Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Eight StFX students awarded prestigious Irving Research Mentorship Awards

June 1st, 2017
Irving Research Mentorship Award recipients, front row from left, Heather-Ann Burrell, Thomas Ciha, and Sean Rowley. Back, Kirsten Gallant, Jamie Forsyth, and Leah Gray. Absent are Craig Duininck and Alison Armstrong.

This summer, the Irving Research Mentorship Awards program at StFX is allowing eight StFX students to conduct research that runs the gamut from gaining a better understanding of the molecular pathways that are targeted by bean consumption for chronic disease prevention to exploring carbon accumulation rates of different wetland types.

The prestigious award program, offered through StFX’s Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership, awards each recipient $6,000 in funding for 12 weeks of research. The students, who represent a variety of disciplines, each work under the guidance of a StFX faculty member.

“The visionary financial support provided by Arthur and Sandra Irving for these highly enriching student research awards is enabling a whole generation of StFX students to immerse themselves in important research studies while being mentored by our talented faculty members. Our students are developing valuable academic, life and leadership skills through these unique opportunities. This is what StFX is all about,” says McKenna Centre executive director Mary Coyle.

Thomas Ciha, Jamie Forsyth, Heather-Ann Burrell, Sean Rowley, Leah Gray, Craig Duininck, Kirsten Gallant and Alison Armstrong are this year’s Irving Research Mentorship Award recipients.


“I feel exceedingly fortunate to be a recipient of this award, as I am given the opportunity to explore a new and exciting area of food and nutrition research that I could potentially follow into my career,” says Heather-Ann Burrell of Pickering, ON.

The fourth year honours human nutrition student will be examining Nova Scotian bean protein concentrates as potential sources of bioactive peptides with antihypertensive qualities.

“The overall aim of the research is to gain a better understanding of the molecular pathways that are targeted by bean consumption for chronic disease prevention, in particular hypertension,” she says.

“In addition, working under the guidance of Professor Marcia English will allow me to grow as a student researcher as I will learn various laboratory techniques and will build my critical thinking skills.”

Alison Armstrong of New Westminster, BC, says the Irving Mentorship Award is funding her internship this summer at the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association where she is conducting research on sexual violence policies in Nova Scotia.

Ms. Armstrong just graduated from StFX with a joint major in anthropology and women's and gender studies. She will return next year to complete an honours in anthropology with a subsidiary in women's and gender studies. She is supervised by Dr. Clare Fawcett.

“I am exploring how provincial policies have shifted due to changes in government and in response to cases of sexual violence that have been publicized in the media, and therefore gained public attention. This research is extremely important in drawing attention to the patterns and power dynamics reflected in the development and implementation of sexual violence policies, and showing where there are gaps in service provision to those most in need,” she says. 

Ms. Armstrong says her findings can be of practical use to service providers across the province addressing sexual violence, and that she is honoured to have the opportunity to research in this field and hopefully will make a real impact.


“Never before have I felt that there is such a level of confidence in my competence as an academic, and it is both refreshing, daunting and empowering to have that support,” says Leah Gray of Sharon, ON, who is entering her final year in honours philosophy with a subsidiary in political science.  

“The Irving Research Award is allowing me to take a focused look into an issue that I have extreme interest in, broadening my skill set, and critically testing my knowledge. I could not be more grateful for the opportunity and the experience.”

Ms. Gray is examining the question of whether it is ethical, healthy and according to human nature to engage in a hook-up culture, pivoting her research around Jeremy Bentham's lesser known work, Of Sexual Irregularities.

“Working with Dr. Doug Al-Maini is a great opportunity as he has already done in depth research into erotic philosophy and the dynamics of love, even if not specifically in the direction I am going,” she says.  

“This amazing opportunity is allowing me to pursue my interests and augment the breadth and depth of my understanding in computer science,” says Thomas Ciha of Germantown, Wisconsin, who just finished his first year in computer science. He is researching machine learning and implementing various learning algorithms and will be working with a PhD student to explore ways in which various learning algorithms can be applied to financial markets. His supervisor is Dr. Laurence Yang.


Kirsten Gallant of Antigonish, NS, a third year honours economics student, taking a subsidiary in math, says this experience has allowed her to develop a new skill set including planning field work, using GIS and learning new carbon sampling techniques.

Her research, supervised by economics professor Dr. Patrick Withey and earth sciences professor Dr. Dave Risk, explores the variation of net greenhouse gases and carbon accumulation rates of different wetland types. “An economic model will be constructed using independently collected empirical data to determine the relative value of wetlands in Nova Scotia especially with respect to restoration and conservation,” she says

“The project is allowing me to realize the defining characteristics and true value of wetlands while taking a multidisciplinary approach to illustrate the economic cost and benefits associated with certain destructive activities imposed on wetlands such as agricultural development,” she says.

“Receiving this mentorship award means a lot to me and also means a lot for my research,” says Craig Duininck of St. Cloud, Minnesota, a fourth year BBA honours entrepreneurship student who is taking a minor in psychology. 

His research looks at the effects of individual recognition on team productivity.

“In simpler terms, when people are working together as a team, will they be more productive or less productive if halfway through the objective one team member gets recognized for doing the best individual job. For example, when a group of employees are working together, is it a good idea by management to award a single employee of the month award, or does that actually cause other workers to work less? This topic has not actually been studied before in an individualistic culture like the U.S. or Canada,” he says.

“Without this help I would have to sacrifice a major portion of my study, which would also effect my ultimate findings. Furthermore, getting the opportunity to work extensively with Dr. Karen Blair has taught me a great deal about conducting research, and I am really looking forward to what the rest of the summer has in store.”

“Thanks to the Irving Research Mentorship Award, I have the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research and collaborate with world-class scientists from StFX and other institutions. On top of that, I get to spend my summer in the lovely town of Antigonish,” says Sean Rowley, a fourth year honours math student from Truro NS.

His research, with Dr. Jacob Levman, is focused on applying machine learning techniques to MRI examinations to help diagnose and characterize autism. He is also investigating some common issues that can arise with the use of machine learning.

Jamie Forsyth of Valley, NS, a fourth year economics honours student taking a subsidiary in mathematics, is looking into soil carbon and its effect on economically optimal forest harvesting, as well as the influence from climate change as a whole. She is supervised by Dr. Patrick Withey. “This opportunity will help me through gaining both research experience and additional education in a subject I am truly interested in.”

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


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