Congratulations to our Master of Arts Outstanding Thesis award recipient and recent graduate, Nicole Harris!
Nicole completed her Master of Arts in Education while working full-time as an educator. She also is a volunteer dog handler with the B.A.R.K. program!
“I had a wonderful time during my two years with the Okanagan School of Education. The professors and the other students were all great,” says Nicole. “The B.A.R.K. program has been hands down my favourite thing about the Okanagan School of Education. Dr. Binfet is an incredible supervisor and all of the B.A.R.K. volunteers, handlers, and of course the dogs, are amazing to volunteer and work with.”
Question and Answer session with Nicole
What receiving the award means to you
I am incredibly honoured to receive this award. It is affirming to be recognized for the two years of very hard work I put into doing the research and writing my thesis while working as a full-time teacher. This means all those long days I put into my research and thesis were worth it because evidently, quite a good product came of it. I am overwhelmed with pride and gratitude for this acknowledgement.
What was your research topic?
It’s been shown that explicitly teaching children social and emotional skills can have a positive effect on their social and emotional competence and can also improve academic success. That is why schools are becoming increasingly responsible for teaching social and emotional learning. One relatively new way of teaching social and emotional skills is in conjunction with therapy dogs. My study explored what it was like for children to participate in a social skills training program facilitated by therapy dogs. Observations of the children were collected by university volunteers and eight children were interviewed by the researcher. Findings indicated that, overall, the children enjoyed the social skills training program with dogs and the therapy dogs provided unique benefits. Interacting with the therapy dogs improved the children’s moods and increased their engagement. It also showed evidence of the therapy dogs providing some emotional and behavioural benefits.
What difference do you hope your research will make?
Professionally-speaking, I have always been interested in social-emotional learning (SEL). As I was looking into the Master’s programs at UBCO, I discovered the B.A.R.K. program and immediately knew a marriage between my lifelong love of dogs and a professional interest such as SEL could become an ideal academic endeavor. Dogs have the ability to provide many stress-reducing and confidence-boosting benefits to children and I hope my research might contribute to a decision to welcome therapy dogs on public school campuses some day.
What advice do you have for future graduate students?
Pick a topic you are truly passionate about. On long days, your passion for your research will give you the fuel you need to keep going. Doing a thesis-based Master’s degree will teach you countless skills, many of which you probably never expected to learn. It is such an enriching experience.