Patty Wellborn



A photo of a teenage boy packing his school bag while his mother is preparing to go to work

Back to school can be exciting but with each new year comes change, especially for students entering middle school. UBCO experts provide some tips for parents to navigate those middle years.

Long before children are ready for middle school, their parents have heard the horror stories.

Online bullying, gender identity, social media, vaping, drugs, sex and dating…the list of potential pitfalls and obstacles can feel overwhelmingly endless.

It’s enough to disrupt even the most stable of households when a child shifts from the safety and security of the known into the uncertainty of a new school—especially if it’s around a milestone like the first day of middle or high school.

UBC Okanagan’s scholars and researchers want to help. Experts from across disciplines provide a few tips to help parents successfully navigate this new phase of their journeys.

“Make a plan,” says Dr. Stephen Berg, Associate Professor, Okanagan School of Education 

The start of another school year is an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking time for everyone in a family. New activities and routines begin, so taking the time to plan and communicate with everyone in the family can help ease anxiety and nervousness going into the year.

Along with this, it is so important for children and youth to have proper nutrition. Having them take a water bottle to school—if allowed—helps maintain hydration and planning for healthy snacks and lunches helps with alertness and self-regulation in the classroom.

Of course, being physically active throughout the day is just as important. Even if there are no activities planned, something like going for a walk or other cost-effective activity gets children outside and can also be a great way to communicate and connect with each other.

“Encourage kindness,” says Dr. John Tyler Binfet, Associate Professor, Okanagan School of Education

A previous study involving 191 Grade 9 students from Central Okanagan Public Schools demonstrated that when the teens were encouraged to be kind, they surpassed expectations.

Within one week, more than 940 acts of kindness—sharing school supplies, giving compliments, helping with chores or encouraging others—were accomplished. As the bulk of the kind acts took place at the school, the findings show positive effects on school climate, student-to-student relationships and student behaviour.

I think adolescents can be misperceived, especially in schools. And if educators and parents can model kindness or provide examples of kindness, it will make being kind easier for adolescents.

“Keep the big picture in mind,” says Dr. Jessica Lougheed, Assistant Professor, Psychology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

For kids and teens in middle school and high school grades, back to school can be an especially challenging time. Often, tweens and teens are experiencing developmental changes in many domains at the same time—these include puberty, with more intense and less predictable emotions, as well as new activities, peer groups and schools.

Relationships with primary caregivers, understandably, can become more strained. The back-to-school season is yet another change. When routines change in such a big way, we typically see a period of less predictable daily dynamics in the household before everything settles into a new routine. Often, what’s going on in one area, such as your child’s school or social life, will influence other areas including their emotions or how they relate to family members.

If you notice a lack of balance in your household dynamic at the start of the school year, it might be helpful to keep the bigger picture in mind. Change is hard, and your tweens and teens are navigating an acute change to their daily schedules and activities at the same time as all of their other developmental changes. Irritability might be directed at you, but it might not be about you.

Check-in with your child when things are quieter and calmer, and it might be easier to make a connection then.

“Communicate well, and communicate often,” says Dr. Shirley Hutchinson, Lecturer, Psychology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Transitioning back to school, especially a new school, can be hard for both students and parents. Much of the anxiety stems from uncertainty and one of the best ways to deal with uncertainty is to try and collect as much information as possible.

Communication is key.

Parents should talk to their children and explore the new or returning school environment together. Talk about what the children are excited about and what they may be nervous about. And most importantly, talk about what worries are within their control and which ones are not. Knowledge goes a long way to reducing uncertainty and easing anxieties.

“Get those steps in and keep active,” says Dr. Ali McManus, Professor, School of Health and Exercise Sciences

Physical activity is just another word for movement and it can look like anything including riding your bike to school, cleaning your room, mowing the grass, walking the dog or playing sports.

The easier way to keep active is to get your steps in. In Canada, the recommended daily steps are 13,000 for adolescent boys and 11,000 for girls. But in middle school steps tend to decline and across Canada less than 10 per cent of our teens meet these guidelines. Here are four easy tips on ways to get more active: start small, make it social, do things you enjoy and make time in your day, every day, for activity.

“Provide a non-judgmental space to chat about the risks of vaping and smoking,” says Dr. Laura Struik, School of Nursing

Vaping has become common in school environments, with youth stating that the commute to school, school washrooms, recess and lunch are contexts where they are frequently exposed to vaping. Having open discussions about vaping with your child can help if they are feeling pressured, or even curious, about vaping.

Parents might also get some empty vape devices, free of charge at a vape store, to start the conversation and address the curiosity that frequently contributes to trying vaping. Role play can also help prepare a child to proactively think about how they might manage peer pressure situations that could make vaping tempting. And parental or family disapproval can play a strong role in preventing uptake of vaping among children and youth.

The post Navigating the middle years and beyond appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A group of Home Circle members pictured

Elders, community organizations, and UBCO students, faculty, staff and researchers gathered to celebrate UBC Indigenous Strategic Strategies funding of a new Indigenous Graduate Nursing Education Pathway. Some Home Circle members are included in the photo (from left): Amber Froste Nlaka’pamux Tribal Nation, UBC MSN student, Elder Advisor Diana Moar Berens River First Nation, Elder Advisor Eric Mitchell Okanagan Indian Band, Karlyn Olsen UBCO School of Nursing, Elder Advisor Chris Marchand Okanagan Indian Band, April Coulson, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Nation, and Kathy Rush, Donna Kurtz and Dennis Jasper from the UBCO School of Nursing.

On its committed path to reconciliation, UBC Okanagan has taken another step forward—this time exploring a new aspect of thematic instruction in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.

The university has introduced this new layer of thematic instruction specifically for Indigenous registered nurses or registered nurses who work with Indigenous peoples, organizations or communities. The goal is to address racism in the health-care industry—and support Indigenous nurses or nurses working with Indigenous Peoples, organizations and agencies—while meeting community-identified needs and processes of incorporating Indigenous knowledge within mainstream nursing education and practice, explains Dr. Donna Kurtz, an Associate Professor with UBCO’s School of Nursing.

“Canada’s universal health-care system is one of the best in the world, yet Indigenous Peoples continue to experience poor health outcomes due to colonialism and racism,” says Dr. Kurtz, an Indigenous scholar and nurse working with interdisciplinary Indigenous community-led health promotion research and programs since 2003. “Nurses are central to health program development, implementation, improvement and maintenance. They are pivotal in working holistically with Indigenous communities for mental wellness, health promotion, illness prevention and even the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research has contributed $683,000 to develop the initiative delivered on the two UBC campuses and at Thompson Rivers University, the University of Victoria, Trinity Western University and the University of Northern British Columbia. This project is led by the University of Victoria’s Dr. Bourque Bearskin.

In addition, UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Fund has provided $99,900 to establish an Okanagan community-led decision-making Home Circle as part of the provincial collective.

“There is currently no other collaboration or program like this taking place across Canada,” Dr Kurtz adds. “Nursing education programs continue to be dominated by Eurocentric knowledge and neo-liberal professionalization practices. Essential Indigenous health, cultural safety and cultural humility knowledges are lacking and few mandatory courses address the unique health needs and history of Indigenous populations.”

To help design the local MSN pathway, Okanagan Indian Band Elder Advisors Chris Marchand and Eric Mitchell, and Berens River First Nation Elder Diana Moar, along with Indigenous graduate nursing students, community leaders, members and organizations will be involved in curriculum content, redesign, delivery, evaluation and knowledge sharing.

Enrolled students will have two directions to take their studies. One includes a program with more than 70 hours of Indigenous-specific practicum work. The other is a thesis-based program where students will work on research projects led by Indigenous scholars, communities and organizations. Both can be done full- or part-time.

“This project is an important step towards creating a truly Indigenous-focused education program,” says Jackie Denison, Interim Director for the School of Nursing. “The stream will enhance the navigation of graduate studies for Indigenous nurses. Students will receive a strength-based Indigenized curriculum, which will offer a unique opportunity to learn from Indigenous communities from across the province.”

Throughout their studies, students will be mentored by Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Healers and Indigenous community leaders. They will also be able to take Indigenous-specific MSN courses at any of the universities participating in this program.

With current and newly established relationships across UBC, Dr. Kurtz says this project will identify priorities for change. Those priorities aim to inform and transform Indigenous anti-racist and inclusive curricula through co-developed pathways for ethical and respectful community-led and relevant research pathways and student practicums.

The eventual goal is to increase the number of Indigenous nurses within the Canadian workforce and improve Indigenous health while teaching and mentoring students, faculty and nurses to contribute to anti-racism and health equity through sustainable respectful collaboration.

“We need to address systemic racism,” she adds. “And we need the development of new practice standards for anti-racist, culturally safe, humble and responsive care to ensure health delivery systems are safer for all First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.”

To learn more about UBCO’s Indigenous Master of Science in Nursing pathway visit:

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A photo of one of the 2023 graduation processions.

UBCO celebrated the class of 2023 this week including the top academic students and medal winners.

This week UBC Okanagan celebrated the graduating students of 2023. As part of graduation, the top academic students are recognized for their accomplishments which often include high academic grades and community service.

Governor General’s Gold Medal

A passion for research, a personal connection and the desire to help a population often overlooked by researchers took Sarah Lawrason down a path that eventually led to one of UBC Okanagan’s top accomplishments.

Dr. Lawrason has been named UBCO’s 2023 winner of the Governor General’s Gold Medal. She completed her PhD in Kinesiology, spending several years researching people who live with incomplete spinal cord injuries (SCI). Her research led to the design, implementation and evaluation of a mobile-based physical activity program for people with an SCI who walk. The goal was to support this particular population to become more physically active.

“Physical activity is so beneficial for health and wellbeing, but there is little research and resources to support people with SCI and even less for those with an SCI who can walk,” she says.

Dr. Lawrason admits there is a personal side to her drive. Her brother sustained an SCI in 2016—helping him live the best life he can became part of her mandate.

The Governor General’s Gold Medal is awarded to the student who has achieved the most outstanding academic record as a doctoral or master’s student completing a dissertation or thesis.

While working on her PhD, Dr. Lawrason conducted five studies with the ambulatory SCI population—a growing segment often referred to as the “forgotten ones” because they have been completely overlooked in health research and promotion, she says. Her research engaged with the SCI community and tech-industry partners to achieve significant breakthroughs and help pave the way for further scientific and clinical applications.

She conducted her research under the supervision of Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, who describes Dr. Lawrason as someone with an exemplary record of high-impact, novel, interdisciplinary, community-engaged research who has made diverse and considerable contributions to society.

“Sarah has established an outstanding reputation for research leadership and conducted her PhD research with unwavering commitment to using community-engaged methods and improving the health of people with disabilities,” says Dr. Martin Ginis. “Of the 13 PhD students I’ve supervised, she ranks among the top in terms of breadth and depth of skill and is more than deserving of this recognition.”

Governor General’s Silver Medal winner

Solomon Thiessen, described as an “exceptionally gifted” School of Engineering student, has been named the winner of UBC’s Governor General’s Silver Medal. It is awarded annually to the student who has achieved the highest academic standing of all students in their graduating year. UBC awards three silver medals each year: one in arts, one in science and one for all other faculties including those at UBC Okanagan.

Thiessen recently completed his Bachelor of Applied Science with UBCO’s School of Engineering, impressing his professors by earning a final mark of 100 per cent on 12 of his engineering courses.

He has a keen interest in computer engineering and he minored in computer science. During his studies, he worked on a variety of projects including a portable MRI device with Drs. Rebecca Feldman and Sabine Weyand as well as a wireless sensor node network with Dr. Dean Richert. Despite his heavy course load, he also volunteered as a tutor in math, physics, applied science and computer science through the student learning hub and worked as a teaching assistant in the automation lab.

Within the School of Engineering, he was held in high esteem among the teaching staff, says Dr. Dean Richert, an Assistant Professor of Teaching in Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering

“It has been an absolute pleasure to witness Sol’s progression throughout his degree and I am delighted to see him being acknowledged as a recipient of this award,” says Dr. Richert. “Sol not only possesses exceptional academic prowess but also demonstrates an outstanding work ethic and professionalism, distinguishing himself as one of the most exceptional students I have had the privilege of working with.”

Thiessen has been accepted to the computer science master’s program at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Following his studies at ETH Zurich, he plans to pursue a PhD in artificial intelligence. In the meantime, he is “tinkering” on a few software projects while working as a contractor for the Western Canadian Learning Network.

Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation

A well-travelled and active member of the UBCO campus community, Haja Mabinty (Binta) Sesay has been named the winner of the Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation.

Sesay has just completed her degree in International Relations and has been recognized for her leadership and dedication to helping make UBCO a more inclusive campus community. During her four years of study, she volunteered with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office during back-to-school celebrations and spent two years volunteering with African Caribbean Student Club. She also held an executive role with the UBC Black caucus team and UBC’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force.

Sesay started her schooling in The Gambia and moved to the United Kingdom for part of her high school education, completing her last year in Jerusalem. She came to UBCO in 2018, having been attracted to the close-knit campus and knowing the programs were academically strong.

Although she applied for the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal, she had no expectations of winning the recognition and was surprised when notified she was the winner.

“Just getting the email to apply for the award made me feel accomplished,” she says. “I was super shocked when I got the email saying I was selected. I am so passionate about all the work I have done and never expect anything back, but it also feels nice to be recognized. I feel very honoured.”

The Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation recognizes students who have distinguished themselves through their post-secondary education with outstanding contributions to the promotion of inclusion, democracy or reconciliation.

Madison Tardif, who worked with Sesay at the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office, says she has played a key role in leading and working within various groups and committees to advocate for a more anti-racist and inclusive institution, with a particular focus on supporting the Black community.

“Binta has dedicated herself to the promotion of anti-racism across the university and in the broader community, advocating for changes that will continue to shape and improve the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff at UBC,” says Tardif. “Binta’s commitment to addressing structural inequities and advocating for a more inclusive campus shines in her leadership roles and her consistent desire to show up for and in solidarity with diverse communities.”

Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize

Madyson Campbell, who received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree Thursday, is the winner of the Pushor Mitchell Gold Medal Leadership Prize. Knowing she eventually planned to go to medical school, Campbell came to UBCO from Thunder Bay wanting to experience a few years living in a different province and knew the Okanagan would suit her lifestyle.

While working on her degree she participated in several multidisciplinary undergraduate research projects in health and worked on a student-led project to develop a pilot curriculum on a restorative approach to improve the experiences of patients who have been harmed within the health care system.

Campbell is a proud citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario and works to advocate for and ensure the voices of Métis youth are heard at the provincial and national levels.

“The support provided by this award is immeasurable, as it allows students like myself to continue our academic and leadership goals after graduating from UBC. This award has allowed me to pursue a research opportunity this summer at the University of Toronto. I cannot understate how deeply honoured I am to have been chosen by this committee. I will carry this recognition with me as I move forward in my academic and career pursuits.”

As a winner of the Pushor Mitchell award, she receives a $10,000 scholarship which she says will support her journey as she enters the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Thunder Bay this fall.

The Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize recognizes a top graduating student who has excelled academically and has shown leadership while earning their degree.

“Pushor Mitchell LLP is thrilled to support another exceptional graduate at UBC Okanagan with our Gold Medal Leadership Award, as they make their way to become the next generation of great leaders in our community, both in the Okanagan and beyond”, says Joni Metherell, Managing Partner for Pushor Mitchell. “We congratulate Madyson and all of UBCO’s 2023 graduates on their success.”

Heads of Graduating Class

University of BC Medal in Arts
Samantha Barg

University of BC Medal in Education
Isabela Richard

University of BC Medal in Engineering
Solomon Thiessen

University of BC Medal in Fine Arts
Josie Hillman

University of BC Medal in Human Kinetics
Melina Marini

University of BC Medal in Management
Aurora Gardiner

University of BC Medal in Media Studies
Amanda McIvor

University of BC Medal in Nsyilxcn Language Fluency
Sheri Stelkia

University of BC Medal in Nursing
Kayla Petersen

University of BC Medal in Science
Harman Sohal

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A photo of graduating students throwing their caps

Students in the class of 2023 will graduate in six different ceremonies at UBCO this week.

This week, UBC Okanagan will celebrate the graduating class of 2023. And while hundreds of students will cross the stage to accept their degrees, there will still be a series of unique firsts.

On June 8 and 9, UBCO will confer more than 2,300 degrees during six graduation ceremonies. On Thursday, the first-ever Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency degree graduates will receive their degrees.

“Graduation provides us the opportunity to recognize and congratulate our students and their successes,” says Dr. Lesley Cormack, UBCO’s Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. “I am incredibly proud of all of our students, with particular note for those receiving our first degrees in Nsyilxcn Language Fluency.”

The Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency degrees will be conferred by UBC’s Chancellor, the Honourable xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl Steven Point. Chancellor Point will also confer honorary degrees on suiki?st Pauline Terbasket, Executive Director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and Lindsay Gordon, Point’s predecessor as UBC Chancellor. Interim UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Deborah Buszard, who is the former UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, will share the stage throughout the six graduation ceremonies with Dr. Cormack, the current campus Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

There are three ceremonies on Thursday, the first beginning at 8:30 am, and three on Friday morning with the first also starting at 8:30 am.

Of the more than 2,320 degrees being presented this week, more than 450 students will earn their master’s degree, and 60 are being conferred as PhDs. These students have reached the highest level of achievement in their disciplines, says Dr. Cormack.

She also notes the students graduating this year continued their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pivoted to online courses as the university quickly adapted to online and remote delivery of classes in 2020.

“I offer the UBC Okanagan class of 2023 my warmest congratulations for their remarkable achievements,” says Dr. Cormack. “These students persevered through an unusual time none of us could have predicted. They stayed dedicated to their studies as they not only transitioned to online learning, but back onto campus last year to complete their studies in-person. I am so grateful for this group of students as they showed grit and passion and worked through an extraordinary time to complete their studies. With these experiences, we know they have the ability to realize their highest ambitions, both personally and by shaping the world they’re entering as UBC alumni.”

The 18th annual graduation celebration happens Thursday and Friday inside the UBC Okanagan gymnasium. Parking is free during the day.

Quick facts:

  • 2,320 students will cross the stage during six graduation ceremonies
  • Two honorary degrees will be conferred, one each day
  • Thursday, 8:30 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science
  • Thursday, 11 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Science
  • Thursday, 1:30 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies**
    ** Including the Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency
  • Friday, 8:30 am, Faculty of Health and Social Development*
    * Including nursing and social work
  • Friday, 11 am, Faculty of Education: Okanagan School of Education and the Faculty of Management
  • Friday, 1:30 pm, Faculty of Applied Science: School of Engineering
  • Parking is free both days

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A UBCO researcher cautions poor eating habits established while at univeristy can lead to health challenges later in life.

A UBC Okanagan researcher is cautioning that a person’s poor eating habits established during post-secondary studies can contribute to future health issues including obesity, respiratory illnesses and depression.

Dr. Joan Bottorff, a Professor with UBCO’s School of Nursing, is one of several international researchers who published a multi-site study looking at the eating habits of university students. Almost 12,000 medical students from 31 universities in China participated in the study that aimed to determine the association between eating behaviours, obesity and various diseases.

The point, says Dr. Bottorff, is that many poor eating habits begin at university and can continue for decades.

“We know many students consume high-calorie meals along with sugary foods and drinks and there is lots of evidence to show those kinds of eating behaviours can lead to obesity,” says Dr. Bottorff. “These are not the only habits that lead to obesity, but they are important and can’t be ruled out.”

The study, published recently in Preventive Medicine Reports, was led by Dr. Shihui Peng with the School of Medicine at China’s Jinan University. While there is well-established research that links unhealthy diets to many chronic diseases, this study aimed to show a relationship between poor eating habits and infectious diseases including colds and diarrhea.

Dr. Bottorff notes, due to the nature of the study, it was not possible to show cause and effect but the relationship between poor eating habits, obesity and respiratory illnesses were well supported.

“There has been biomedical research that also supports this link between obesity and infectious diseases, and most recently this has been related to COVID-19,” she adds. “We know from some of the recent publications related to COVID-19, obese people were more likely to have severe conditions and outcomes. Reasons that have been offered for this increased vulnerability include impaired breathing from the pressure of extra weight and poorer inflammatory and immune responses.”

A typical student diet of high-sugar or high-calorie foods can become a long-term issue as these habits can lead to obesity. Dr. Bottorff says there is evidence to show that stress and anxiety can cause overeating, but overeating can also lead to stress and depression.

“The bottom line here is that we shouldn’t be ignoring this risk pattern among young people at university. It is well documented that a significant portion of students have unhealthy diets,” she adds. “The types of foods they are eating are linked to obesity. And this can lead to other health problems that are not just about chronic disease but also infectious diseases.”

While Dr. Bottorff says students should be taught about healthy eating while at university the onus should be on the school to provide healthy, and affordable, food options for all students.

“We need to think about the food environment that we provide students. We need to ensure that in our cafeterias and vending machines, there are healthy food options so that they can eat on the go but also make healthy food choices.”

It’s not an issue going unnoticed. UBC Student Wellness and Food Services work together to address food security and food literacy and recognize that a lack of affordable food options, coupled with the stress of university life, can negatively impact students’ food choices.

Food insecure students have access to a low-barrier food bank and a meal share program. Meanwhile, UBCO Food Services’ culinary team prioritizes local, organic and sustainably-sourced ingredients, and works with a registered dietitian to ensure a wide variety of food options are available to all diners.

Dr. Bottorff agrees there have been improvements to food options in cafeterias and notes the drinks in many vending machines have been rearranging so healthier items are at eye-level and sugary choices are lower down.

“I know many post-secondary schools are trying to figure out how we can do better and are trying to address these problems,” she adds. “It’s great, because four or five years ago, we weren’t. So, I think we’re on the right road, but I think we’re a long way from finished.”

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Seniors enjoying basketball

During March UBCO will host a variety of informative events and activities aimed at bettering the quality of life among older adults in the community.

It was 10 years ago that health researchers at UBC Okanagan came up with a plan to help people in the community age well.

While the idea of embracing aging seems simple enough, Professor Joan Bottorff says aging is a natural part of life and is something we all should aim to do in a healthy manner. But our bodies, and our minds, are complex. Embrace Aging Month aims to help people enjoy the journey and live every day to its fullest.

Embrace Aging Month is organized by UBCO’s Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention (IHLCDP) in partnership with Interior Savings Credit Union and Interior Health.

“Embrace Aging Month brings into focus the joy of aging and at the same time provides tips and ideas on how to navigate this phase of life,” explains Dr. Bottorff, Professor of Nursing and IHLCDP Director. “We have organized a variety of events that will share information aimed at bettering the quality of life among older adults, their families and caregivers.”

Dr. Bottorff says in the next few decades, one-quarter of Canada’s population will be 65 or older—that’s about 12 million people. That statistic alone makes programs that support successful and healthy aging vital for everyone.

“If you think about it, that is one in four Canadians. This is a large part of our population and I’d like to think Embrace Aging Month brings into focus the importance of supporting older adults in our communities,” she adds. “We’re hoping to do that by providing a month full of events and activities complete with great information and the latest research that is relevant to anyone at any age.”

The month is jampacked with a variety of events. UBC faculty and doctoral students will discuss the perceptions and stigma surrounding medicinal cannabis on March 3. Another event on March 8 will explore whether the stigma of dementia changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there are several panel discussions, there are also many events that will encourage people to get active. Activities include chair yoga and dance classes, e-bike demonstrations and even a guided birdwatching walk. Other options include tips for living well after a knee replacement, or a session that explains how to use technology–such as smartwatches and similar devices—to get moving to improve metabolic health.

Interior Savings has been a contributor to Embrace Aging Month for the past seven years. CEO Brian Harris explains the corporation continues to support the month-long event because it fully believes in building connected and age-friendly communities.

“The importance of health and wellbeing to the strength and vibrancy of our community cannot be overstated,” says Harris, adding Interior Savings is a fully certified Age-Friendly Business. “Aging impacts us all, which is why it’s essential we come together as a community to explore ways to age well and to support one another through the process. We encourage everyone to check out the full slate of events and activities on offer.”

And Dr. Bottorff notes while the month is called Embrace Aging, most of the events are suitable for people of all ages. Caretakers and family members are encouraged to participate in any of the activities.

“The goal of this, and all other Embrace Aging events, is to create awareness and educational opportunities for older adults and their families to learn the many aspects of good physical, mental and social health,” she adds. “Focusing on how well we age is key to enhancing the quality of our later years.”

All events are free and open to the public, and many will be offered with the option of participating virtually via Zoom. They begin Wednesday, March 1 and continue throughout the month. For a full event schedule and registration details, visit:

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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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Seniors having a conversation

UBC Okanagan’s NavCARE, designed to help older people with declining health age safely in their homes, has now expanded to six European countries.

The European Commission is investing more than $8 million to adapt a volunteer health-care navigation program developed jointly by UBC Okanagan and the University of Alberta.

NavCARE, created to help older persons living with declining health age safely in their homes, launched in 2014 with researchers from UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing and the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Nursing. The goal was to connect volunteers with older people living at home to help maintain their independence and support their quality of life needs.

After a three-year study that determined older persons living in rural communities with declining health can maintain better, healthier lives if they have the help of a trained volunteer, Dr. Barb Pesut, a UBCO Nursing Professor, and Dr. Wendy Duggleby with the UAlberta Faculty of Nursing launched NavCARE. It started small, in three rural communities in BC. But as Dr. Pesut explains, the need to help the aging population is urgent.

“Far too often, supportive care comes too late and many people are left struggling,” she says. “People living at home with declining health need support early—and volunteer navigators have enormous potential to provide this support and improve their quality of life.”

The program has grown significantly since its inception and in 2021 Health Canada awarded $2.2 million to expand NavCARE across the country.

“This expansion across Canada has been exciting, as we have seen diverse communities across Canada benefit from NavCARE” explains Dr. Duggleby.

Now, a group of European partners will use the NavCARE model to implement a similar program, called EU NAVIGATE, for older people with cancer.

“The concept of care navigation hardly exists in Europe,” explains Dr. Lieve Van den Block, lead researcher for EU NAVIGATE and Professor of Aging and Palliative Care at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) and the VUB-University of Ghent End-of-Life Care Research Group. “This is a Canadian care intervention program that’s going to be adapted to the European Union health-care context. The goal is to see how it fits into the health-care systems in our countries and how older people with cancer can benefit from it, including those who usually lack access to health and social care services.”

Earlier this month, EU NAVIGATE began service in six countries: Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and Portugal. Researchers will monitor and evaluate the implementation of a navigation intervention for seniors with cancer. The program will also examine the impact on the patients and their family caregivers and will run as an international, pragmatic randomized controlled trial.

The three main dissemination partners are the European Cancer Organization, the European Association of Palliative Care and Age Platform Europe. In total, there are 11 partner groups, including one in Canada with Drs. Pesut and Duggleby.

While volunteers are at the heart of NavCARE, Dr. Van den Block says the program will vary in each European country, with some using paid social workers or health-care professionals.

The program was developed in such a way so it could be adapted to different contexts, Dr. Pesut explains.

“What’s so positive about this project is that while the underlying principles of NavCARE stay the same, they are meant to be flexible and adjustable depending on the needs of each country,” she says. “That’s the piece we’re very excited about—seeing its potential within different health-care systems and seeing how various countries chose to use our model and make it work for their specific needs.”

The funding, the equivalent of six million euros, will cover the implementation of the program in the six countries including clinical work, research and a full evaluation. Dr. Van den Block says once navigation services are mapped in Europe, the program can grow to perhaps include all cancer patients, not just senior ones, and she sees the potential for continued growth for the many people living across Europe with chronic illness, including those with frailty or dementia.

“We have really tapped into all the different stakeholder group’s needs to create positive impacts in Europe for people living with cancer,” she adds. “This is a unique project. It is exciting to build on knowledge developed in Canada and translate it to improve care in Europe.”

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Asian boy watching colorful bright tablet screen in dark

While it is recommended toddlers have less than one hour of screen time per day, UBCO researchers suspect that number might be higher. They are investigating how screen time might affect a child’s sleep.

Young children and the amount of screen time they enjoy has always been a controversial issue. And now, after living with COVID-19 for more than two years, a team of UBC Okanagan researchers is taking a second look at how much screen time young kids are getting and how this impacts their sleep and the family dynamics.

There’s no doubt screen time has increased in households across North America during the pandemic, says Associate Professor Dr. Susan Holtzman. After two years of living in isolation and dealing with remote work, home learning and socialization through video chats and gaming, it is time, she says, to take a fresh look at screen habits and how it’s impacting lives.

Dr. Holtzman, who teaches psychology in the Irving K Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and Dr. Elizabeth Keys, an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing have launched a new study to determine how screen time and sleep habits may have shifted during the pandemic. They want to know what this means for families now, and in the future.

Dr. Keys explains why this research matters and why parents should tune in.

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, children between the ages of two and five should use screens for less than one hour per day. But you suspect screen time is much higher, especially since the pandemic began. What’s changed?

Many parents have shifted temporarily or permanently to working from home. While this has had a number of advantages, it has also put parents in the tricky position of balancing work with caring for children who could not attend school or daycare due to actual or potential COVID-19 symptoms.

As a parent myself, I know that everyone has been doing the best they can. But some young children may have gotten used to having more screen time. Now that restrictions are lifting significantly, this is a good time to take another look at the habits that may have formed over the past two years to see how we can better support parents of young children.

What is the connection between a child’s screen time and sleep?

How screen time impacts the sleep of children is a fascinating area of research that is relevant to so many families. Some studies have linked more screen time with less sleep. One reason is that screen time can delay bedtimes. Another possible reason is that screen time can replace daytime physical activity—and we know being more active during the day can help with getting better sleep at night.

This new research looks at mothers and children aged two to five. Why that specific age?

Early childhood is a critical period for physical, social and emotional development—as well as the development of healthy habits. My research focuses on improving sleep health to promote healthy relationships in children and their families, starting in early childhood.

Sleep difficulties are very common in families of children under the age of five. These sleep difficulties can often disrupt parental sleep. In particular, we know the COVID-19 pandemic has been quite hard on mothers, who are already at increased risk of having sleeping difficulties. We all know how important a good night’s sleep is for our mental and physical wellbeing.

Why now?

We did a similar study in 2019 and more than 450 local parents participated. We are doing the survey again to look at the impact that COVID has had on the lives of families with young children. We are especially interested in looking at changes to sleep, screen time and family relationships. Are people less concerned about screen time? Is it seen as more normative? Has sleep changed in children and their mothers, who have had to juggle so many stressors over the last two years? What has been the impact on our family relationships?

To help with our research, we are looking for about 200 mothers of children aged two to five in the Central Okanagan to fill out a brief online survey located at:

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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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