX continues to work closely with the province, including working toward a reopening of our campus and resuming normal operations.

We are preparing for classes to restart in September 2020, on-campus and in-person.

However, we must also be prepared for the possibility that physical distancing, moratoriums on group gatherings, and other health and safety-related protocols may continue into the fall. The circumstances of the campus opening are dependent upon provincial health guidelines. These guidelines are based on health conditions in the province meeting particular criteria, as opposed to being based upon dates in the calendar. As such, we are in the process of reviewing all of our operations and determining how best to open our campus for our students, faculty, and staff, while ensuring the health and safety of everyone.

Because the current situation regarding the pandemic is fluid and uncertain, we are also taking the prudent step to begin contingency planning to account for the possibility of online and alternative-format course delivery.

Remote Teaching and Learning (Online) Preparedness Task Force

Through the leadership of our Academic Vice President, Dr. Tim Hynes, we have established a task force on Remote Teaching and Learning (Online) Preparedness. Chaired by Janice Landry, from the Department of Distance and Continuing Education, and Dr. Joanne Tompkins, from the Faculty of Education, this task force has a very strict mandate -- ‘to lead StFX efforts toward preparations for the 2020 fall term delivery of remote teaching and learning programming, should such distance education programming be necessary due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.’ This includes everything we believe necessary to produce and deliver academic courses of the highest quality online, from professional development requirements to assisting faculty and teaching staff with remote course delivery, to technology needs, to enhanced academic supports for students, and course and assignment design for optimal teaching and learning.

Of course, such a shift would represent a significant departure from StFX’s academic model, which is why investing the time in contingency planning for a smooth transition for faculty, staff, and students alike is a top priority. The task force members guiding these efforts include representatives from almost all areas of the university. On behalf of the university community, I express my gratitude for the important work they are undertaking in the weeks and months ahead.

Incoming and Returning Student Communications and Services

We recognize that uncertainty can create anxiety and doubt about what the future holds. Therefore, it is more important than ever that our students, both new and continuing, and their families feel confident about their decisions to attend StFX. Consequently, we are focused on ensuring students and parents are receiving the information they require in an efficient and effective way. From improvements in the way we present information online, to creating student and parent panels enabling direct channels for dialogue, and a range of other activities, we are committed to listening, understanding, and responding, to keep these very important members of our community updated.

I will also be providing regular updates to the campus community as we receive information from the province on changing circumstances as they relate to our operations. 

I am very proud of the university’s response under these challenging circumstances and I am confident that we will continue to operate with the best interests of public health and our faculty, staff, and students at the forefront of our efforts.  I applaud our collective, innovative work which is designed to serve our new and returning students, in ways that preserve the meaningful interactions that are so important to all of us in the university community.

Thanks to you all for your exemplary work during this pandemic and, moreover, the care and compassion that you have so generously shared with others.

Stay well.

Kevin B. Wamsley, PhD

President and Vice-Chancellor

StFX University

Student-led Xaverian Pen Pal Project keeps StFX students, community connected during COVID-19

Department News - Thu, 2020-04-30 11:32
StFX student Alyssa Spridgeon

Now, more than ever, it is important for all of us to connect with others and our community, says StFX student Alyssa Spridgeon who has come up with a unique project to do just that.

The Xaverian Pen Pal Project aims to bring together StFX students with local students and senior citizens in Antigonish to promote positive inter-generational relationships between StFX students and community members, while helping alleviate some of the challenges surrounding physical distancing created by COVID-19, says Ms. Spridgeon, who is from Whitby, ON and is finishing up her first year at StFX, but the third year of her psychology degree. She transferred to StFX from a university in the U.S. She also currently plays for the X-Women soccer team. 

Ms. Spridgeon says the idea began percolating after her English 201 professor (and McKenna Centre for Leadership Director) Dr. Mathias Nilges suggested in their first online discussion following the cancellation of in-person classes that we shift our thinking away from “social distancing” and instead think of it as physical distancing with an opportunity for social solidarity. 

“So, the result was considering a way to continue to build relationships and facilitate community connections while students are back home and unable to connect in-person,” she says.

“I had read about different age groups that were especially affected by social distancing, particularly senior citizens who could no longer receive visits from family and friends. I also have a younger brother and considered how the loss of seeing friends and the structure of school would be affecting younger students.”

She says all of this, combined with her own feelings of isolation and missing StFX, brought about the idea of a pen pal project to connect students and community members.


“I’ve been to several universities and have seen many communities and Antigonish has a community that is incredibly special. Truly, in the last school year, StFX and Antigonish have become a second home to me and I love the tight-knit community that exists there. As a student-athlete, I’ve been especially lucky to see the role that the local community plays in supporting our athletics programs and I’m very grateful for the connection that StFX has with the community through many partnerships,” she says. 

“I know that many StFX students feel similarly and I wanted to create an opportunity to facilitate more relationships between students and community members. I also know that social distancing can result in feelings of isolation and loneliness, so while this project will build new relationships, I am hoping that it will also help to alleviate those feelings and help individuals to feel a bit more joyful and connected.”

Ms. Spridgeon says she is hoping to continue the project throughout the year and hopes that pen pals will continue to connect with each other even after this is over. 

“I have had a lot of positive feedback so far and hope that this not only alleviates the challenges of social distancing but helps to strengthen the relationships that StFX students have with the community. Particularly with StFX students who have been matched with younger students in Antigonish, this is a really great opportunity to be a role model too!”

Ms. Spridgeon says she has been extremely lucky to receive support from StFX’s McKenna Centre for Leadership on this project. “I am so excited to take advantage of the expertise that those at the McKenna Centre have on a number of levels when it comes to successful leadership. Dr. Nilges has provided a great deal of support and advice on the best ways to execute the project and the centre has already helped me to connect with community organizations and leaders who can help to grow the project. Additionally, the funding that the McKenna Centre has graciously provided will allow for improvements in several areas and will also help with continuing to grow the project throughout the school year.” 

Interested students are encouraged to sign up at the Xaverian Pen Pal Project.


Speechless: StFX’s Anne Simpson releases new book

Department News - Tue, 2020-04-28 10:38
Anne Simpson

A’isha Nasir is a Nigerian teenager who has been charged with adultery. Sophie MacNeil is an ambitious, though inexperienced, Canadian journalist living in Nigeria. Speechless, the new novel by StFX’s Anne Simpson, and released this week, is the story of how their lives become intertwined in a fast-paced tale of justice, witness, and courage.

“Who should tell a story? What happens when one speaks on behalf of another? At once compelling and lyrical, Speechless presents a nuanced cast of characters trying to navigate the power of their words, their responsibility for them, and how they affect others in matters of life and death,” reads a description of the book, which Ms. Simpson, an adjunct professor in the English Department at StFX, says has been 10 years in the making. 

“It has been a long period of writing, revising, researching, and revising some more. I wanted to write a novel about challenges that women face, but I don’t know if I was consciously thinking about it in this way when I started. A novel grows out of questions that you hold and gradually – very gradually – you figure out the story,” she says. “You might have the characters, but you don’t know what they’ll be like in one situation or another. After making a lot of mistakes, you begin to figure it out. I work in isolation, as writers do, and so I didn’t know if I was on the right path. Occasionally, editors read it. I used their comments to make it a richer, more developed narrative. I got rid of a lot. I added a lot. You have to be willing to change a novel in radical ways. It’s just a tremendous amount of work, and you have no idea if the work is worth all the effort. Ultimately, this is a novel that I’m very glad I wrote. I believe in the story; I believe in the characters.

Speechless is coming out in the midst of a pandemic, but even in times of tumult, we still need the imagination to make sense of complex situations. Fiction helps us understand the world. It allows us to stand back and see things whole.” 

Speechless is Ms. Simpson’s third novel, following Falling (McClelland & Stewart, 2008) and Canterbury Beach (Penguin, 2001). She has published five books of poetry, of which Strange Attractor (McClelland & Stewart, 2019) is the most recent. She has been a recipient of the Griffin Poetry Prize, and her fiction has been longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Students recognized for their outstanding work, art promise with Angus F. Macgillivray Art Bursary

Department News - Mon, 2020-04-27 16:34
Pictured, l-r, are 2020 Angus F. Macgillivary Art Bursary recipients Kennth Matheson, Jordyn Conn and Wankunda Bwalya

Three StFX students, Wankunda Bwalya, Jordyn Conn and Kenneth Matheson, have been recognized for outstanding talent and promise in the fine arts and have been named the 2020 recipients of StFX’s Angus F. Macgillivray Art Bursary.

The $750 annual bursaries, named in honour of the late Angus F. Macgillivray, an exceptional artist, teacher and StFX fine arts department faculty member, recognize outstanding studio production and encourage artists showing promise in the visual arts. To be considered, applicants submit a sketchbook and six finished artworks. Judges look for a mastery of skill in a variety of art mediums as well as a giving a sense of cohesive artistic vision.

“My reaction to receiving this award was pure excitement. I was so thrilled to open the email from (Art Department chair) Leigh (Gillam) with the news. I remember being in first year and hearing about this bursary and just thinking to myself, ‘wow it would be so neat to receive that award one day,’ and here we are. It still feels very surreal,” says Ms. Conn, of Seguin Township, ON, who is entering her fifth year at StFX this fall and completing a women’s and gender studies major with a studio art minor. 

She has taken a number of art courses over the years, including drawing, materials and methods, introduction to colour, art history, stained glass, and introduction to painting. 

“Receiving this award is a great honour. I have loved art my whole life and it is such a good feeling to be recognized by other local artists,” she says. 

“Growing up, my grandparents, who just so happened to be my next door neighbours, had a craft room in their house with any art supply you could ever need. Being encouraged to create whatever I wanted from a young age definitely just inspired my love for art. I continue to create art because I genuinely enjoy it. Now, most of my art becomes gifts for friends and family. The appreciation and joy they have when they receive my art is what keeps me going and inspired.” 


“My art knowledge and art making skills have improved significantly as a result of studying at StFX and I am thrilled that my progress is acknowledged by this award,” says Ken Matheson, who retired and moved to Georgeville, NS three years ago. Although this is his first year at StFX, he had some transfer credits, so has completed his second year of an honours BA in philosophy and art. He says after he graduates from StFX, he intends to pursue a MFA degree. 

“My first reaction was to excitedly tell my husband, and he broadcasted the news to our family and friends. My second reaction was to thank my art professors for being great teachers, for what they taught me and for their help and guidance this year,” he says. 

“My husband and I are both interested in art. We’ve been collecting for more than 30 years. Our collection comprises paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs from twentieth century modernists and contemporary artists. About 10 years ago, I was inspired to start making art. I took some drawing and painting classes at the Winnipeg Art Gallery Studio and at the Toronto School of Art and I’ve been a hobbyist painter since then. When I decided to get a degree from StFX, I included studio art and art history because I wanted to improve my art making practice.”

This year, he took introduction to drawing, introduction to painting, materials and methods, introduction to colour theory, and art history.


Wankunda Bwalya says he has always had an interest in art. 

“I believe it’s because I find it easier to express myself through it. Not only do I believe it is a way to reach out to people without saying any literal words, but to help others understand things through art. Therefore, most of my art works have a meaning and a story to tell,” says Mr. Bwalya, who is from a small town called Kasama, located in the northern part of Zambia. He just completed his third year at StFX in the Schwartz School of Business with a major in entrepreneurship. So far, he has taken Art 101 and Art 102.

“It means a lot for me to receive this award, because coming from a country that does not really acknowledge things like this, it really gives me more confidence in myself and in what I am doing. It also means a lot because I finally got acknowledgement from my father for winning this award. I was really excited and honoured when I was told that I was one of this year’s recipients for this award. I am really grateful and appreciative for being selected.”

The four Maple League Universities sign historic agreement that encourages inter-institutional student mobility

Department News - Mon, 2020-04-27 13:31

The Maple League of Universities is pleased to announce that the four universities in the consortium – Acadia, Mount Allison, St. Francis Xavier, and Bishop’s – have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that encourages students to take courses, with a focus on online learning and virtual learning communities, from across the four institutions without the often burdensome administrative processes associated with transfer credits from other universities. 

At the core of the inter-institutional collaboration is a shared commitment to an extraordinary undergraduate education. In the past two years, the Maple League has shared academic programming on a small scale in order to identify challenges and dismantle structural barriers that might impede inter-institutional student exchanges for both in-person and online course offerings. Under a new MOU signed on April 20, 2020, by the four university presidents, a number of logistical barriers have been resolved for students. 

1. Students can transfer their grade and course code to their home institution

2. Students do not need a Letter of Permission (LOP) to take a shared course

3. Students do not need to pay additional fees or costs related to course registration 

4. Students will not need to pay extra tuition for the fall and winter terms

Dr. Peter Ricketts, Chair of the Maple League of Universities and President of Acadia University, has championed quality undergraduate education on a national level in collaboration with the other presidents, Jean-Paul Boudreau (Mount Allison), Michael Goldbloom (Bishop’s), and Kevin Wamsley (St. Francis Xavier).

“We are excited to see how this MOU can help us with capacity building and resource sharing across our four institutions. This agreement provides our students with increased access to diverse courses and programs, mentors and research supervisors, and the expertise of exceptional faculty across the four universities. Enhanced access to academic diversity, paired with relationship-rich, in-person student experiences, provides our students with an extraordinary experience while also helping them stand out to future employers,” he says.  

Shawna Garrett, Registrar at Mount Allison University, has worked closely with the other three registrars to operationalize this inter-institutional collaboration: “In the face of turmoil and tragedy, I am heartened by the Maple League's collective response to our current COVID-19 related post-secondary educational challenges. The jointly created online spring and summer course calendar and the way our registrars have worked together to find compassionate solutions for students are excellent examples of the main Maple League guiding principle, ‘what can we do together that we cannot do on our own?’ These collective initiatives exemplify how we are better together.”

Georges-Philippe Gadoury-Sansfaçon, a second-year undergraduate student at Bishop’s University, believes that the Maple League is a key lever in fostering resilience and creating social change for students and society more generally.

“We know that interdisciplinarity and personal growth play a key role in fostering not only resilience but also perspective, critical thinking and creative problem-solving. These are the abilities that allow us to aim for the truth instead of polarization, and our four institutions have been committed to delivering this kind of education for ~175 years. This MOU creates smooth pathways for students across the four universities to ‘build their own adventure’ in their undergraduate careers and shape a 21st century education that takes us into the next millennium.”

While this MOU has been under development for the past 18 months, the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the need for this type of agreement. Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director of the Maple League of Universities, points out that “we have already laid the groundwork for harnessing technology to create relationship-rich environments where Maple League students can connect in meaningful ways with faculty and peers to enhance engagement and learning consistent with the in-person student experiences we all value. Our collaborations enable us to create unique ways of engaging and interacting with students in remote teaching and learning environments that complement the in-person, immersive, and high-quality learning environments for which we are known.” 


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