Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Irving Research Mentorship presents StFX students exciting opportunity to learn, contribute new knowledge 

June 17th, 2021
Irving Research Mentorship award recipients pictured include, top row, from left, Abbie Benjamin, Annie Chadwick, Elise Collet and Ethan Draper. Bottom row: Fiona Amos, Jocelyne LeBlanc, Ken Matheson, and Sam Poirier.

Spending the summer months immersed in research work is an exciting opportunity to learn and also contribute to new knowledge, say the eight student recipients of the Irving Research Mentorship award at StFX. 

The students, Fiona Amos, Jocelyne LeBlanc, Sam Poirier, Elise Collet, Ethan Draper, Ken Matheson, Annie Chadwick and Abbie Benjamin, have each received $7,000 and will spend 16 weeks working on their individual research projects. 

“Having an opportunity such as this allows me to focus entirely on the development and execution of this research project, which I am especially grateful for given the added stresses felt by everyone because of the pandemic. I am particularly excited to expand my knowledge in this area in order to better equip myself with the skills necessary to influence positive healthcare change throughout my career. Ultimately, I feel this research will provide me with the knowledge and experience to participate in future efforts related to social justice and activism in healthcare,” says Annie Chadwick, a fourth year nursing student from Calgary, AB, who is studying the education nursing students receive regarding social justice. She is supervised by Sionnach Hendra. 

“Advocacy is a huge component of nursing, and as such, we must be able to not only recognize the societal and political injustices contributing to health disparities, but also acknowledge our responsibility to use our knowledge and resources to advocate for positive change. The health disparities faced by equity seeking populations today are so vastly intertwined with a variety of societal injustices, it is essential that as patient and population health advocates, nurses are well versed in the issues facing our increasingly complex society,” she says.  

Ms. Chadwick will conduct interviews with fourth year nursing students to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences, thoughts, and attitudes towards social justice, nursing activism, and their education on the subjects. “The goal of this research is to understand how prepared students feel to participate in social justice through nursing activism as they transition into professional practice. I also hope to identify teaching methods students felt provided a comprehensive understanding of the topic, as well as areas of potential growth.”


Fiona Amos of Toronto, ON, a fourth year honours human nutrition student, will be working under the supervision of Dr. Marcia English to perform a microbial extraction of chitin from lobster shells and investigate its potential application in biodegradable packaging films. 

“The Irving Research Mentorship has given me the opportunity to develop my laboratory skills and problem-solving abilities while also providing new insights on how to create more sustainable food systems,” she says.  

Samuel Poirier, a second year climate and environment student from St. Stephen, NB supervised by Dr. Patrick Withey, will be looking at the economic impact of subsidizing the renewable energy sectors in the Nova Scotian market. “I will be doing this using a Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) Model, which is a series of non-linear equations designed to represent a given market and its response to disturbances. The goal of the project is to try and build an accurate model of the Nova Scotia market with relevant data, shock the system, and analyze the gravity and extent of these shocks. The model will allow us to incorporate a wide range of economic metrics and sectors, making it possible to gain an understanding of the full effect of each respective shock,” he says. 

He says their model allows them to make predictions of how the provincial economy will respond to the subsidization of the renewable sector. The desired outcome is to be able to contribute to the literature surrounding the subject as well as inform local policy. “To me, this opportunity is a good start. It is a chance to begin a hopefully long career of affecting change with regard to climate change. I appreciate the greater perspective and better understanding of the economic field that this learning experience is able to provide me. I am looking forward to being able to apply that new perspective to my future work.” 


Elise Collet of Upper Kingsclear, NB, a fourth year honour's biology student supervised by Dr. David Garbary, says her project is focused on assessing the general ecology of the black ash sites near Antigonish County, NS. The goal of this research is to understand the specific ecological factors that support the growth and success of black ash populations. “This will allow for trees being impacted by the construction on Highway 104 to have the best chance of survival after transplantation. Moreover, identification of black ash populations will allow us to monitor them and protect them from the catastrophic consequences that the Emerald Ash Borer brings. Given the threatened status of this species, it is vital that we understand its general ecology so we can manage the populations,” she says. 

Black ash, she says, is a species of ash tree native to central and eastern North America. It is a culturally significant tree to the Mi’kmaw people, however, it is currently a threatened species both nationally and provincially. A major threat is the invasive Emerald Ash Borer, which can decimate populations of ash trees. Additionally, during construction for the twinning of Highway 104 between Sutherland’s River and Antigonish, NS, several areas have been identified as supporting black ash and it is expected that the species will be impacted by the work. As a result, a plan has been developed to save as many of these trees as possible by transplanting them to nearby suitable habitats. 

“I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to be doing research this summer. Given the current circumstances with the pandemic, I feel lucky to be not only employed but that I get to go to work every day and do something I am very passionate about. Furthermore, the skills I am learning this summer will be invaluable for my future studies and for my career. I am also grateful that through this award I have the opportunity to work towards protecting a threatened and culturally significant species in the province of Nova Scotia,” she says. 

Ethan Draper, a third year applied forensic psychology student, from Ottawa, ON supervised by Dr. Margo Watt, is teaming up with Ethan Heavey in the Convergence Lab to design a computational social science (CSS) model that will look at variable interplay in mass shooter cases. “We're hoping to find what variables are seen most frequently in combination, what variables seem to increase victim count, and what those implications are for policy changes. This project is quite exploratory, so it might give us information that would support changes to gun restrictions, or it might help us debunk myths about the role mental illness plays in violence, or it might even show us that some variables we thought irrelevant deserve further consideration. Following the wake of the mass shooting that happened in Nova Scotia last year, we hope that we'll be able to learn valuable information that will support the implementation of preventative measures.”

He says he never expected to be working on a project like this in his undergrad, so he was ecstatic by the opportunity. “I intend to pursue graduate studies, so having a chance to go through the process of designing a project, applying for funding, and engaging in interdisciplinary work was incredibly valuable. This opportunity has also exposed me to CSS, which was something I had never heard of before but definitely hope to use in future projects.”


Jocelyne LeBlanc, a third-year, BASc Health with biomedical concentration student from Antigonish County, NS, will be researching family members and supports' experiences with Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) in Canada with her supervisor, Dr. Ellen Crumley. “These perspectives will help us better understand what needs to be improved within the MAiD process, as well as assist the development of supports for those going through MAiD with someone,” she says. 

“I am incredibly thankful for having been chosen as a recipient of the Irving Research Mentorship award. It will allow me to gain research experience without having to juggle full-time employment on the side. I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in research that will help improve the provision of a relatively new, yet important health care service.”

“The research grant allows me to start my thesis research four months early, and time is the most valuable component of a research project. The early start will enable me to have one or more chapter of my theses completed in time to include it in my application package for my master’s degree,” says Ken Matheson, originally from Tiverton, ON and now of Georgeville, NS, a fourth year honours philosophy student taking an art history subsidiary

“My research will provide the supporting evidence for my philosophy honours thesis: British, German, and Canadian Expressionism in Art Theory: The Case of Collingwood and Barker Fairley,” he says. “Barker Fairley (1887-1986) was a British-born Canadian academic and prolific writer as well as a painter with a wide knowledge of literature and the history of ideas. A professor of German literature at the University of Toronto, he wrote a seminal work, A Study of Goethe (1947), which is both an elucidation of Goethe’s literary works of art and a treatise on Fairley’s theory of the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of Goethe’s works. Although Fairley published widely, and he and others have written about his art, no one has documented or systematized the philosophical vision behind his ideas on visual art. My research and subsequent thesis will begin to fill that gap.” He is supervised by Dr. Louis Groarke. 

Abbie Benjamin, supervised by Dr. Donna Trembinski, is a fourth year history student from Warroad, Minnesota.

“Greenland has historically been a rather inhospitable place in regard to its natural arctic environment,” she says. “Greenland was colonized during the late 10th century by Norse people from Iceland. There were two colonies, an Eastern and a Western Settlement. However, the people in these colonies mysteriously disappeared during the late 14th and 15th centuries. My research seeks to prove that the Norse habitation of Greenland, both starts and ends with its proximity to desired trade goods, especially walrus ivory and good timber. I have been analyzing translations of primary sources such as Icelandic law texts as well as various Icelandic Sagas. 

“The objective of my research is to explore how the sagas and law texts support the centrality of walrus ivory as an export from Greenland and to further highlight timber as another vital part of not only Greenland’s economy but also the settlements' existence.”

This research is, in part, made possible by the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.


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