Two SFU Grad Students Selected to Study Social Inclusion for Mitacs and the United Way

March 14, 2018

A master of science student and a doctoral student from SFU have been selected from 99 applications across Canada to conduct research on social inclusion in Vancouver. This pilot project, sponsored by the United Way and Mitacs, hopes to “assist in developing benchmarks to measure progress in social inclusion, examine the effect it has on employment and health outcomes in communities, as well as improve understanding of how inclusive communities are perceived by its citizens.” (Mitacs website).

A total of six graduate students and postdoctoral fellows were chosen to lead research projects in the Lower Mainland, Calgary, Ottawa and Halton-Hamilton. Kate Hosford, MSc student in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Odilia Dys-Steenbergen, PhD student, in the Department of Psychology were the only two students selected from BC to undertake this research. 

Odilia Dys-Steenbergen
With a strong background in outreach work influencing her studies and her social justice focus, along with her graduate studies in social psychology, Dys-Steenbergen’s work with the United Way aims to research and better understand belonging, connection, and well-being in select neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

Using a bottom-up approach to her three-pronged research strategy, Dys-Steenbergen hopes to strengthen the case for theory that more diverse neighbourhoods have the potential for a stronger  sense of belonging and well-being as they have more resources to offer, which can lead to a stronger shared group identity.

While internships are often more associated with the practice of clinical psychology, they are less often found in the field of social psychology. Dys-Steenbergen, with the support of her supervisor, Steve Wright, will be applying this internship as credit towards the comprehensive exam portion of her doctoral degree.  Aiming to start this research at the end of summer, early fall, Dys-Steenbergen will be bringing her extensive background and interest in intergroup relations and collective identity to the United Way – Mitacs internship. 

“I’m looking forward to being involved with an organization like the United Way to learn more about how they apply their values on the ground, with their communities.” notes, Dys-Steenbergen.

In terms of what she envisions for herself upon completing her degree, Dys-Steenbergen would love to be able to continue engaging in research and educating while also being able to be directly involved with communities. “It would be great to work with an institution like SFU, as it has a focus of engagement with the community as a part of its mandate.” 

Kate Hosford
Currently in her second year of her MSc degree in Health Sciences, Hosford is interested in the link between cities, health, and active transportation. Her project with the United Way aims to better understand the relationship between neighbourhood interactions and one’ overall sense of belonging to their local community.

For her thesis, she is working a project led by her supervisor, Meghan Winters, to  examine the health and transportation impacts of the Vancouver public bike share program. As part of the study, close to 1000 Vancouverites participated in a survey that included questions on social inclusion. Hosford plans to use this data in her internship with United Way to determine if the number of interactions with neighbours is associated with a higher self-reported sense of belonging.

“It will be interesting to see which neighbourhoods in Vancouver have the highest number of interactions with their neighbours, and whether this relates to an overall sense of belonging,” notes Hosford. 

Additionally, Hosford will identify survey questions in existing administrative surveys that are already collecting data on social inclusion, such as the Canadian Community Health Survey and My Health My Community survey. She plans to document these questions and create a resource to help support future analyses related to social inclusion.  

Hosford is hoping this internship will help her build connections with the United Way and provide some helpful resources for researchers and practitioners to track social inclusion over time.  She is also considering the possibility of pursuing a doctorate in the near future as well.  

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