Elisa Vandenborn

"During my program I was fortunate to work with many faculty and administration members in a number of projects within and outside my program, and I feel I’ve learned different sets of academic skills from each and every one of them."

PhD student in Educational Psychology

MA student in Educational Psychology Graduated 2014

For 15 years I taught EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and managed language schools in Brazil. The learning process fascinated me. Students whose progress fell below the trajectory of most particularly interested me. I decided to learn more about learning in order to identify where students’ difficulties stemmed from. Upon moving to Canada, I looked for a strong psychology program, and SFU fit the profile. Over the course of the program I realized my questions about learning required that I move beyond the decidedly cognitive character of the program into core socio-cultural factors. This realization was strengthened by my own experience as a mature immigrant student. I finished my undergraduate studies with a major in Psychology, and a minor in Education. I was able to answer the questions that had brought me into university, but was left with many others that demanded my attention. I became interested in exploring how conceptions of selfhood are manifested in institutional practices such as schools, mental health and child welfare systems, as well as their implications.

I’m now in the final stage of my program, writing my thesis. My thesis considers the social impact of the theoretical conception of the self that prevails in Western Psychology. I adopt a sociocultural psychological perspective to argue that the implicit assumptions of disciplinary psychology concerning the nature of selves inform institutional practices that limit the possibilities for well-being and in some instances are harmful to citizens who rely on them. I use the example of the child protection system in British Columbia to argue that the so-called individualistic conception of self engenders a number of problems that lead the system to fail to properly protect the children in its care, and/or to support their families towards sustainable reunification.

What attracted you to come to SFU?

My main motivation for doing my graduate studies at SFU was Dr. Jeff Sugarman's theoretical work on selfhood. His work encapsulated most of my interests, more specifically, theoretical psychology and social justice.

Who is a faculty member you have enjoyed working with and in what way?

Narrowing it down to a single faculty member is an impossible task. During my program I was fortunate to work with many faculty and administration members in a number of projects within and outside my program, and I feel I’ve learned different sets of academic skills from each and every one of them. Dr. John Nesbit, Dr. Paul Neufeld, and Dr. Michelle Nilson stand out, but my two supervisors deserve special mention. Dr. Jeff Sugarman's scholarship and supervision have provided me with the soundest theoretical landscape to develop my research interests; our discussions, and our reading group meetings were a safe place to share my progress, discuss ideas, and obtain feedback from fellow graduate students. Dr. Lucy Le Mare has been equally influential providing me with the invaluable practical research experience over the years, and offering unwavering support and sincere guidance on my research project, and future academic and employment activities.

What inspires you to learn and to continue your education

My inspiration to continue my education is the current state of affairs in the Child Protection System in British Columbia. Children under government care are one of the most vulnerable groups in BC, and in Canada. I feel strongly that the system requires substantial changes to properly protect the children in its care, and I believe disciplinary psychology plays a significant role in contributing to better practices than can yield a more comprehensive, and arguably more socially-responsible child welfare system.  Theoretical psychology can encourage much needed reflection in how social institutions operate, and how systems can be made more efficient and generate mentally healthy citizens.