Patty Wellborn



A photo of graduating students throwing their hats

UBCO is hosting a unique fall graduation ceremony Thursday. Students who graduated in 2020 and 2021 will now have the opportunity to toss their caps in celebration like these students did in 2018.

They’re baaack!

This week UBC Okanagan’s campus will be filled with students, now alumni, who graduated and were celebrated with a virtual ceremony during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 600 are returning to campus to take part in a special ceremony on November 10. The event will recognize the accomplishments of those who didn’t have the chance to experience that iconic opportunity of crossing the stage to receive their degree at a live graduation.

This will be the first time UBC Okanagan has hosted a fall graduation ceremony and it’s a special event for those who graduated in 2020 and 2021, says UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. Those graduates were surveyed and many indicated they were interested in coming back to campus for a make-up graduation ceremony.

“These are students who completed their studies during a particularly difficult and disconnected time,” Dr. Cormack says. “While UBC honoured our graduates during the height of the pandemic with virtual ceremonies, nothing can compare to the distinction of an in-person event, complete with student speakers and a gym full of proud family members.”

Each ceremony will be complete with speeches from students and special moments to recognize people who received honorary degrees during the pandemic.

Evangeline Saclamacis, who graduated with an applied sciences degree in 2021, is currently working with an international renewable power generation business in Vancouver. She says there are a lot of emotions flowing as she looks forward to returning to UBCO for the ceremony and connecting with former classmates.

“I’m excited to see how the campus has changed since I was last there, and also inspired to see how much I have changed since I first started as a student in 2016,” she says. “UBCO was a place that not only allowed me to grow as an individual, but also allowed me to connect with people with similar aspirations and goals. I’m really excited to return and walk the stage, closing the chapter on my bachelor’s degree.”

Aneesha Thouli, who graduated from UBC Okanagan’s Health and Exercise Sciences program in 2020, is now back at school and is currently a third-year medical student in the Southern Medical Program based at UBCO.

“While this ceremony will look different than any of us expected, I’m grateful we have the chance finally to celebrate,” she says. “I think having been alumni for a few years gives us a unique perspective on the ceremony overall and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our successes in a totally different way than previous classes.”

Three ceremonies will take place on November 10, the first starting at 8:30 am with School of Engineering graduates. Following that, graduates in the School of Education, Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science will cross the stage. The final ceremony takes place at 1:30 pm where graduates in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Health and Social Development and the Faculty of Creative and Critical studies will be celebrated.

Rain Inaba graduated with an undergraduate degree in microbiology and remained at UBCO to begin his master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology. Inaba is excited to reconnect with the many friends he made while living in residences and says Thursday’s ceremony will allow his fellow graduates to relive past moments and finally celebrate with their families, friends and faculty members.

“With these ceremonies, alumni from all faculties are welcomed back to the campus we all called home for many years,” he says. “This is a day of deserved festivities and a moment of recognition for our graduates. Let us make the ceremonies loud and memorable for each of our classmates as they cross the stage.”

As they have already technically been conferred as UBCO graduates and are officially UBC alumni, these ceremonies will be slightly different from spring convocation. However, Dr. Cormack says every student, especially those who persevered with their studies online, should enjoy the moments of being celebrated at their own graduation ceremony.

“While different, these ceremonies will include many of the traditions of graduation to honour the profound achievements and celebrate the resiliency of these students,” Dr. Cormack says. “We’re proud to have these incredibly engaged alumni who are going out of their way to come back for their graduation. I’m looking forward to congratulating each and every one of them in person.”

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A photo of a student helping an elderly person

UBCO is one of the first universities in BC to join the global Age Friendly University network, an organization that brings learning institutions committed to age-friendly programs and policies together to discuss policies and ideas.

With more than 85 per cent of Canadians saying that being able to age in their own homes and communities is important, researchers at UBC Okanagan have taken this statistic seriously.

Dr. Jenn Jakobi is a Professor with UBCO’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences and Director of the campus’s Aging in Place Research Cluster. As part of this initiative, Dr. Jakobi spearheaded an application to join the global Age Friendly University network.

That network, established in 2012 by Dublin City University, brings learning institutions together that are committed to age-friendly programs and policies. As one of eight Canadian universities in this network, and the first in BC, UBCO will have the opportunity to learn about emerging age-friendly efforts and contribute to an international educational movement of social, personal and economic benefit to students of all ages.

Dr. Jakobi explains why keeping pace with our aging population is important and how membership with the Age Friendly University global network will make a difference to our community.

Can you explain the mandate behind the Age Friendly University global network?

The Age Friendly University (AFU) global network was established on a set of 10 principles aimed at improving the age-friendliness of the policies, programs and spaces on campuses across the globe. Established by an international, interdisciplinary team led by Dublin City University, the AFU principles reflect the distinctive contributions that institutions of higher education can make in responding to the interests and needs of an aging population as well as the important and potentially underappreciated roles older adults play on campus. Launched by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in 2012, the 10 AFU principles have been adopted by institutions in Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada, and beyond. UBC Okanagan is the first in British Columbia.

The AFU network asks members to evaluate their institutions on the 10 AFU principles and to seek out ways to improve and nurture these principles. Joining the AFU network provides institutions with a guiding framework for distinguishing and evaluating how they can shape age-friendly programs and practices while continuously identifying growth opportunities.

Now that UBC Okanagan has joined this network, what changes on the campus? And in the community?

UBC Okanagan has a strong research program in aging-related topics across disciplines and is already well on its way to fulfilling the AFU principles. Joining this global network of institutions committed to a campus inclusive of learners, employees and community members of all ages allows UBCO to formalize and share how we are a campus community committed to the inclusion of all people.

The AFU principles can be applied beyond the realm of “age” and speak to the overall importance of diversity, accessibility and inclusivity in higher learning—ultimately improving the campus experience for all.

In the 2014 Aspire Report, UBC Okanagan identified community engagement and involvement as important priorities moving forward. As the university works toward these goals, age friendliness must be a priority considering the demographics of the region as a “retirement hub”. Statistics indicate the Okanagan is greyer than the rest of Canada, and this cohort of citizens is highly active and engaged.

Older adults represent the largest group of attendees from outside the university at community-oriented campus events and engagement of older adults is already embedded across research and community outreach. With the goal of supporting collaborative networks, UBCO will explore and develop ways to elevate existing programs and expand partnerships that support older adults in our community.

What are the goals of UBCO’s Aging in Place Research Cluster? Are there specific research projects related to this initiative?

The Aging in Place Research Cluster at UBCO aims to support the needs and choices of older adults through interdisciplinary research for the development of knowledge to support in-home approaches including supportive technologies and physical activity for maintaining independence and wellbeing.

Our research team is committed to participatory research approaches that include older adults throughout the process to ensure that research questions, engagement and results are relevant and readily translatable to real solutions that improve the experience of aging. Our group, as well as many other UBCO researchers and groups including the Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention and The Age-Link Society, work hard to actively share research findings and engage with older adults in the form of lecture series and events.

People might think a university is an institution just for young students. Does being an Age Friendly University change that?

Acknowledgement of the diversity of the student body, but also of all the other individuals that keep a university going from day to day, is important.

On our campus we have older students, faculty, staff and members of the community that contribute to the campus experience. We also know that diversity, including diversity in age, improves the learning experience for everyone.

According to our most recent survey, UBCO students and faculty overwhelmingly agreed that older learners added significant value to their classroom experiences. Despite this, we also heard from many older students, faculty and staff that they felt alone or isolated on campus because much of the campus culture is centred around young people. Our hope is to leverage the AFU framework to address this feeling and ensure that UBCO is a welcoming and inclusive community for all people.

In addition, we hope to shed light on campus accessibility. Campus accessibility is not only important for older learners and visitors, but also for improving the experience of students, faculty and staff of all ages and abilities.

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A photo of Dr. Rob Shaw playing wheelchair tennis

Dr. Rob Shaw, one of Canada’s top wheelchair tennis players, is UBC Okanagan’s 2022 recipient of the Governor General Gold Medal.

Some might think it’s a bit ironic that the winner of UBC Okanagan’s Governor General Gold Medal is already a gold-medal-winning athlete.

But Dr. Rob Shaw, who graduates this week with his Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies, can quickly explain how much hard work goes into earning an honour of this calibre. Dr. Shaw is a wheelchair tennis player who won a gold medal at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Peru. He is the highest-ranked member of the Canadian wheelchair tennis team and last summer he competed in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

He didn’t get there without a lot of hard work. The same could be said of his accomplishment at UBCO.

Dr. Shaw is the highest-ranked graduate student at UBCO, an honour that has earned him the Governor General’s gold medal.

“Looking at past winners I can’t help but feel humbled by this award,” he says. “Five years ago, my supervisor and I committed to completing a PhD that would make an impact beyond the silos of academia and extend into the community to benefit people living with spinal cord injuries. I’d like to think that this award reflects that we achieved that goal.”

While earning his doctoral degree, his research focused on how peer mentorship can improve the health and wellbeing of people who have incurred a spinal cord injury. While his supervising professor Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis describes his research as exemplary, she notes he has also become an internationally respected scientist and a community leader.

Throughout his degree, Dr. Martin Ginis says he has embraced an interdisciplinary spirit, but his impact extends beyond the traditional walls of academia and into the community. His leadership and expertise are frequently sought out by local, national and international organizations, and he has an unwavering commitment to examining and resolving pressing societal issues.

“An excellent scientist can produce a lot of great research. But an excellent scientific leader finds the potential in people and has the courage to inspire and support them. Rob has achieved excellence and acclaim as both a scientist and scientific leader,” she adds. “Through his research and leadership, and his outstanding global citizenship, Rob is making the world a better place.”

Dr. Shaw, however, says this award is only possible thanks to the support from Dr. Martin Ginis and others he has worked with along his doctoral journey.

“I am extremely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish, and I owe this award to her, my lab mates, my community partners, and most importantly to my participants who allowed me into their world so that I could try to make a real difference in their lives.”

Dr. Shaw has been described by Dr. Martin Ginis as an outspoken champion of equity, diversity and inclusion.

“He consistently reminds and challenges all of us to think about inclusion and accessibility in how we conduct and share our research with others.”

The importance of inclusion is also reflected in both the name and the criteria of the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. This week it will be presented to UBC Okanagan student Azzah Al Zahra Farras, who just completed her Bachelor of Arts with a joint major in philosophy, political science and economics.

Shortly after arriving at UBCO in 2018, Farras established a campus-wide chapter of Amnesty International and began hosting conferences and events to examine local and international issues. She coordinated weekly sessions where students could discuss international injustices, while creating a safe space for marginalized students to share their stories and discuss opportunities for students to engage in change.

“Through the Amnesty International chapter, we created opportunities for students on campus to share issues about human rights, protection, justice and conflicts that they care about from their own country,” says Farras, explaining the students had engaging conversations about many issues including the farmer’s protest in India, Tibetan rights to self-determination, the Palestinian rights, and democratic rights for people living in Thailand.

“I am surrounded by a very international community at UBCO and it’s something we should all look forward to in universities,” she adds. “I have a lot of friends from different countries that support me and also celebrate my culture and my beliefs and values as I celebrate theirs. That’s what I’m really happy about.”

In September 2021, she joined the UBC Okanagan Library team as a student representative of the UBC’s Inclusion Action Plan and Indigenous Strategic Plan, where she independently developed projects to highlight Arab, Muslim, Asian, Indigenous and Black voices in literature and academia. Farras built multiple book displays at the library and designed digital LibGuide sites that list resources based on each theme, granting students information and access regardless of their location during COVID-19.

Farras recalls the day when a student approached the service desk and tearfully thanked the library staff saying how encouraging it was to see students with hijabs represented at the library and it helped make her feel included.

“For me, this was a full-circle moment,” says Farras. “Although I did feel isolated in my first year, I was able to change that situation for younger hijab-wearing students. I believe these efforts transpired important representation at UBCO. It raises important conversations on institutionalized racism and discrimination against marginalized groups. I am honoured to be a part of that shift.”

UBCO Librarian Christian Isbister says Farras worked tirelessly to engage the campus community and bring awareness to diverse voices in the library collection. Her book displays were always popular and well-received, and her work on the Book Fairies project helped encourage reading of more diverse authors, including Indigenous, Black, Asian and Arab writers.

“Azzah has dedicated herself to the promotion of inclusion on our campus,” says Isbister. “At the library, she demonstrated great leadership in developing initiatives to highlight diverse voices in our collection, and foster a sense of welcome and belonging for students belonging to marginalized communities. It was a pleasure to get to work with Azzah, and her presence in the library will be greatly missed.”

Also, this week, Anna Bernath, who just completed her Bachelor of Science degree with concentrations in biochemistry and molecular biology, was awarded the Pushor Mitchell Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

The $10,000 prize is the largest donor-funded award available to graduating Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science students. The award recognizes a student who has excelled academically and demonstrated leadership while earning their degree.

Bernath joined Dr. Andis Klegeris’ Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology Lab as a volunteer research assistant, and contributed upwards of 250 hours in the facility. She also conducted research studying the role of microglia—immune cells of the brain—in Alzheimer’s disease. When not in the lab or studying, she worked as a teaching assistant, acting as a liaison between faculty and students.

“I have immense gratitude for the faculty, staff and UBCO colleagues who created invaluable opportunities for growth and leadership, and I hope I made a lasting impact on junior students and excited them about research endeavours,” says Bernath.

The Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Award has been presented to a student at UBCO since 2009, explains Andrew Brunton, Managing Partner at Pushor Mitchell.

“Pushor Mitchell is very pleased to see another deserving student receive this award,” says Brunton.  “Our firm has been supporting this prestigious award at UBC Okanagan for 13 years now, presented to students based on both academic excellence and community leadership. We applaud this year’s recipient Anna Bernath and wish her luck with her career in neuroscience research.”

Farras and Bernath will be recognized as they cross the stage at Thursday’s convocation while Dr. Shaw will receive his medal Friday morning.

Other University of British Columbia medal (top of class) winners are:

  • UBC Medal in Arts: Abhineeth Adiraju
  • UBC Medal in Education: Anica McIntosh
  • UBC Medal in Engineering: Rachel May
  • UBC Medal in Fine Arts: Amelia Ford
  • UBC Medal in Human Kinetics: Kenedy Olsen
  • UBC Medal in Management: Jo-Elle Craig
  • UBC Medal in Media Studies: Jordan Pike
  • UBC Medal in Nursing: Camryn McCrystal
  • UBC Medal in Science: Megan Greenwood

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A photo of Kate, Barry and Kieran McBride

Kate, Barry (centre) and Kieran McBride are three generations of the McBride family with strong ties to UBC Okanagan. Photo credit: Chris McBride.

A family who plays together, stays together. But what about a family who studies together?

The McBride family can answer that.

Friday, at UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Health and Social Development convocation ceremony, Kate McBride will cross the stage after earning her Master of Science in Nursing. Minutes later, her son Kieran will pick up his Bachelor of Human Kinetics degree. And, on the stage in the official platform party will be Barry McBride—Kieran’s grandfather and Kate’s father-in-law.

Barry is also UBC Okanagan’s very first Deputy Vice-Chancellor. And to say UBC runs in the blood of the McBride clan might just be an understatement. He was the top administrator at the newly formed university campus and led the students, faculty and staff during UBCO’s formative years until his retirement in 2007.

But the roots go much deeper than that.

“I’m just adding everyone up, and there are 13 of us in the family with a UBC degree,” says Barry. “My mother and father both graduated from UBC, as did my wife Barbara and Barbara’s mother—so Kieran’s great-grandparents and grandparents, his father and now his mother all have UBC degrees.”

UBC Okanagan was established in 2005 when UBC was granted the land and buildings at the then-Okanagan University College’s North Kelowna campus.

Barry McBride is Professor Emeriti of Microbiology and Immunology in the Faculty of Science. Before moving to the Okanagan to take on the leadership role at UBCO, he served as the Dean of Science and then Provost and Vice-President Academic at the Vancouver campus.

To have studied, worked and then taken on a leadership role at both campuses gives Barry an immense sense of accomplishment and honour.

“I am incredibly proud of UBC,” says Barry. “It’s a world-class institution that has grown to be seen internationally as a very important research and teaching university. And I am so pleased to see that UBCO has done so well. We should be proud of the number and quality of students UBCO hosts and the talent they bring to the Okanagan.”

Since its inception, the student population at UBCO has grown from the first class of some 3,000 students to more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students. More than 22,000 degrees have been conferred since the campus offered its first lecture. And the campus has expanded—from 12 original buildings to, currently, more than 53.

“I am beyond delighted that Kate and Kieran are graduating from this institution. I couldn’t be more delighted they chose UBCO,” says Barry.

For Kieran, the close-knit campus and high calibre of the human kinetics teaching staff were the main attractions of the Okanagan campus. While he grew up in Vancouver, Kieran says he never felt any pressure from his family to attend UBC—but when it was time to apply to universities, he had one specific place in mind.

“I didn’t want to go too far from home and UBCO’s Health and Exercise Sciences program is world class,” he says. “I’ve been so fortunate and had many great experiences, even working on an undergraduate research program that was an amazing opportunity. I gained so much experience at UBCO.”

He’s not sure what’s next on the horizon and he hasn’t ruled out a master’s degree. Now that his mother has one, it could be the next family tradition.

Kate readily admits having a son at UBCO helped her decide where to earn her master’s. As a registered nurse, she’s enjoyed a fulfilling career, working as a rehab nurse with Vancouver’s GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre and, more recently, enjoying a leadership role with the Provincial Health Services Authority.

“I was inspired by Kieran going to UBCO. It was appealing to be going to the same school as him, although he might not feel the same way. But I thought to myself, ‘it’s time to do this. And yes, I can do this.’”

If it hadn’t been for COVID-19, Kate and Kieran would have spent more time at the same campus together. But the pandemic didn’t get in their way with both successfully completing their journeys, and thanks to a twist in timing, both were scheduled to graduate the same day, in the same ceremony.

“I waited a lot of years before starting my master’s and I was really fortunate to be with a good cohort—most of the students were half my age,” says Kate. “And now I’m excited to be graduating with my son.”

And both agree, they had the family tradition of UBC degrees that helped fuel their momentum.

“It’s hard to express how incredibly grateful I am for all the support I’ve had, especially all the years I had to do it at home,” says Kieran. “I was essentially doing my university studies with my parents, and for some people, the experience could have been terrible. But they were really supportive—honestly, the support I’ve had from my older sister, parents and grandparents has been amazing and inspirational at the same time.”

Kate, too, says the McBride family bonds were uplifting from the get-go. While she’s had support from her father and in-laws, her husband Chris—a spinal cord injury researcher turned community organization partner who collaborates with UBC researchers on both campuses—was also cheering along in the background. There was no way this master’s degree was not getting done.

“The support I’ve had from Barry and Barbara over the years has been incredible. They are such awesome role models, for myself, our children and our younger generation,” says Kate, adding the youngest McBride grandchild will start her UBC degree in September. “So, the tradition continues. I feel very fortunate and privileged to have such wonderful role models who have taught us all to be the best we can be.”

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A photo of this year's UBCO researchers of the year

From left: Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, Dr. Jennifer Davis Dr. Kyle Larson and Rhyann McKay.

Four UBC Okanagan researchers—whose work is making a difference locally and globally—were recognized at a special event last week when the campus celebrated the Researchers of the Year.

In a university dominated by timely and meaningful research, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. But Phil Barker, UBCO’s Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President of Research and Innovation, says the unique and outstanding contributions from this year’s winners allows UBCO to shine the light on their accomplishments.

“The Researcher of the Year ceremony is one of my favourite events of the year. It is a distinct pleasure to acknowledge some of our star researchers and highlight their contributions,” he says. “UBC Okanagan is one of the most rapidly expanding campuses in Canada and we are attracting top-notch scholars and researchers who are leaders in their fields.”

The winners of the prestigious awards are Dr. Jennifer Davis for health research, Dr. Kyle Larson in natural sciences and engineering and Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, the winner of the social sciences and humanities award. Rhyann McKay was recognized as the Student Researcher of the Year.

Teaching in the Faculty of Management, Dr. Jennifer Davis is a Canada Research Chair in Applied Health Economics. Her research focuses on improving the health of older Canadians who are at risk for falls or cognitive decline. Much of her work assesses the economic value of dementia and mobility intervention and prevention efforts through partnerships with clinicians. Dr. Davis’s international collaborations have resulted in policy change and significant advancements in applying health economic evidence to lifestyle interventions.

A professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, Dr. Kyle Larson is an innovator of analytical techniques for tectonics research. His novel methods have led to fundamental discoveries about how major mountain belts form, including a solution to a decades-old geological controversy surrounding the origin of the Himalayas. As Director of the Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research, Dr. Larson’s work has helped develop paradigm-shifting methods for the rapid dating of geological material.

Teaching in the Okanagan School of Education, Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta is a prominent researcher who transforms traditional approaches to education. A champion of interdisciplinary and community-based research, her focus is to advance curriculum as a shared learning experience that inspires reconciliation. Her research with Indigenous, school district and community partners helps educators to decolonize curriculum and teaching practices.

As a doctoral student in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Rhyann McKay conducted research in partnership with provincial spinal cord injury organizations across Canada to co-develop behaviour change interventions for support providers to enhance wellbeing and self-care. McKay is currently a health system impact fellow at the University of Alberta, evaluating the implementation of acute care intervention.

“The purpose of these awards is to highlight and honour the research excellence that makes UBC a top-40 global university,” adds Dr. Barker. “I am impressed with the calibre of all our researchers, grateful for their efforts, and am very proud of this year’s recipients. I look forward to tracking their careers and celebrating their future successes.”

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Isolation Quarantine Covid-19 stock photo

UBCO experts discuss how society has coped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was March 17, 2020, just on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring the as-yet-un-named virus a pandemic, that BC declared a state of emergency.

Schools were closed, offices shuttered, stores locked and people were sent home to face isolation, uncertainty and a looming sense of fear and bewilderment. And now Zoom calls, masks, vaccines and mandates have become part of everyday life across the country.

How has society coped? What has been learned? Has anything changed?

Long before Dr. Bonnie Henry suggested people be kind to each other, Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, an Associate Professor with the Okanagan School of Education, was making the study of kindness part of his daily routine. Dr. Binfet is joined by six other UBC Okanagan experts, who can field questions ranging from vaccine equity, online shopping trends, the importance of exercise and the impact of so much screen time on children.

Dr. Binfet, Director of the Centre For Mindful Engagement and Director of Building Academic Retention Through K-9s

Availability: Noon, Wednesday and all of Thursday, PST

Dr. Binfet’s areas of research include the conceptualizations of kindness in children and adolescents, measuring kindness in schools, canine-assisted interventions and assessment of therapy dogs. His new book written during the pandemic, Cultivating Kindness, will be available this summer.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Binfet can discuss:

  • University student wellbeing
  • Being kind
  • Why kindness matters

Kevin Chong, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies

Availability: Wednesday and Thursday, 9 to 11 am PST

Chong teaches creative writing, fiction, creative nonfiction, literary journalism, dramatic writing and different writing styles including short story, memoir, personal essay, and lyric essay. He is the author of six books, including The Plague, and wrote a book during the pandemic when the public reading of his play was cancelled due to COVID-19. Dr. Chong also established an online antiracist book club during the pandemic.

Related to the pandemic, Chong can discuss:

  • Writer’s block
  • Online book clubs
  • Antiracist associations

Mahmudur Fatmi, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering

Availability: Wednesday, most hours and Thursday, 8:30 am to noon PST

Dr. Fatmi is a transportation modelling expert. He can talk about how people’s travel and online activities such as work-from-home and online shopping activities have changed during the pandemic, and the implications of these changes.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Fatmi can discuss:

  • Working from home
  • Changes to transit during the pandemic
  • Online shopping trends

Ross Hickey, Associate Professor, Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Availability: Wednesday, 2 to 2:30 pm PST and Thursday, 2:30to 3:30 pm PST

Dr. Hickey is an economist who specializes in public finance, fiscal policy, government expenditure and taxation. Related to the pandemic, Dr. Hickey can speak about:

  • Inflation

Susan Holtzman, Associate Professor, Psychology, Irving K Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Availability: Thursday, 9 am to noon PST

Dr. Holtzman conducts research in health psychology with a special interest in stress and coping, close relationships, depression and social relationships in the digital age. Related to the pandemic, Holtzman can discuss:

  • perceived increase in screen time for young children
  • digital relationships
  • breaking or keeping digital habits after two years of screen time

Jonathan Little, Associate Professor, School of Health and Exercise Sciences

Availability: Wednesday and Thursday, 9 to 11 am PST

Dr. Little’s main research interest is on how to optimize exercise and nutritional strategies to prevent and treat health issues including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and chronic inflammatory conditions. He is also involved in interdisciplinary research within the Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster around mitigating risk of aerosol transmission in health-care settings.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Little can discuss:

  • Physical activity/exercise during COVID-19
  • Impact of exercise and lifestyle on immune function
  • Aerosols and COVID-19 transmission

Katrina Plamondon, Assistant Professor School of Nursing

Availability: Wednesday, various times in the afternoon PST, Thursday, 7 to 8 am, 11:30 am to noon, 2 to 3 pm PST

Dr. Plamondon’s research focuses on questions of how to advance equity action and vaccine equity. Related to the pandemic, Dr. Plamondon can discuss:

  • Populism and social movements (e.g., convoy) and what this has to do with equity and rights
  • Vaccine equity, particularly the relationship between global vaccine equity and how we can navigate the pandemic
  • Equity considerations as we transition out of pandemic restrictions (e.g., lifting mask restrictions)
  • Equity impacts and health systems considerations

The post UBCO experts discuss what’s changed after two years of COVID-19 appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A young woman checks insulin pump and blood sugar monitor while hiking outdoors.

UBCO researchers suggest something as simple as regular walks can help people living with Type 2 diabetes control inflammation.

Researchers from UBC Okanagan are looking at how exercise can help balance the immune system and reduce chronic inflammation—a known contributor to the development and progression of various chronic diseases.

Associate Professor Dr. Jonathan Little, and postdoctoral researcher Dr. Hashim Islam, both with UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, are studying how chronic inflammation can create an imbalance that prevents a person’s immune system from protecting them. And how exercise might be the answer.

The immune system, explains Dr. Islam, is critical for preventing infections, removing pathogens and repairing damaged tissues during recovery from an illness or injury. But when immune cells become overactivated, they can overproduce and release small hormone-like molecules called pro-inflammatory cytokines.

An over-abundance of those cytokines can impair the normal function of vital tissues and organs in the body, Dr. Islam explains. This means a person might be susceptible to a number of diseases including Type 2 diabetes.

“This persistent state of immune cell overactivation is known as chronic inflammation and is linked to the development and progression of various long-lasting illnesses that are commonly found in modern society. These include cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension or stroke and Type 2 diabetes—and we’re particularly interested in studying the Type 2 diabetes aspect,” says Dr. Islam.

Lifestyle factors such as imbalanced nutrition, weight gain, obesity and physical inactivity can aggravate chronic inflammation, adds Dr. Little. These conditions increase a person’s chance of getting various cardiometabolic diseases. On the other hand, exercise and diet-induced weight loss are effective for reducing chronic inflammation in the body and lowering the risk of developing cardiometabolic disease.

The researchers are specifically looking at interleukin 10, a molecule that normally acts to inhibit inflammation. Earlier research, in collaboration with colleagues at UBC’s Vancouver campus, demonstrated that immune cells isolated from people with Type 2 diabetes were less responsive to the anti-inflammatory actions of interleukin 10—something that typically acts as a brake or fire extinguisher to prevent immune cell overaction.

The inability of interleukin-10 to inhibit inflammation was linked to elevated blood sugar levels, suggesting that interventions that normalize blood glucose levels may be effective for restoring anti-inflammatory cytokine action in people with Type 2 diabetes.

“Chronic inflammation is when there is an imbalance of pro- and anti-inflammatory molecules in your body. We use the example of a slow-burning flame, or a brake, in the context of chronic disease,” explains Dr. Little. “Most people study the pro-inflammatory molecules and how to reduce them—which is similar to taking the fuel off the fire. Our work, which is quite novel, is looking at how to make anti-inflammatory molecules like interleukin-10—similar to a fire extinguisher—work better and stop the inflammation.”

Dr. Islam is further exploring the mechanisms that may explain why and when interleukin-10 is not working well to inhibit inflammation for people with Type 2 diabetes. His goal is to implement a practical lifestyle intervention that will involve short, frequent bouts of activity—post-meal walking or exercise snacking—throughout the day to improve blood glucose and restore the anti-inflammatory actions of interleukin-10.

“This approach has demonstrated glucose-lowering benefits in people with Type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Islam. “Given the earlier-identified link between hyperglycemia and impaired interleukin-10 action, this may be a viable non-pharmacological strategy to restore anti-inflammatory cytokine action in people with Type 2 diabetes.”

The research was covered in a recent review article published in the Journal of Physiology and is funded by a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Trainee Award and a Killam Accelerator Research Fellowship.

A female researcher discussing anatomy with a full classroom

New UBCO research asserts that more neuroscience literacy in the general population will result in health fads that are debunked before people invest their money and time.

With the holiday season fast approaching, many people may already be thinking of new resolutions to live a healthier lifestyle come 2022.

Elijah Haynes is a research assistant at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. He cautions jumping on the bandwagon of any new health trend or fad diet. Haynes, who researches neuroscience literacy, believes that if more people had access to scientific knowledge, new fads would be debunked before people invest their money and time.

Haynes talks about his recently published article in Advances in Physiology Education that discusses the need to improve neuroscience literacy, and how doing so might save lives.

What led to this particular research subject?

Working as an outreach educator for UBC Okanagan’s iSTAND program, I had many opportunities to teach a range of learners—preschoolers, retirees and everyone in between. While we provided activities for a number of different sciences, the neuroscience activities tended to be the most popular across all age groups. The neuroscience events also produced the most interesting discussions about the potential applications of science. I wrote the article hoping to make other physiologists and neuroscientists aware that there is a demand for neuroscience knowledge, and also highlight ways they can provide it.

How did you become interested in neuroscience, and concerned for neuroscience literacy?

I was training as a high school football player and I noticed how different strength coaches would talk about the neuroscience of getting stronger. I watched YouTube videos to learn more about how the nervous system controls movement and was so fascinated that I opted to pursue undergrad and graduate studies in kinesiology.

My experience as an outreach educator made it apparent that a lot of neuroscience research is misunderstood. Given the implications of neuroscience research, I became concerned that public misunderstanding of neuroscience might lead to its misapplication. Without sufficient public understanding, society won’t be able to effectively use the knowledge gained from neuroscience research.

What needs to be done to improve science literacy in our community?

Canadians are lucky in that we have a vast supply of highly educated people living here—everyone knows something about something. At the same time, people are hungry for knowledge about how the world works. Not only does scientific knowledge need to be accessible, but science-literate people should also be available to ensure that knowledge is appropriately understood.

People should also have opportunities to see science “behind the scenes.” It would be phenomenal if universities and colleges designated spaces on campus for regular community engagement events and exhibits. One of the contributors to misinformation spread is distrust. There is a perception that scientists are simply elites protected from public scrutiny by institutions and government. If citizens felt that research was something they could see for themselves, they might be more receptive to knowledge gained by science.

What role does enhanced science literacy play in contemporary health issues?

Many health disorders in Canada are related to modern lifestyles. People are living longer, residing in increasingly denser communities, have access to more food and fewer physical activity requirements than ever before. While culture and societal norms play a big role in determining how we behave in our current environment, empirical knowledge about the way our bodies, especially our nervous systems, will help people make decisions on how to live healthier lives.

I think most people are aware that health trends and diet fads exist, yet every year new ones rise as soon as the last ones are debunked. Quite frankly, it’s sad seeing people spend hard-earned money on these products and services. It’s my hope that greater science literacy will prevent these fads and trends from gaining popularity.

How can people use science to avoid falling for health fads?

People should know that science is more than just memorized facts and showy demonstrations. Science is a process that generates knowledge. We can apply that process to anything we want to know more about. It starts by asking a question, and proceeds by determining the best way to find an answer. In science, how a question is answered is often more important than the answer itself.

When it comes to health fads, people should consider multiple sources of evidence. Instead of just seeking information that promotes a new lifestyle routine, try looking for information to debunk that lifestyle routine.

So, improving science literacy can lead to healthier lifestyles?

Whether we’re talking about health or any other science-related topic, engaging with others is the best way to broaden our understanding. We’ve seen many examples of science driving people apart over the last few years. By acknowledging that people approach, learning from a diverse array of backgrounds and then working together to improve our collective understanding, science can actually be a means of bringing people closer together. When this happens, science does more than just teach us about the world. Science creates connections between people. And those connections can create a healthy, thriving community.

A photo of a person on a treadmill and a student helper

UBC Okanagan’s Small Steps for Big Changes diabetes prevention program helps people at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes learn how to make healthy diet and exercise changes.

What: A week of activities and lessons to mark World Diabetes Day
Who: Community partners including the YMCA, Okanagan College and the Okanagan Regional Library
When: November 8 to 14
Where: Various virtual and in-person events throughout the week

As Word Diabetes Day approaches, a group of students and faculty in UBC Okanagan’s Diabetes Prevention Research Group are making plans for a week of healthy and fun-filled activities.

Dr. Mary Jung, an associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is principal researcher of the lab, which strives to help people lower their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by empowering them to make diet and exercise changes.

World Diabetes Day takes place on November 14 and Dr. Jung says the goal of the day is to increase the community’s awareness about diabetes.

“There are many people who may be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and don’t know it,” says Dr. Jung. “We have a week full of scheduled events where people can learn more about their likelihood of developing diabetes, and discover what resources are available to the community while they enjoy fun activities.”

Dr. Jung leads the Small Steps for Big Changes diabetes prevention program. Her team has organized a number of virtual and in-person events during the week of November 8 to 14. People can try pickleball, listen to expert speakers, try a virtual Zumba lesson or head to a local YMCA for an exercise class. All events are free and open to everyone.

The featured event is a cooking class with Okanagan College’s Kelsey Oudendag, a red seal chef and culinary arts instructor. Participants will learn, in person or virtually, how to make delicious and healthy meals on a budget. Free registration for this class has been made possible by generous partnerships with the Central Okanagan Food Bank, Okanagan College (OC) and Dr. Jung’s lab.

“I am so excited to welcome people into the kitchens at OC to learn how to cook delicious and healthy meals on a budget,” says Oudendag. “I hope people come away inspired and empowered with some new culinary skills and knowledge they can apply at home in their daily lives.”

The week culminates with an outdoor drop-in day of play and activities on Sunday, November 14. People are encouraged to visit Jung’s Small Steps team at Rowcliffe Park in downtown Kelowna, between 11 am and 3 pm to join in free beginner exercise classes and earn prizes.

For more information about the week and to register for activities, visit:

A photo of Dr. Jenn Jakobi

UBCO’s Dr. Jenn Jakobi new role as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the BC/Yukon region will help her provide leadership and empower change for underrepresented people in science, technology, engineering and math.

Dr. Jenn Jakobi is a scientist, a teacher and a mentor. Her work focuses on neuromuscular and exercise physiology with the long-term objective of keeping our aging population healthy and independent.

Part of her passion and commitment to research is sharing knowledge and creating opportunities for everyone to learn. She and her team of students and staff produce written articles and guides, as well as videos and podcasts, making sure the science conducted in university labs gets into the living rooms of everyday Canadians.

Beyond science translation, Dr. Jakobi has another passion. She is committed to increasing diversity across science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. She coordinates and hosts youth outreach camps and activities, and conducts professional development workshops to enable organizational change that will build equity, diversity and inclusion changes in STEM enterprises.

This month, Dr. Jakobi takes on a new role as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the British Columbia/Yukon region. This Westcoast Women in Engineering Science and Technology (WWEST) program mobilizes her leadership to roles that encourage, explore, understand and empower change for underrepresented people in STEM.

Your initiative, the integrative STEM Team Advancing Networks of Diversity (iSTAND) Program, continues to grow at UBCO. Can you tell us about this program and how it relates to your new role?

iSTAND developed as a project I started in 2014. I saw a need to engage youth in hands-on science activities and I saw resources here at UBCO that would allow for this to happen, particularly for girls. The goal was to ensure they understand how science is a part of bettering our world.

Research shows that young girls are interested in science. We just need to make a connection with them as early as possible.

I started small, by visiting classrooms and explaining how science can create a meaningful and positive difference in all our lives. This initiative grew to busloads of kids visiting campus to actively engage with classmates in neuroscience experiments. We made it relevant to real-life. The next step was summer camps and after-school programs.

These extracurricular iSTAND programs will continue. The WWEST program will use our multitude of kid-friendly experiments to produce learning modules that align with the BC curriculum to assist teachers in bringing hands-on science activities into the classroom. We are also partnering with UBCO’s Indigenous Program Services and First Nation Bands across BC to assist university students to bring activities into their home communities. We will work with elders and cultural stewards to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing and learning into the activities.

Are the programs focused only on youth?

Not at all. As a female scientist, I have always been a minority and this has led to some less than great experiences in my career. In part, the youth programs were not just about sharing the beauty and joy in science, it was about engaging more girls in science so future female scientists are not alone.

Being alone is not easy. So you build a protective shell, and loneliness hardens your shell. That is what the WWEST program works to change. Through actively partnering with like-minded organizations, we will expand our workshops and activities to build a network, so even when someone feels alone in an organization there is no loneliness. The aim is not to just increase the number of women and under-represented persons, it is to create positive cultures where participation is not an act of bravery. Rather, we aim to create a culture of inclusion for all people and perspectives.

How will you do this?

Using my training and experiences as a scientist, I will conduct research, share it and also apply it to WWEST programs. The focus of research and activities will be the positive elements that engage and keep women and under-represented persons in STEM. For example, we know family is important in encouraging and supporting career development so we developed intergenerational GRAND-STEM programs. Here we encourage parents and notably grandparents to participate with kids in STEM activities. This initiative is especially dear to me, as it aligns with my research passion and collaborative drive.

My research aims to support functional independence with increased age, and social engagement and learning for older adults are equally important for them. This initiative is also an example of the collaboration taking place on our campus. In 2019 the various groups at UBCO that engage in STEM outreach activities began working to develop a cohesive and comprehensive framework to engage with our community.

Overall WWEST will generate research and use this knowledge to create innovative programs to grow diverse and inclusive academic, industry and corporate environments.

The objective of increasing women in STEM careers is not new. How is your program different?

For decades the conversation has centred around removing barriers and obstacles, as well as developing policies and processes to support women in STEM. These were necessary and have evolved. For example, maternity leave and now parental leave have supported females in their career pursuits. This has assisted in retaining women in STEM but it hasn’t been enough.

We need to change the culture. I hope to go beyond the barriers and understand what are the good things that keep under-represented persons in STEM. Then apply these positive factors to build a rich and diverse landscape, and this positive culture includes men. We need to engage the majority to move the minority dial. There are many people who want to see more women and under-represented persons in STEM. This program will promote and celebrate the women, as well as the men who are contributing to positive change. WWEST is a comprehensive program to build a diverse and inclusive STEM landscape.