Ministries, grad students benefit from research practica

By Vivian Kereki

Yvonne Patterson doing fieldwork on BC grizzly bears

UVic graduate students now have more opportunities to enrich their programs with real-world learning thanks to a series of unique interdisciplinary research practicum courses.

The Faculty of Graduate Studies has collaborated with the provincial government to offer students a chance to tackle pertinent issues facing British Columbia. Since January 2007, four courses have run: the first two with Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA); the latest two in partnership with the Ministry of Environment (MoE) and Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).

The series, spearheaded by Dr. Joaquin Trapero of UVic’s Office of Research Services, blossomed from the Knowledge Mobilization Unit, a joint initiative with York University. “The idea was to share UVic’s research with the community and have UVic learn from the community’s needs,” says Trapero who now coordinates the courses.

“The benefits of this class are multifold,” says environmental studies student Yvonne Patterson. Having previously studied grizzly bears near Lillooet, Patterson was drawn to one of 31 projects available through the MoE course: applying GPS collar data from the Parsnip Grizzly Bear Project to calculate resource selection functions and assessing biases associated with parallel data collection methods. This was an irresistible chance for Patterson to expand her area of research.

“The course also provided amazing opportunities to interface with senior staff in the ministry, to have candid conversations and to ask pressing questions,” comments Patterson. Other MoE project topics included the impacts of forest fires, mountain pine beetle, climate change and endangered species such as caribou.

Students Emily George and Natasha Mallal worked together on a project around youth engagement put forward by MCFD’s Integrated Quality Assurance Team. They were given the task of creating an indicator resource kit to help measure the success of the ministry’s provincial youth engagement program. “We decided to create a youth-friendly tool and allow youth to be part of the process,” explains George. “We wanted to empower youth and to create more than a sit-on-the-shelf document.”

Other MCFD topics taken on by the students involved improving educational outcomes for children in care, identifying the training and orientation needs for new workers, researching theories of violence against women in intimate relationships and creating an evaluation framework for a program intended to enhance services to Aboriginal children. MCFD reports that the feedback on the course has been extremely positive and that the model is a great basis for future partnerships between the ministry and the university.

The courses owe much of their development and success to the vast knowledge and experience of instructors Rod Davis (environmental studies) and Dr. Gord Miller (child and youth care), both of whom have worked at the respective ministries in past years and had well-established connections in place.

Students presented their final reports to their instructor, peers and ministry staff. “The room was absolutely full,” comments Miller. “We had such a great response from MCFD staff.”

Miller believes students who take these courses are better supported than those on traditional co-op work placements due to the help of ministry mentors, sponsors and course instructors—resources that are often not available to co-op students. Davies echoes similar sentiments. “This is a tremendous opportunity not only for the ministry who, aside from the projects, are introduced to talented young people, but also for these enthusiastic students who get involved in something interesting and practical. Plus it exposed them to a major potential employer.”

MCFD has since shared its experience with other ministries, and this fall the Ministry of Housing and Social Development will adopt elements (such as round-table seminars at the ministry) for its course on the theme of housing and homelessness.

In January, UVic will offer a similar course with non-governmental organizations. Though the participating NGOs have yet to be selected, the theme for this course will be social services. UVic is currently negotiating with new partners to offer more courses in a variety of topics. Interested students should visit the courses’ website or contact Joaquin Trapero at or 250-721-7972.

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