Does having a former politician or ex-governmental official provide a firm with a competitive advantage over firms that do not have such representation on their boards?
Do Canadian directors wish to have an ex-politician or a former government official serve alongside them on a corporate board in place of other prospective directors?
Those are the questions that StFX Gerald Schwartz School of Business faculty member Dr. Mark Fuller and co-author Chris Bart from the Caribbean Governance Training Institute ask and answer in a recent article just published in the open access journal Corporate Board: Role, Duties and Composition.
In researching the article, “The political duality: On the advantages and disadvantages of ex-politicians and former government officials serving on boards of directors,” Dr. Fuller says they conducted a survey of 82 Canadian board members and followed up with in-depth qualitative interviews with 10 directors.
“Obtaining perspectives on corporate governance directly from board members is notoriously difficult, and typically American-centric, so our research is rare and novel in this regard,” he says.
Their findings suggest that firms in heavily-regulated industries, firms that sell a lot to government, and firms that frequently interact with foreign governments may benefit from having a former politician or an ex-government official on their board of directors.
Nonetheless, he says, 61 per cent of their survey respondents preferred someone without political or government experience to join their board of directors.
“In addition to implications for theory, our article has implications for corporate governance. Prior research in the literature suggests that the appointment of someone with previous political or government experience to the board may affect expected future returns by the firm, and our survey respondents would agree,” Dr. Fuller says.
“Corporate political activity also has the potential to increase the perceived value of the firm. With 73.1 per cent of our survey respondents expecting the role of business to grow a little or a lot over the next decade, understanding of the impact of corporate political activity on that role is critically important.”
Over 800 participants from around the world are joining together starting today, Sept. 21, International Day of Peace, for the start of the Local Women’s Voices for Peace, a four day virtual global conference hosted by StFX’s Coady Institute, that is marking the 20th anniversary of United Nations Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
“Recognizing the significance, and often under-recognized, work of women community leaders addressing diverse and complex issues related to violence, injustice, security and conflict, by using their assets, determination and knowledge, it was decided to mark this moment by listening to “Local Women’s Voices for Peace,” so that we can really see what women are doing every day,” says Dr. Robin Neustaeter, coordinator of this event
Dr. Neustaeter is also Program Teaching Staff at the Coady in the Women’s Leadership programs, including the online women’s peace courses, and an assistant professor in StFX’s Adult Education and Community Development. Her research is in women’s peace leadership learning.
“COVID-19 has amplified gender inequalities around the world, while at the same time there has been greater attention on women’s leadership and women’s community and care work. Bringing all this together, with the 20th anniversary for a moment seemed like a timely act,” she says.
This virtual global event focuses on women around the world who are active in their communities as peace-builders in diverse sectors and ways.
Peace is more than the absence of war, Dr. Neustaeter says.
Peace is about social and gender justice, eliminating poverty and gender-based violence, addressing cultural norms and practices that perpetuate patriarchy, and amplifying and supporting knowledge, practices and resources/assets foster peace.
Dr. Robin Neustaeter
StFX’s Coady Institute is coordinating this initiative with graduates of their women leader programs from around the world, and other regional organizers.
To hold a global virtual event focused on women’s leadership and peace has been a dream of Eileen Alma, Director of the International Centre for Women’s Leadership at the Coady, and Dr. Neustaeter’s for some time, she says.
Recognizing the 20th anniversary of 1325 and the new reality of virtual events due to COVID-19, and the extensive and growing Coady women leadership graduate network and the amazing work they are doing, she says they realized that now might be the moment to make this happen – with, and only with, the involvement of their graduates around the world. “Collaboration and cooperation are key.”
FLIP THE SCRIPT
“This conference aims to ‘flip the script’ by focusing on local women and the everyday work of peacebuilding.
“This is not about the formal Peace Talks that typically make the news with images of mostly men in suits. This is the everyday peace grunt work that happens every day, everywhere, over the long haul. Bringing women from different countries and regions together to share their experiences, challenges, strategies and learning with one another – and us- the participants is a unique opportunity to share, learn, and be present and open to what is possible in regards to peaceful change, in significant small and large ways.”
Dr. Neustaeter says one way they are flipping the script is by opting not to have keynote speakers and instead to have keynote listeners.
“Recognizing the significance of active listening for peacebuilding, conflict transformation, activism, and collaboration, we have invited several women of influence and expertise to take part in some of the global and regional sessions as keynote listeners,” she says.
The event consists of global sessions with speakers from different countries and regions speaking to specific issues/topics such as sexual and gender-based violence in the COVID era, women’s leadership, culture, local capacities for peace, and education, and more, with a focus on UNSCR 1325 – Women, Peace and Security.
There are also regional sessions where women in different global regions examine the issues deeper within the regional contexts. These sessions are scheduled at times convenient to the regions and, in some cases, include regional languages and simultaneous interpretation. Additionally, there are three skills workshops open to all registrants.
This event is open to anyone interested in the topic/focus.
In total with participants and speakers they have over 800 taking part. There are over 100 speakers from around the world.
All speakers are women who are leaders in their communities, and all are actively involved in addressing conflict, violence, security, and, peacebuilding.
“The speaker line-up is amazing, to see all the names of the women who are speaking and to think about what they are doing to make their communities and societies more peaceable is quite remarkable. It is exceptional,” Dr. Neustaeter says.
She says the people, the speakers, and the registrants excite her most about this event. “It is phenomenal to see that so many people are keen to connect and focus on women’s peace and security.”
StFX Immersion Service Learning is offering students a virtual immersion learning experience this year—including virtually connecting with a community in Peru as part of a credit course to be offered next semester.
During the winter term, StFX will offer Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) 305, a three credit course that can be use as part of Development Studies requirements or as an elective in any program.
“Students will develop their research, writing, and presentation skills through the completion of an academic research paper connected with a virtual immersion experience in Peru that will be incorporated as part of this course,” says Service Learning Program Manager Megan Turner.
“Students will write and present on a topic of their choice related to their Peruvian virtual immersion experience.”
Ms. Turner says Immersion Service Learning offers StFX students an intense and immersive experiential learning experience. Immersion placements typically involve groups of 10 students traveling to various destinations to learn firsthand about culture and development issues within a particular community context.
Current restrictions on travel, and the need for social distancing have led to an adaptive approach to immersion experiences that would virtually enable students to develop relationships with international partners, understand the dynamics of an international community and provide meaningful support to a not for profit organization or an NGO.
Over the semester, students will participate in virtual interactions with partners in Peru.
The goal of this experience is to support a community facing discrimination, poverty, isolation, poor nutrition and food security issues, she says.
Through the reciprocal use of podcasts and photography, students will critically engage with and gain an understanding of the realities in each community.
Students will strengthen their engagement and leadership skills while enhancing their learning about development issues and evolving their own perspectives, Ms. Turner says. Students will explore innovative adaptation strategies employed by a Peruvian non-profit civil association in partnership with the isolated communities they serve, to mitigate inequity and create sustainable solutions.
Service learning is an innovative way to integrate experiential learning, academic study, and community service. It is an opportunity for students from all disciplines to further explore and apply classroom concepts in a community setting.
Six StFX students will be adding their voices to wider discussions around systemic and institutional racism and enabling change as the inaugural recipients of StFX’s Frank McKenna Centre’s Racial Justice Leadership Grants.
The annual grants, of $4,500 each, are designed to provide Black and Indigenous students with funding and institutional resources to support projects that include research, organizing and outreach work, or advocacy and activism in racial justice.
The intent is to contribute to wider efforts in the community and at StFX to take needed, decisive action to combat racism and the systemic exclusion and disenfranchisement of Black and Indigenous students in Canadian society and in higher education.
Inaugural grant recipients include Devon Parris, Tara Reddick, Boye Matuluko, Rebecca Mesay, Aliyah Fraser and Claire Joseph. They will work on projects that range from uncovering the barriers that Black mothers and children face to developing a more critical audience for anti-racism films and discourse.
Recipients include, l-r, top photo: Claire Joseph, Aliyah Fraser and Tara Reddick. Bottom photo: Rebecca Mesay, Devon Parris and Boye Matuluko.
“I’m most excited about the opportunity to add my voice to the wider discussions about systemic and institutional racism that have reignited over the summer,” says Devon Parris, a fourth year honours English major and former varsity athlete from Kingston ON, whose project will focus on “The Anti-Racist Film Review: Separating the Performative from the Informative.”
“By the end of my project, I hope to create a more educated viewership among anti-racist film consumers. Film is one of the most influential mediums for dispersing ideas of racism and anti-racism, and the superficiality of films like Green Book and The Help can generate a misunderstanding of racism as a complex social, financial, and ideological challenge. Through explaining the issues of such films, while highlighting other works that offer more substantial critiques—like Sorry to Bother You or Blindspotting—I want to help develop a more critical audience for both anti-racist film and anti-racist discourse,” he says
“By providing Black and Indigenous students with this platform, I feel like these grants will have a profound impact in uplifting BIPOC voices throughout the StFX campus. All of this year’s recipients have fantastic projects that identify and explain various issues that BIPOC students/communities face, which can help create a more socially aware Xavierian community while allowing Black and Indigenous students a platform to be heard.”
KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING
Tara Reddick of Antigonish, NS, a fourth year sociology honours student and proud mother to four children, one of whom also attends StFX, says this opportunity excites her because it provides a way to keep the conversation surrounding racial justice alive.
“More than ever, we need to put in motion tangible ways to help fight racial injustices and inequalities,” says Ms. Reddick whose work is entitled, “Black Motherhood: The Activism of African Nova Scotian Women.”
“As soon as I learned about this opportunity, I was interested. It also helps that I was encouraged by two of my awesome professors, Dr. Norine Verberg and Dr. Katie Aubrecht of the Sociology Department. This opportunity fits nicely with my area of study and my community involvement as well as my genuine desire for change,” she says.
“Through this grant, I can uncover the barriers that Black mothers and children face. My project will provide a platform so that Black women can come together in conversations surrounding social justice.”
Ms. Reddick says these grants will not only transform racial justice strategies at StFX, but they have the potential to impact all universities in Canada as it encourages students of colour to be part of the anti-racism and racial justice strategy.
“There is no denying systemic racism and there is no denying that there are various ways to dismantle it. These grants are providing ways to do that,” she says.
“Opportunities connect people to new frontiers, and it opens the door to a new challenge. My excitement about the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership Grant is that it is activating the possibility of connecting with people of color with a common but different shared story,” says Boye Matuluko, a fourth year development major honours student from Nigeria, who is also taking a minor in sociology.
Mr. Matuluko will host a podcast segment that will air during Social Justice Radio, where Black and minority student voices, critiques, and suggestions will be featured. Social Justice Radio is a weekly news magazine show on CFXU (93.3 FM) and is also available as a podcast (http://socialjusticeradio.onelouder.ca/). This segment will also be available and be disseminated on social media.
“I am interested in this project,” he says, “because it will activate Black and minority students’ human capacities through participation, identification, internalization, and finally dissemination. Heron (2005) suggests that student participation in social justice and activism relationships may inevitably work to shape their identities,” he says.
“The project’s activities will assist Black and minority students to increase their participation in community-based organizations and therefore advocate for equitable opportunities. These project activities will validate the disrupting and subverting arrangements that promote marginalization.”
He says the grant will help people of color develop and sharpen research capabilities and open windows of collaborations and opportunities within and outside the university environment. “I envisage more students will become more engaged in social discourse.”
LOOK AT NEEDS
Aliyah Fraser, a second year health science student and member of the X-Women basketball team, will collect data for Black and Indigenous athletes and their struggles for her project, “Black and Indigenous athletes association.” “We’re going to figure out needs of athletes, challenges they face, and what supports we need, basically forming a council made up of students where they can get support and resources that affect them.”
Ms. Fraser says she is excited about the opportunity to connect with minority students at StFX and to make a positive difference in their lives. “I was interested in participating as my coach recommended it was a good fit for me and with everything going on in the world today, I believe I can help Black and Indigenous students. I think these grants will have a huge impact as they are helping a vulnerable population and will spread awareness.”
In her project, Rebecca Mesay will focus on “But Why Can’t I Say the N-Word?”: Understanding the Experiences of Black Students at StFX University. Ms. Mesay is a recent StFX graduate with a degree in political science and development studies and a focus in international politics. She recently returned to StFX to pursue additional research opportunities. She served as StFX Students’ Union President for 2018-2019 and has worked previously with the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and the Maple League of Universities. She says the most exciting part about this opportunity is that Black students at StFX are getting a concrete and significant platform upon which to centre their voices and work in the school community. “When I read about the grant, I immediately thought that it was meant for someone like me. I knew that I could undertake a project that put a spotlight on the experiences of Black students at StFX. I hope that my project contributes to making StFX a better place for Black students to be who they are, without any repercussions.”
She says the creation of these grants mimicked a larger shift in thinking about Black people and their treatment by our institutions. “I think this is just the beginning in a lot of ways. The impact of these grants is to begin the work of identifying the barriers that face Black students at StFX and doing the work to address those issues.”
SIGNIFICANT, LASTING IMPACT
Claire Joseph, a fourth year student in the StFX Rankin School of Nursing, who has spent her time at StFX studying health policy, social determinants of health and health research, will undertaken a project, "Barriers and Facilitators to Accessing Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Services for Racialized Students on a University Campus in Canada." She says the most exciting part about this opportunity for her is the ability to really get her work out there.
“I am so excited to have access to mentors from the McKenna Centre and look forward to the guidance, support, and connections this opportunity provides for us. I was interested in participating because I saw this grant in alignment with my values. Social justice, equity, and leadership are very central to my personal goals as well as the goals of this grant program. I hope that my research will highlight actionable areas where sexualized violence services can become more accessible for racialized students.”
For her project, she hopes the grant will have a significant and lasting impact by creating more equitable learning conditions for racialized students.
“Overall, I think these grants will allow Black and Indigenous students to feel represented in research and also allow us to benefit from the projects as they are designed to better support our education. These grants will also have a huge impact on the students who receive them, providing confidence, mentorship and also leadership experience to help us reach new heights in our own academic careers and beyond.”
Article written by Kayla Klym (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On September 8th, 2020 the first comprehensive assessment of Earth’s heat inventory was published. The report is based on the concerted efforts of Karina Von Shuckmann and 37 co-authors from scientific institutions across the globe. This collaborative effort supported by the Global Climate Observing System combined cutting edge climate science and a team of multidisciplinary researchers to answer the question of where heat is distributed into the Earth system using a fundamental metric called the Earth Energy Imbalance (EEI). This single number holds significant value in characterizing the current state of Earth’s climate and, along with knowledge of other metrics such as atmospheric CO2 amounts and global surface temperatures, will be critical in our race to understand and mitigate impacts of global climate change.
The EEI is determined as the changes in the global radiation balance at the top of the atmosphere as solar energy arrives at Earth and is radiated back into space. The EEI metric plays a crucial role in determining the temporal evolution of the climate on a global scale. A positive EEI means that less energy is going out than is coming in, and global warming results. As global temperatures continue to rise it is critical to understand where this excess heat is distributed among the land, oceans, atmosphere, and cryosphere and how this will impact society as the Earth system struggles to accommodate heat driven by anthropogenic and natural climate forcings.
The authors conducted a state-of-the-art heat inventory for the time period 1971-2018 that includes an assessment of ocean warming and estimates of heat gains in the atmosphere, on land, and in the cryosphere. Their findings indicate that the EEI is continuing to grow, and that it is also accelerating. Observations indicated a long-term earth system heat gain total of 358 ± 37 ZJ. This is equivalent to a global heating rate of 0.47±0.1 W m^(-2) for the full study period of the past 58 years. The EEI for the period from 2010-20 was 0.87±0.12 W m^(-2), indicating a significant increase in the past decade. The study also broke down the amount of heat gain in the various components of the Earth system for 1971-2018 (2010-2018), with the majority of heat gain reported in the global ocean at 89% (90%), 6% (5%) experienced over land, 4% (3%) available for melting of ice, and 1% (2%) available for atmospheric warming.
The study also detailed what must be done to stabilize the climate and bring Earth back towards an energy balance and quasi-equilibrium. To achieve this the EEI must be reduced to approximately zero, and the amount CO2 in the atmosphere would need to be reduced from 410 to 353 ppm to increase heat radiation to space by .87 W m^(-2).
Unsurprisingly, this reduction of the EEI to approximately zero is no easy task. Awareness of this metric for both the public and scientific community is critical in ensuring that research and observations that support its continued use will be critical to success. Climate stabilization is the central goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established in 1992 and the Paris Agreement in 2015, and the authors have called upon implementation of the EEI into the global stocktake as we continue to assess our progress and mitigate the damage already inflicted. We are running out of time in our race to slow global warming, and if we are to make progress in climate stabilization the public and scientific community must be aware of the useful nature of metrics like the EEI and the valuable information included in the heat inventory. For metrics like the EEI to be used effectively as a guide in our progress to mitigate global warming, there must be continued quantification and reduced uncertainties in the heat inventory. If this is to occur the global climate observing system must be maintained and evolved to fill gaps in sampling and establish an international framework for research of the Earth heat inventory.
Dr. James Hansen, prominent former NASA climate scientist and activist for the mitigation of global warming, dubbed the research team “Sentinel of the Home Planet” in a recent article and stressed the importance and attention it deserves if we are to work towards a healthier planet for future generations. He highlighted the importance of reliable monitoring of the energy imbalance, specifically in the oceans as their thermal inertia is the cause of planetary energy imbalance. Previous work by Dr. Hansen, Karina von Shuckmann, and other researchers identified a positive EEI, and the research published in this article serves as a conclusion to the theory that there is a large energy imbalance and that global warming is almost certain based on decadal timescales. This research significantly contributes to understanding aspects of climate stabilization set out in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and the Paris Agreement in 2015, and the results will also be included in the IPCC AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change set for release in 2022.
A key aspect that made this study so successful was the multidisciplinary and collaborative nature of the research. As we work to produce research to support a sustainable world for future generations, we will need accurate and reliable data that is analyzed in a collaborative manner by experts across the globe in a multitude of disciplines. Two PhD students working at the StFX Climate Services and Research Centre through the StFX-Memorial University of Newfoundland Doctoral agreement - Almudena García-García and Francisco José Cuesta-Valero, and Dr. Hugo Beltrami -StFX’s Canada Research Chair in Climate Dynamics - are contributing authors of the paper. They are responsible for the analysis of geothermal data and the evaluation of the land energy component for this assessment. Their contributions and research align with the goals of the StFX Climate Services and Research Center of tackling questions about climate and climate vulnerability using expertise in climate modelling, climate science, and other social and scientific areas of study. The Center contributes to the training of future scientists to facilitate the development of cutting-edge research included in collaborative studies such as this one.
von Schuckmann, K., Cheng, L., Palmer, M. D., Hansen, J., Tassone, C., Aich, V., Adusumilli, S., Beltrami, H., Boyer, T., Cuesta-Valero, F. J., Desbruyères, D., Domingues, C., García-García, A., Gentine, P., Gilson, J., Gorfer, M., Haimberger, L., Ishii, M., Johnson, G. C., Killick, R., King, B. A., Kirchengast, G., Kolodziejczyk, N., Lyman, J., Marzeion, B., Mayer, M., Monier, M., Monselesan, D. P., Purkey, S., Roemmich, D., Schweiger, A., Seneviratne, S. I., Shepherd, A., Slater, D. A., Steiner, A. K., Straneo, F., Timmermans, M.-L., and Wijffels, S. E.: Heat stored in the Earth system: where does the energy go?, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 12, 2013–2041, https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-12-2013-2020, 2020.
StFX chemistry professor Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley is one of only 20 researchers nationally selected as a $25,000 Imperial University Research Award recipient.
Imperial Oil has awarded funds to Dr. Hallett-Tapley’s lab for the project: “Visible Light Mediated Refinery Waste Degradation using Noble Metal Nanoparticle/Niobium Oxide Composite.” The grant is renewable over two years.
“Essentially, this work will aim to design a new class of chemical solids. These materials will then be examined in waste product degradation in the petroleum industry,” Dr. Hallett-Tapley says.
She says the most important aspect of this work is that the solids can be activated by visible light, the portion of the solar spectrum that is most commonly exploited in the solar cell industry – considerably lower in cost and energy than many other light sources that are employed in past photodecomposition studies.
“My hope is to develop a more energy and cost-effective means of degrading common fossil fuel pollutants, to contribute towards and improve the environmental sustainability of the fossil fuel industry, as it currently stands.”
Dr. Hallett-Tapley says she feels the current work holds considerable environmental impacts, given the known desire to deviate from fossil fuel energy sources. “However, it is widely understood that the Canadian oil industry is a pillar of the national economy. Therefore, finding ways to make oil harvesting in the oil sands slightly more environmentally friendly and also establishing protocols that maximize use of the by-products of this industry should be of high importance.”
One of the aspects of the project that most excites her is the potential to involve StFX undergraduate students in a project that has considerable industrial applicability, as well as the opportunity to expand the “photocatalytic knowledge” she and her students have gained over the years to an industrially relevant project.
Imperial Oil awards up to 20 grants of $25,000 a year nationally from a $500,000 budget for academic research. The grants are awarded to successful applicants specifically for research projects led by full-time faculty members to support research work carried out by university students under their direction. The research interests of this fund are primarily oriented towards the fossil fuel industry and are wide-reaching with projects interested in environmental remediation, chemical transformation of fossil fuel byproducts into valuable industrial chemicals, analytical techniques associated with the petroleum industry, and several other engineering and refinery-based studies.
Dr. Hallett-Tapley says she was quite surprised to learn the news as she had received notice of the successful application during the COVID lockdown in late March. “However, I was quite honoured that the proposed work was recognized by the Imperial Selection Committee as a potential valuable contribution towards improving the environmental impacts of the petroleum industry and pleased that the application was well received given is largely contingent on contributions from undergraduate researchers,” she says.
“I feel it showcases the importance of undergraduate researcher contributions and that our primary research model here at StFX can enable meaningful contributions to both industrial and fundamental scientific research communities.”
As new students filed into the Keating Centre on Sept. 10th, the first of two Welcome Days at StFX, members of the Class of 2024 were immediately welcomed by StFX staff members with a friendly greeting, conversation, and directions on the day.
While the process for welcoming new and returning students this year looks much different than how StFX traditionally kicks off the school year, what remains constant is the warmth of the welcome.
“Despite things being quite different this year, our students will be greeted with the same X spirit, care and excitement that is the hallmark of StFX Welcome and Orientation Days,” says Elizabeth Yeo, Vice President Students.
Moving into residence
Toronto, ON mother and daughter Karen McCormick, a 1986 StFX graduate, and Katie Braid, starting her first year in human kinetics, say Welcome Day was a success.
“It was very energetic, with (the student orientation crew) O-Crew, and it was very safe, with distancing and everyone wearing masks. People were respecting boundaries. It was well organized, with all the extra measures, and lots of people were stopping to talk and say hello,” says Ms. Braid.
The first year human kinetics student says she wanted to come to StFX as her mother and other family members are graduates of the university and they always speak well of the school. She also wanted to experience the atmosphere. “The school spirit is something I was interested in being part of.”
Ms. McCormick says the communication from StFX prior to coming to Welcome Day was clear and she and Katie felt confident with the information received. “I’m very pleased and proud she is coming here,” she says.
She says the new protocols put in place have allowed students and staff to return to StFX safely. “From the masks, hand sanitizer stations, to designated seats ensuring social distancing while in class, StFX has thought of everything. While no one likes to wear the masks and we are all eager to return to a normal life, I think we can all agree we have to be vigilant in our commitment to keeping both X and the greater Antigonish community safe.”
Isaac Faubert of Ottawa, ON, who is going into his first year, says he had an amazing day on Welcome Day. He had completed his 14-day isolation off-campus. He says he chose StFX as his older brother had attended and mentioned all the great things about the university.
“I was very excited to move in and it was easily accessible to my parents and I. It was great with the staggered times, so it was very easy to move in,” he says. “The new protocols were amazing and I felt very safe the whole time. It was an amazing job from StFX.”
Pink-shirted members of O-Crew are there to greet students and help direct people, bringing their energy in a masked and physically distanced way.
Campus tours are offered, and in the evenings, residence leaders have planned activities with their communities.
Family information sessions, live Q&A sessions and welcomes from Dr. Hakin and Students’ Union president Sarah Elliot were recorded and circulated to students and families.
On September 12th and 13th, returning students will move into residence, checking in at the Keating Centre in a similar way.
September 12th is the official kick-off of Orientation.
Some StFX students returned to campus early this fall for an immersive learning experience in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Earth sciences professor Dr. Dave Risk, along with course facilitators Katlyn MacKay and Chelsie Hall, took six students to the national park for the Environmental Earth Science field course.
The students learned how to use equipment for sampling soil, water, air, vegetation, meteorology, and how to snap and analyze air photos taken by drone. They also learned how to navigate through the woods, and to work effectively as an outdoors team, Dr. Risk says.
As has been the case for over a decade, Parks Canada facilitated the visit and allowed the group to stay together at the Big Intervale field station.field course 2020 1.jpeg
“Ecosystems around the station are extremely varied and make for a unique learning experience, from deciduous-coniferous Acadian forests at sea level, to extensive boreal forest, to treeline-type Taiga ecosystems on the 500m-high plateau,” Dr. Risk says.
Even though several individuals had to sleep outside the station in tents for physical distancing, the group had no trouble staying healthy and fit.field course 2020 2.jpeg field course 2020 22.jpeg
The Environmental Earth Science field course has been flagged by students as one of the StFX's high impact courses and is offered every year to third year students taking Climate and Environment or Environmental Earth Sciences.
Dean Eaton has an exciting year ahead: the 2020 StFX graduate, who received a joint first class honours degree in physics and mathematics, is starting this September as a graduate student in the group of 2018 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Donna Strickland at the University of Waterloo.
“The part that excites me the most about joining the group is that it is quite the small group unlike a lot of other groups at the graduate level. It will have very significant effects on starting my professional career, as people will see both of our names on paper(s) we will hopefully be publishing together while I’m completing my masters here,” says Mr. Eaton of Bridgewater, NS, who received StFX’s 2020 Yogi Joshi Prize for Excellence in Physics.
StFX Physics Department chair Dr. Peter Marzlin welcomed news of the accomplishment.
“We are always very proud of our alumni and they often let us know how well they feel prepared for grad school. However, Dean has been an exceptional student, who was able to complete a fantastic honours project while also running the undergraduate physics conference AUPAC 2020. I guess Dr. Strickland, whom he met through his involvement with AUPAC, was just as impressed with him as we are,” says Dr. Marzlin.
Mr. Eaton says the opportunity came about in part as he was the co-lead organizer for the Atlantic Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy Conference (AUPAC) 2020 conference held at StFX and he was in charge of booking and liaising with guest speakers.
Along with Dr. Strickland, the conference also attracted Dr. Renee Horton, a NASA engineer and advocate for diversity and inclusion in science, and Dr. Allan H. MacDonald, Wolf Prize and Herzberg Medal recipient, professor at University of Texas, Austin and a StFX alumnus, as speakers.
“We very early identified Donna as someone we would want to come speak at our conference. We tried to set the bar high for the conference as it had never had a Nobel speaker before,” he says.
Mr. Eaton says he had tried a few emails to her executive assistants, but never received a firm answer. While waiting to hear back, he attended the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) congress in 2019 at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Strickland was a conference keynote speaker. Mr. Eaton says he attended a social after her lecture and was sitting at an empty table when she joined him to talk. They talked about the conference, graduate school, his current research, and he says shortly afterwards, Fraser Turner, a former graduate student of Dr. Strickland’s and fellow StFX graduate, joined the conversation. Mr. Eaton says they spoke about him potentially working for her in graduate school, which led him to visit last Thanksgiving to see the lab, talk more with Dr. Strickland in person, and to visit the campus and the city.
He says he isn’t yet sure what the focus of his research will be, as there are multiple projects he can take on for his master’s, but that it will be in the area of non-linear optics.
Along with AUPAC 2020 and the CAP congress, while at StFX, Mr. Eaton also attended the AUPAC in 2019 and the 2019 Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference (CUPC) where he presented his summer research. He held a teaching assistant position for a first year physics lab and a second year circuits lab and participated in summer research after his first, second, and third year at StFX. He was also part of the swim team his first two years at StFX and was vice-president of the volleyball society in his third year.
“StFX has definitely helped and prepared me enough for this,” he says.
“Having the smaller classes and a small department let me do more research and as a teaching assistant, than what would be possible at almost any other university in the world,” he says. “On top of having amazing professors who take the time to go above and beyond in the upper year courses to ensure we are ready for graduate school.”
A new study from StFX is shedding light on coping difficulties individuals are having against the backdrop of COVID-19 and the mass shooting in Nova Scotia in April.
The study, “Tragedy during COVID-19: A qualitative study of coping with a spree shooting during a pandemic,” was led by StFX psychology professor Dr. Karen Blair, StFX adjunct professor Dr. Rhea Hoskin, and StFX graduate and Queen’s University PhD student Laura de la Roche, who took the lead in analyzing the survey data.
Ms. de la Roche says the survey found participants discussed being overwhelmed and experiencing continuous feelings of hopelessness faced with these simultaneous crises; they worried about both their own and others' mental well-being.
“Many participants reported the shooting changed their perspective towards the COVID-19 regulations creating frustration towards them, specifically the regulations barring any socialization with family and friends. They discussed the inability to manage both tragedies, and having to avoid thinking about one, either the pandemic or shooting, in order to cope with the other,” she says.
UNDERSTANDING COPING STRATEGIES
Dr. Blair, who has been studying collective grief responses to mass shootings since 2016, including the Pulse Nightclub, Pittsburgh Synagogue, and Christchurch Mosques, says coping abilities following a spree shooting during a pandemic have never been researched and are important to understand so support systems can be established should multiple simultaneous tragedies occur in the future.
Understanding the coping strategies of those impacted by the Nova Scotia shooting during the pandemic may help us understand if and why individuals are using maladaptive or adaptive coping strategies, she says.
Ms. de la Roche, who presented the survey’s findings in early August at the online Canadian Psychological Association conference, says their preliminary analyses explored responses to two specific, open-ended questions.
The survey had asked: 1) how has the spree shooting influenced or changed your ability to cope with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and 2) how has your ability to cope with or respond to the spree shooting in Nova Scotia been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The spree shooting, they found, negatively impacted the individual’s ability to cope with the ongoing pandemic, and acted as a barrier to accessing their usual social support systems, such as family and friends, as well as their sense of connection to their community.
She said participants reported decreased adherence to COVID-19 regulations, decreased ability to cope with the ongoing pandemic and a decreased sense of connection and availability to social and interpersonal supports.
Survey participants also reported increased mental health challenges, concern for their own and others’ mental health, and need for interpersonal support, the researchers say.
Importantly, they say, these themes were present across the participant pool—simply having a heartfelt connection to Nova Scotia brought the tragedy of this event close to people and made it harder for them to cope with the pandemic, even if they were not personally connected to any of the victims or their families.
The researchers found too that when asked how COVID-19 impacted the ability to cope with the spree shooting, participants reported decreased adherence to COVID-19 regulations, decreased ability to mourn and cope socially, and decreased availability of social support.
They reported increased frustration with online updates pertaining to COVID-19 as well as the shooting, mental health challenges, emotional instability and community support. The overshadowing of the spree shooting by COVID-19 updates was upsetting to the participants and they found it difficult to cope with their emotions related to the spree shooting. Many participants discussed their increasing mental health challenges, however, the outpouring community support was discussed as a positive influence to their well-being.
For both questions, participants discussed being overwhelmed and feelings of hopelessness faced with simultaneous crises. They discussed the inability to manage both and having to avoid thinking about one to cope with the other. Feelings of anxiety, sadness, fear and stress were expressed while discussing their difficulties coping with the pandemic and shooting.
“The results of this study demonstrate the influences of simultaneous crises on individuals’ ability to cope and maintain their mental health and stability, specifically when faced with the COVID-19 regulations restricting interpersonal interactions,” says Ms. de la Roche.
Dr. Blair says despite studying this topic for four years, she never quite expected to be facing the prospect of such an event here in Nova Scotia.
“I think that fits well with what my participants express as well—there’s always the sense that ‘that won’t happen here’—and yet, here we are.
“It was very challenging to decide whether to extend my research to include the Nova Scotia shooting. On the one hand, it was another mass shooting event that impacted a very tightly knit community that shares an important identity, being Nova Scotian. On the other, it felt a bit too close to home and it is always challenging with this line of research to approach it respectfully and to not make anyone feel uncomfortable.”
Dr. Blair says in the end, based on many past participants telling them that participating in these studies has been helpful in allowing them time to sit and really think about their thoughts and feelings in response to the event, she decided to launch a similar study based on the shooting in Nova Scotia. There was the added element of the pandemic, which made the event unique compared to others she’d studied.
The researchers recruited participants through online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, making the survey available worldwide. A total of 388 participants completed the survey, 316 of whom completed the required open-ended questions specific to the current study.
Participants who completed the survey were predominantly located in Canada (96.5 per cent), specifically within Nova Scotia (82.4 per cent). The participants outside of Canada all had a connection of some sort to Nova Scotia such as family, friends, work, previous home location, and school.
QUALATIVE RESEARCH EYE OPENING
Ms. de la Roche completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at StFX two years ago, where she took multiple classes with Dr. Blair. “When an opportunity to work with Dr. Blair in her lab in a research capacity as a volunteer presented itself, I was extremely excited. I had some experience with qualitative analysis and reports from both classes and my master’s thesis work at Trent University, and therefore was able to jump into the qualitative work within the KLB Research lab,” she says.
She says while not the focus of her master’s thesis work, she has had a growing interest into how individuals cope during crises and the influence of the current social environment on individual’s well-being.
Ms. de la Roche says qualitative work is always eye-opening as you glimpse into the participants’ lives through their own words and descriptions. “This study has been no exception and has furthered my interest in including a qualitative viewpoint in my future research. No previous studies have had the ability to investigate how individuals cope when faced with a shooting in the midst of a global pandemic. I am incredibly honoured to be able to articulate and summarize the coping difficulties individuals are currently having and hopefully shed light on how the environment created by the pandemic has influenced their coping abilities.
“Working in the KLB Research lab with this study will be instrumental in furthering not only my academic-based experience, but also in directing my interest and understanding of what coping research entails when it involves sensitive topics and tragedies, such as the spree shooting and pandemic,” she says.
“StFX is the unique and special kind of place, unlike other universities, where even after you’ve graduated and been gone for two years, you continue to have lasting connections with former professors. My time at StFX and the connections made there set me up to continue having great research and learning opportunities, exemplified through this study taking place not only over the summer, but during a pandemic, that will continue to serve me as I continue into my PhD studies at Queen’s University this fall.”