Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Seven StFX students will gain valuable research experience through McKenna Centre’s Irving Mentorship Awards

April 15th, 2015
Irving Research Mentorship Award recipients are, l-r, Matthew Cormier, Victoria Sandre, Shannon Taylor, Theora Holden, Maggie Edwards and Xiaoying Deng. Missing from photo is Alex Miller.

Seven StFX students have each received a $6,000, 12-week Irving Research Mentorship Award through the Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership. The prestigious award will allow them the opportunity to gain valuable research experience in their field of study over the summer months. 

The Irving Mentorship Program allows students from a variety of disciplines to work under the guidance of a StFX faculty member. The students benefit from hands-on experiential learning and a personalized education. Faculty members are also able to produce more research thanks to student help.
“We are so fortunate to have these unique opportunities for developing student leadership through research at StFX. The student researchers will gain invaluable experience as they undertake their various projects under the close mentorship of our talented StFX faculty. I look forward to hearing about the research results and the growth and learning experienced by our students,” says Mary Coyle, Executive Director, Frank McKenna Centre for Leadership.
This year’s recipients include students Matthew Cormier, Xiaoying Deng, Maggie Edwards, Theora Holden, Alex Miller, Victoria Sandre, and Shannon Taylor. Their research will range from projects focused on Sjogren’s syndrome disease, one of the most common systemic rheumatic autoimmune diseases, to credit card rate default data, to improving food sovereignty in a community in the Northwest Territories. 
“It means so much to have been granted the Irving Mentorship Award,” says Theora Holden, a third year honours biology student from Antigonish, NS, who will work with biology professor Dr. Barry Taylor to research specific habitat requirements for the semi-rare plant Triosteum auranticum. “The award will give us the ability to conduct our research to the fullest without worrying about available funds, and will allow us to explore many facets of Triosteum's habitat over the course of this summer. It is great to see StFX and Irving supporting undergraduate research, making it a priority for the university community.”
Ms. Holden says the research is based on distribution data that had previously been collected, beginning in 2007. “We will look at the distribution of this plant around the Antigonish and Pictou area to determine if the populations are growing or declining, why these changes may be happening, and why certain patches of seemingly 'prime habitat' are not being used by Triosteum. The results we obtain from this research will form the basis of my thesis.”
Xiaoying Deng of Hunan, China, a third year honours mathematics student in the statistics stream, says the research she will do focuses on Sjogren’s syndrome disease, one of the most common systemic rheumatic autoimmune diseases. “In order to improve diagnosis and management of Sjogren’s syndrome in patients, we mainly make study from two aspects,” she says on the work she will do under the supervision of Dr. Xu (Sunny) Wang. “For one thing, we aim to investigate the diagnosis and try to develop statistical supervised learning tools to determine which non-invasive tests can accurately identify the patients with Sjogren’s syndrome disease. For another, we intend to understand the natural history of Sjogren’s syndrome and provide a timeline of development of the disease, and the effects of various treatment plans on morbidity and quality of life in Sjogren’s syndrome patients.”


As an international student, she says it is a great honour to receive this award. “This is absolutely an affirmation of the efforts I’ve done in the last two years under the supervision of many of my professors. This is a good opportunity to see the further development of knowledge and learn advanced applications based on the abstract knowledge I’ve learned in my courses. In the meantime, I think it may help me make some significant decisions later and take me to a positive way to go as it comes along the last year of my undergraduate study.”

“Being a recipient of the Irving Mentorship Award is an immense honour, as I will be conducting research alongside distinguished professors and lab demonstrators in a field of exceptional interest to me,” says second year advanced major chemistry student Victoria Sandre of Ottawa, ON who will work with chemistry professor Dr. Gerrard Marangoni on asymmetric gemini surfactants, molecules that reduce the surface tension of liquids. 
“Our research will take place within the labs of the Physical Sciences Centre, where we will be investigating the effects of different chain and spacer lengths of gemini surfactants. Additionally, we will be observing the interaction of poorly water-soluble drugs in ionic micellar systems and in surfactant systems. Our research goals for the summer are to further understand both hydrophilic and hydrophobic interactions of asymmetric surfactant systems, as well as discover how to more effectively solubilize poorly water soluble drugs and apply these findings to drug-delivery systems. I will also have the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art chemical instruments, including a 400 MHz NMR spectrometer, light scattering instrumentation, and UV-VIS spectroscopic determinations.” 
Matthew Cormier of Antigonish, NS, a third year honours Bachelor of Arts student taking economics with a subsidiary in mathematics, statistics & computer science, will work with economics professor Dr. Greg Tkacz looking at credit card default rate data that has been collected over the past 20 years. 
“Under the assumption that people are more likely to default on their credit cards before their mortgages, we want to see if changes in monetary policy by the central bank are amplified by these default rates. This research could help to inform central bank economists on the magnitude by which they should change interest rates to minimize the probability of policy errors. 

“Having the opportunity to hold an Irving Award this summer means a lot to me,” he says. “Greg's mentorship will be invaluable. He always has innovative ideas and I look forward to learning from him and gaining skills in economic analysis that most undergraduates aren't exposed to. It will also be beneficial to make headway on my honours thesis research before school starts back up in the fall.”

Alex Miller, a political science and aquatic resources student from Riverview, NB, will examine Nova Scotia's transition from fossil fuel based electricity generation systems to renewable energy resources, in particular ocean energy. Working with Dr. Peter Clancy, he will look at this transition through a political lens, examining the actions taken by the Government of Nova Scotia as well as different interest groups which have shaped the way policies are made and implemented. He will also consider the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the transition to renewable energy resources, as it is important to understand complex issues in a holistic way. 
“The opportunity to conduct research with the support of the Irving Mentorship fund will help develop my academic and research skills at a higher level than standard course studies permit, and provide direction for the research I will undertake in my fourth year honours thesis. It will also enhance my capacity to pursue post-graduate studies,” he says.

Shannon Taylor of Pickering, ON, says she thrilled the research grant will allow her to conduct research on equity and fairness norms in developing children across cultures with her psychology professor Dr. Tara Callaghan. 
“Having done something like this will open so many doors in the future,” she says. “To be so young and to be able to delve into cross-cultural research, I’m still in my undergraduate. It’s incredible.
Maggie Edwards of Aurora, Ontario, an honours development studies student with a subsidiary in English, will this summer investigate a community initiative that has the goal of improving food sovereignty in Hay River, NWT. “Like many communities in Canada’s Far North, Hay River experiences a number of challenges accessing food, such as incredibly high food prices and lack of availability or choice,” says Ms. Edwards, who is supervised by Drs. Clare Fawcett and Susan Vincent.

“As a result, consumers have very little control over the foods they eat. My research will explore whether shifting towards food sovereignty is a good approach to these challenges in the food system. I seek to gain a comprehensive understanding of how the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) operates and what impact participation in the NFTI workshops has had on participants in shifting towards some measure of food sovereignty.  

“It is a privilege to be able to research a topic I feel so passionate about in a community that is taking positive steps to improving their food system. I look forward to learning about food sovereignty through the voices and experiences of community members of Hay River, and I hope that my research will contribute to the community's food justice movement.” 

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