media release

Vanier scholars help challenged populations

November 29, 2013

Jenny Shaw (Burnaby resident), (best contact)
Natalie Knight (Vancouver resident), 778.707.2902,
Ibrahim Numanagic (Bloomington, IN., U.S.A. temporarily),
Ekaterina Rhodes, (Saanich resident) 778.350.0663,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,


Supported by their prestigious Vanier Graduate Scholarships, two Simon Fraser University doctoral recipients are researching the plight of two often-marginalized populations that they want to help.

Anthropology student Jenny Shaw is investigating how chain migration affects teenaged immigrants’ ability to succeed in Canada. Chain migration is a term used when family members migrate separately, for example when immigrant parents sponsor their children’s move to Canada several years after their own arrival.

Shaw is currently a year into helping a local non-profit organization deliver anti-oppression workshops in schools and run after-school programs for immigrant youth.

Through her poetry and academic writing, Natalie Knight, an SFU English student and former American university student and teacher, is rewriting North America’s colonial histories from the perspective of First Nations and Native American people.

The recipient of SFU’s first Graduate Aboriginal Entrance Scholarship is poring over stacks of treaties, land claims, legal documents, and First Nations/Native American literature, poetry and visual arts to accomplish this ambitious task.

Two other 2013 SFU recipients of Vanier Scholarships are doctoral students Ibrahim Numanagić in computing science and Ekaterina Rhodes in sustainable energy management in the School of Resource and Environmental Management.

Numanagić is part of a research team that has developed a method to boost data compression of large amounts of DNA sequencing data, using algorithms specifically designed to interpret such data. Numanagić, originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, is testing the method’s efficiency for helping bioinformatics labs/centres tackle the infrastructure problems associated with processing colossal amounts of data.

Rhodes aims to design acceptable and effective climate policies to help decision-makers minimize climate change’s anticipated disastrous effects. She uses survey techniques to determine citizen acceptance of climate policies. The techniques test a wide range of attitudinal and contextual factors that could influence policy acceptance.

Rhodes also uses a hybrid energy-economy model, CIMS-Canada, to assess the environmental and economic effectiveness of different policies. The model takes into account human preferences and risk perceptions associated with purchasing new technologies. Originally from Russia, Rhodes studied in the United Kingdom and France prior to immigrating to Canada.

Vanier scholarships are worth $50,000 annually for up to three years.

Close-up on Jenny Shaw and Natalie Knight

Jenny Shaw:
There is ample literature on the challenges confronting adult immigrants who arrive in Canada as temporary or skilled workers. But Jennifer Shaw says a dearth of studies on adult immigrants’ children’s plight drives her research.

“I hope to contribute a youth-focused perspective to the existing literature that could help inspire policies and procedures that alleviate young immigrants’ plight,” says Shaw.

With the help of up to three youth research assistants, Shaw will interview about 30 young immigrants for her study.

With five years’ experience supporting immigrant youth as a youth worker and education and employment counsellor in Victoria, Shaw is well versed on how challenges in migration, relationships, education, employment and language hinder these youth.

“For example, a lack of credential recognition, including high school, college or university completion, often denies young adults the ability to enter their chosen field. They then take entry-level service positions, despite extraordinary skills in other areas.

“I’ve seen many youth give up on pursuing post-secondary education because the demands of upgrading or lack of credential recognition was so discouraging. It was my job to help motivate them, despite systems that constantly hinder their success.

“After reunification, parent-child relationships can be difficult since youth may feel as though they didn’t have a say in their chain migration. Generational differences and growing up in a new environment and a different culture can stymie healthy reunification.”

After witnessing young immigrants experience a kaleidoscope of emotions, including love, anger, gratitude, guilt, hope and homesickness, Shaw is keen to capture their life stories through art and digital media.

She is using photography, digital video, theatre and other artistic tools to engage her study participants in developing her research through their storytelling. With the participants’ consent, their artful accounts will be displayed publicly.

“Using this participatory approach will ensure that my academic research is accessible to a broad audience rather than solely people who access academic publications.”

Natalie Knight:
A published poet, with Native American Oohl (Yurok) and European heritage, and two African American siblings, Knight wants to help heal still fractured relations between colonizing and colonized people in today’s western society.

She sees understanding how indigenous authors and artists throughout history portray land claims, resistance movements and acts of self-determination as key to truly honouring indigenous people’s need for sovereignty in North America.

“North American leaders, as elsewhere, are trying to navigate troubled political waters filled with environmental, social and economic challenges,” says the critical essayist and author of three poetry chapbooks. “We can’t have sincere conversations about these problems and their solutions without taking seriously First Nations land claims in B.C. To do this we need better histories that put indigenous experiences at the centre.”

Knight’s view of indigenous sovereignty is also guided by her doctoral work on Marxism at the University of Albany, The State University of New York, and her work with at-risk foster youth in Washington State.

Ultimately, Knight wants “to suggest ways of organizing ourselves that can provide a sufficiently porous container to hold our immense differences, while providing structures that allow us to live together well.”

In addition to launching her doctoral studies at the University of Albany, Knight taught creative and analytical writing, and ethnic studies to undergraduates there. At SFU, she tutors students through the Indigenous Student Centre in a variety of subjects, with a focus on improving writing skills.

Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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