Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Five StFX students working on research from COVID-19 denial to the impact of population growth on food security as UCR Undergraduate Research Award recipients 

June 17th, 2021
Pictured are UCR Undergraduate Research Award recipients, top row from left, Rebecca Martino and Elle Lévesque. Bottom row: Brian Ellis-Legault, Kevanya Simmons and Maëlle Weber.

Five StFX students, Rebecca Martino, Elle Lévesque, Maëlle Weber, Brian Ellis-Legault and Kevanya Simmons, are set to gain invaluable research experience this summer as they work on individual projects—from COVID-19 denial to how population growth will impact food security—as recipients of the UCR Undergraduate Research Award. 

The award is valued at $7,000 and provides 16 weeks work experience. 

“Having an opportunity such as this allows me to have an advantage when it comes to applying to graduate schools next year as I will have plenty of research experience through StFX. This opportunity gives me the knowledge and experience I will need for my future academic career and beyond,” says Rebecca Martino of Beverly, MA, USA, a fourth year math major, taking a climate and environment minor.

Ms. Martino, who is supervised by Dr. Joe Apaloo and Dr. Hugo Beltrami, is using mathematical modelling systems to show how future population growth will affect the availability of arable lands and ultimately food security in the next 80 years. 

Elle Lévesque of Wolfville, NS a fourth year psychology student with a 2-Year Special Concentration in Forensic Psychology and a subsidiary in French, will work for the IWK, helping develop a manuscript for a study on the predictive validity of the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY), and specifically looking at the predictive validity of the assessment tool among Atlantic Canadian females. 

“Being granted an opportunity to work with clinical psychologists who are working with justice-involved youth in Nova Scotia is profound. In my future studies, I hope to continue with this line of work, so the chance to gain experience now is invaluable,” says Ms. Lévesque, who is supervised by Dr. Margo Watt.

Brian Ellis-Legault of Almonte, ON is a fourth year health student, majoring in biomedical science and minoring in the social determinants of health and health equity. He will spend the summer, under the supervision of Dr. Rod Bantjes, conducting research as part of his honours thesis on COVID-19 denial. 

“This two-part study, beginning with a large survey and followed up with various one-on-one interviews is aimed at determining what motivates students to deny the risks of COVID-19, which often materializes as non-compliance with public health restrictions. I hope to provide insight as to what the main drivers behind COVID-19 denial are and provide StFX administration with valuable recommendations to maximize compliance with COVID-19 protocol and that of future pandemics,” he says. 

“The UCR undergraduate research award serves as just one more reminder to me as to why I chose to come to StFX three years ago - very few other, if any, institutions offer undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct their own research, and when you combine that with the guidance of a well-respected professor with decades of experience, this opportunity is absolutely priceless. As I begin to think about postgraduate plans, I know that my research experience here at X has truly helped me to grow as an academic and researcher, much more than I ever could have imagined.”

Maëlle Weber of Cranbrook, BC, a third year honours women’s and gender studies student, will research asexual perspectives on sex education through online surveys and focus groups. “Sex education in Canada is outdated, heteronormative, and does not provide youth with the necessary resources to navigate their sexuality or engage in safe relationship practices. Bringing asexual perspectives to sex education will create a platform for comprehensive and justice-based sex education, which is gender-neutral, queer-inclusive, and discusses the importance of understanding the way people’s intersecting identities affect their experiences,” says Ms. Weber, who is supervised by Dr. Rachel Hurst.

“As a queer woman who did not receive comprehensive or justice-based sex education, I understand how important it is for youth to have the tools to make empowered decisions about their bodies and their lives. People cannot do that without a complete understanding of how heteronormative, patriarchal ideas of sexuality and relationships affect their mental and physical health. With this research grant, I can give youth the information they need to be safe and healthy. Asexual perspectives provide non-traditional insights into the best ways to make sex education sex-positive without enforcing compulsory sexuality. I plan to share my results with the Strait Regional School Board, Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, and Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey. When we as a society provide comprehensive and justice-based sex education that supports and empowers all community members, we begin the process of creating a safer world,” she says. 

Kevanya Simmons of Nassau, Bahamas, a fourth year aquatic resources, public policy and social research student, says her research project will examine the “Conch Crisis,” study in the Bahamas from a variety of perspectives, including government policies, the fishing industry, and the social and cultural significance conch in communities of North Eleuthera and Nassau. 

The Bahamian economy, she says, depends on tourism and fishing to produce $100 million annually in foreign exchange (Sea-Ex, 1996). Increased local fishing since 1980, however, has threatened life with the decline in many local seafoods (Tribune,2017). One of the most visible declines is that of the Queen Conch, called, by marine practitioners the ‘Conch Crisis,’ she says. 

“My project has four objectives: 1) To identify the social meaning and culture of the conch at the community-level; 2) To assess the effectiveness of enforced government policies and advise of marine response teams; 3) To determine gaps existing in current community capabilities to respond to the ‘Conch Crisis’; and 4) To identify best practices for local fishers and potential models at the community level to deal with conch decline in other islands of The Bahamas.” 

She says an opportunity such as this is one she’s dreamed of since she was a little girl, to excel and make an impact in the field of aquatic resources as a marine biologist for Bahamian marine life. 

“The Queen conch is embedded in Bahamian culture; it is impossible to visit the Bahamas without encountering conch. In the Bahamas you will see conch on the ocean floor when you are snorkeling, on the menu of a Bahamian restaurant or in a shopping venue where conch shells are sold as souvenirs. I anticipate my research will create an impact in community-based response of the Bahamian fishing industry and will call on action by citizens, fishers, and government officials to act in the interest of conserving the Queen Conch, a national symbol.” 





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