Patty Wellborn



A photo of a teenage boy packing his school bag while his mother is preparing to go to work

Back to school can be exciting but with each new year comes change, especially for students entering middle school. UBCO experts provide some tips for parents to navigate those middle years.

Long before children are ready for middle school, their parents have heard the horror stories.

Online bullying, gender identity, social media, vaping, drugs, sex and dating…the list of potential pitfalls and obstacles can feel overwhelmingly endless.

It’s enough to disrupt even the most stable of households when a child shifts from the safety and security of the known into the uncertainty of a new school—especially if it’s around a milestone like the first day of middle or high school.

UBC Okanagan’s scholars and researchers want to help. Experts from across disciplines provide a few tips to help parents successfully navigate this new phase of their journeys.

“Make a plan,” says Dr. Stephen Berg, Associate Professor, Okanagan School of Education 

The start of another school year is an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking time for everyone in a family. New activities and routines begin, so taking the time to plan and communicate with everyone in the family can help ease anxiety and nervousness going into the year.

Along with this, it is so important for children and youth to have proper nutrition. Having them take a water bottle to school—if allowed—helps maintain hydration and planning for healthy snacks and lunches helps with alertness and self-regulation in the classroom.

Of course, being physically active throughout the day is just as important. Even if there are no activities planned, something like going for a walk or other cost-effective activity gets children outside and can also be a great way to communicate and connect with each other.

“Encourage kindness,” says Dr. John Tyler Binfet, Associate Professor, Okanagan School of Education

A previous study involving 191 Grade 9 students from Central Okanagan Public Schools demonstrated that when the teens were encouraged to be kind, they surpassed expectations.

Within one week, more than 940 acts of kindness—sharing school supplies, giving compliments, helping with chores or encouraging others—were accomplished. As the bulk of the kind acts took place at the school, the findings show positive effects on school climate, student-to-student relationships and student behaviour.

I think adolescents can be misperceived, especially in schools. And if educators and parents can model kindness or provide examples of kindness, it will make being kind easier for adolescents.

“Keep the big picture in mind,” says Dr. Jessica Lougheed, Assistant Professor, Psychology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

For kids and teens in middle school and high school grades, back to school can be an especially challenging time. Often, tweens and teens are experiencing developmental changes in many domains at the same time—these include puberty, with more intense and less predictable emotions, as well as new activities, peer groups and schools.

Relationships with primary caregivers, understandably, can become more strained. The back-to-school season is yet another change. When routines change in such a big way, we typically see a period of less predictable daily dynamics in the household before everything settles into a new routine. Often, what’s going on in one area, such as your child’s school or social life, will influence other areas including their emotions or how they relate to family members.

If you notice a lack of balance in your household dynamic at the start of the school year, it might be helpful to keep the bigger picture in mind. Change is hard, and your tweens and teens are navigating an acute change to their daily schedules and activities at the same time as all of their other developmental changes. Irritability might be directed at you, but it might not be about you.

Check-in with your child when things are quieter and calmer, and it might be easier to make a connection then.

“Communicate well, and communicate often,” says Dr. Shirley Hutchinson, Lecturer, Psychology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Transitioning back to school, especially a new school, can be hard for both students and parents. Much of the anxiety stems from uncertainty and one of the best ways to deal with uncertainty is to try and collect as much information as possible.

Communication is key.

Parents should talk to their children and explore the new or returning school environment together. Talk about what the children are excited about and what they may be nervous about. And most importantly, talk about what worries are within their control and which ones are not. Knowledge goes a long way to reducing uncertainty and easing anxieties.

“Get those steps in and keep active,” says Dr. Ali McManus, Professor, School of Health and Exercise Sciences

Physical activity is just another word for movement and it can look like anything including riding your bike to school, cleaning your room, mowing the grass, walking the dog or playing sports.

The easier way to keep active is to get your steps in. In Canada, the recommended daily steps are 13,000 for adolescent boys and 11,000 for girls. But in middle school steps tend to decline and across Canada less than 10 per cent of our teens meet these guidelines. Here are four easy tips on ways to get more active: start small, make it social, do things you enjoy and make time in your day, every day, for activity.

“Provide a non-judgmental space to chat about the risks of vaping and smoking,” says Dr. Laura Struik, School of Nursing

Vaping has become common in school environments, with youth stating that the commute to school, school washrooms, recess and lunch are contexts where they are frequently exposed to vaping. Having open discussions about vaping with your child can help if they are feeling pressured, or even curious, about vaping.

Parents might also get some empty vape devices, free of charge at a vape store, to start the conversation and address the curiosity that frequently contributes to trying vaping. Role play can also help prepare a child to proactively think about how they might manage peer pressure situations that could make vaping tempting. And parental or family disapproval can play a strong role in preventing uptake of vaping among children and youth.

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Female teacher showing Canadian flag to kids

As new immigrants continue to boost Canada’s population, a UBCO researcher is looking at citizenship education and how Canadians feel about their country.

Two weeks ago, according to Statistics Canada, Canada’s population reached 40 billion.

And thanks to immigration numbers, 2022 was the first year since the mid-1950s that the population—with a growth rate of almost three per cent—increased by more than one million people.

Dr. Catherine Broom, an Associate Professor with the Okanagan School of Education, studies local and global citizenship. Last fall she launched a survey asking Canadians their opinions on their country, the nation’s identity and citizenship education. So far, more than 500 people—predominantly young adults between the ages of 19 and 25 in Western Canada—have responded.

“As we approach Canada Day, some Canadians are celebrating and perhaps some are reflecting on the nature and form of citizenship and identity,” says Dr. Broom. “This survey could be a way to move forward in our understandings of who we are as a nation.”

Dr. Broom explains her early findings and encourages more Canadians to participate in the survey.

What does it mean to be Canadian?

Participants said they identify the maple leaf, nature, freedom, health care, inclusion and multiculturalism as images or symbols of Canada.

Given recent polls last month during the coronation of King Charles, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Monarchy was less associated as a symbol of Canada.

Fifty-five per cent of respondents said they feel a sense of belonging and 36 per cent somewhat feel a sense of belonging to Canada. While 40 per cent are proud of Canada, and 43 per cent are somewhat proud of Canada, they associated more with their regional identity, rather than with a national identity.

What kind of society do participants envision for Canada?

They feel that a good Canadian should be kind, a good neighbour and work to improve society. The participants have strong visions and hopes for Canada and say that anti-racism education, inclusion, protecting the environment and addressing Indigenous reconciliation can bring Canadians together. Participants in the study envision an inclusive Canada that cares for all its citizens and its natural environment.

What are the main issues facing Canadians?

Participants suggest the main problems to address in Canada are housing, economic instability, climate change and racism. They are supportive of immigration, and 53 per cent feel that immigrants face challenges.

They identify issues related to citizenship as those addressing racism, the unmarked graves of children found at Residential Schools, low participation rates in social institutions and events like volunteering, and the need to have bonds that unite Canadians.

What do they feel should be taught in schools?

While the participants have broad views of citizenship, they believe that education in schools teaches about political citizenship, rights, nationhood and the environment. They want these areas to be taught, but strongly emphasize attention to social citizenship and being part of an inclusive community.

Can people still participate in your survey?

Yes, we are still collecting data and I’d like to hear from as many Canadians as possible. People can learn more about this research, find resources on citizenship education or fill out the survey at

The survey is open to adults across Canada and is available in English and French. It has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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student with Canadian flag

Is it time Canadians re-examine our history and what should be taught in citizenship education programs?

The true north is said to be strong and free, but is that how Canadians feel?

Dr. Catherine Broom, who specializes in teaching local and global citizenship and social studies education at UBC Okanagan, has launched a survey that invites all Canadians to share their views on Canadian citizenship, identity and citizenship education. She is hoping to gather Canadians’ views, hopes and beliefs about what kind of society they would like Canada to become.

“Canadian national identity and citizenship has been subject to contention since Canada first came together as a collection of European colonies on lands that were, and continue to be, home to rich Indigenous cultures across diverse terrains,” says Dr. Broom, associate professor Okanagan School of Education.

Dr. Broom explains her upcoming research and how Canadians can get involved. The survey is part of the first phase of a five-year project.

Do recent events illustrate significant contemporary issues in Canada today? Can they be linked as challenges to traditional conceptions of Canadian identity and citizenship, which is part of our citizenship education?

The toppling of statues of historical figures and the renaming of streets and universities illustrate that some Canadians are questioning the nature and form of their citizenship and identity: Is what we have historically taught in citizenship education in schools what we should teach?

Canadians’ actions illustrate that this is an opportune time to survey diverse Canadians from across the country on their views of citizenship and identity. This could be a way to move forward in our understandings of who we are as a nation.

Your new study is inviting Canadians to share their views of citizenship and identity. What are you hoping to determine?

My goal is to explore how Canadians understand what Canada is—what does it mean to be a Canadian and how we educate for this. While we do have citizenship education programs, I hope to develop a program that addresses past and contemporary issues and finds a way of bringing Canadians together that aims to heal historical wrongs and move forward as an inclusive and thriving nation.

What is the importance of citizenship education in schools?

Citizenship education is threaded through the history of the development of public schools, which has historically included the goals of developing good national citizens. Public schools developed at a time when nation-states were developing in Europe—Prussia was one of the first nation-states to establish free, national schools with this purpose.

Early citizenship education programs intended to develop patriotic citizens. Now is a good time to survey Canadians on their ideas about the nature and form of Canada and what we should teach in citizenship education programs.

How do people find out more about your study or get involved?

Dr. Broom invites you to participate and share your ideas about the kind of nation we want to be and how we educate for this. Interested participants can learn more about the study, find resources on citizenship education or fill out the survey at

This survey is open to adults across Canada, and is available in English and French.

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A photo of a B.A.R.K. dog and its handler

In 2022, B.A.R.K. hosted more than 25 drop-in and BARK2GO sessions each for a combined total of more than 4,000 canine visits aimed to help reduce student stress.

Ten years ago, a rescue dog named Frances was given a new “leash” on life—and a new job.

Frances was rescued off the streets of Los Angeles by Dr. John-Tyler Binfet an Associate Professor who researches kindness and student success with UBC Okanagan’s School of Education. The pup was put to work to provide Dr. Binfet’s students a unique classroom learning experience. For example, the students would teach Frances a behavioural exercise in front of their classmates.

While Frances has since retired, Dr. Binfet recalls it was her impact on students that sparked a pilot project called Building Academic Retention through K9s (B.A.R.K).

“We couldn’t walk down a hallway without being stopped by students,” he says. “They would eventually look up at me from petting Frances and say, ‘As much as I miss my family, I miss my dog more.’”

Using those experiences as inspiration, Dr. Binfet began B.A.R.K. to examine how animal-assisted visitation can impact feelings of homesickness and a sense of isolation in first-year university students. The program started modestly in 2012 with 12 dogs and has grown significantly.

B.A.R.K. now has more than 60 in-house handler and dog teams—all UBCO volunteers—and reaches thousands of students each year. Each session generally has 10 to 13 dogs and handlers, 15 student volunteers and more than 100 student visitors. BARK2Go, mini sessions offered around the campus, was introduced a few years later and last year the program offered 25 drop-in and BARK2GO sessions each for a combined total of more than 4,000 canine visits.

The program has also spread with and into the community through several different partnerships including the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club and the VEDA Exclusive Student Living buildings.

“We’re thrilled to be celebrating 10 years on campus and are excited to see how the program continues to evolve and move forward,” says Dr. Binfet.

Not only has the program evolved, but it’s come full circle with a number of former students now volunteering as trained B.A.R.K handlers.

“When I first got to campus in 2017, I was extremely nervous and didn’t know what to expect,” says Sierra Adamow, now a UBCO alumna. “During my first week, I noticed the B.A.R.K. program, and it allowed me to make new friends, feel calmer, put a smile on my face and leave me ready to enjoy my university experience. Now in 2022, I volunteer with my dog to help other students feel welcome and included.”

In addition to providing comfort to students, more than 15 peer-reviewed research papers have been published based on the program. Dr. Binfet and his team, including graduate students, have led a number of studies on canine-assisted interventions such as measuring the impact of stress reduction on students and law enforcement members, the importance of canine cuddles and effects of virtual dog therapy.

The program continues to have a lasting impact on many, including Emma Kneller, who became involved as a handler when the program first started.

“B.A.R.K. has created a community full of laughs and joy for students, volunteers and handlers alike,” says Kneller. “B.A.R.K. has changed my life and I am sure many others as well. The joy to share my dogs with people is indescribable and I know, by watching the faces of our students, a little pat, or a scratch behind a dog’s ears goes a lot further than just making my dogs feel good.”

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A photo of Dr. Rob Shaw playing wheelchair tennis

Dr. Rob Shaw, one of Canada’s top wheelchair tennis players, is UBC Okanagan’s 2022 recipient of the Governor General Gold Medal.

Some might think it’s a bit ironic that the winner of UBC Okanagan’s Governor General Gold Medal is already a gold-medal-winning athlete.

But Dr. Rob Shaw, who graduates this week with his Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies, can quickly explain how much hard work goes into earning an honour of this calibre. Dr. Shaw is a wheelchair tennis player who won a gold medal at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Peru. He is the highest-ranked member of the Canadian wheelchair tennis team and last summer he competed in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

He didn’t get there without a lot of hard work. The same could be said of his accomplishment at UBCO.

Dr. Shaw is the highest-ranked graduate student at UBCO, an honour that has earned him the Governor General’s gold medal.

“Looking at past winners I can’t help but feel humbled by this award,” he says. “Five years ago, my supervisor and I committed to completing a PhD that would make an impact beyond the silos of academia and extend into the community to benefit people living with spinal cord injuries. I’d like to think that this award reflects that we achieved that goal.”

While earning his doctoral degree, his research focused on how peer mentorship can improve the health and wellbeing of people who have incurred a spinal cord injury. While his supervising professor Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis describes his research as exemplary, she notes he has also become an internationally respected scientist and a community leader.

Throughout his degree, Dr. Martin Ginis says he has embraced an interdisciplinary spirit, but his impact extends beyond the traditional walls of academia and into the community. His leadership and expertise are frequently sought out by local, national and international organizations, and he has an unwavering commitment to examining and resolving pressing societal issues.

“An excellent scientist can produce a lot of great research. But an excellent scientific leader finds the potential in people and has the courage to inspire and support them. Rob has achieved excellence and acclaim as both a scientist and scientific leader,” she adds. “Through his research and leadership, and his outstanding global citizenship, Rob is making the world a better place.”

Dr. Shaw, however, says this award is only possible thanks to the support from Dr. Martin Ginis and others he has worked with along his doctoral journey.

“I am extremely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish, and I owe this award to her, my lab mates, my community partners, and most importantly to my participants who allowed me into their world so that I could try to make a real difference in their lives.”

Dr. Shaw has been described by Dr. Martin Ginis as an outspoken champion of equity, diversity and inclusion.

“He consistently reminds and challenges all of us to think about inclusion and accessibility in how we conduct and share our research with others.”

The importance of inclusion is also reflected in both the name and the criteria of the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. This week it will be presented to UBC Okanagan student Azzah Al Zahra Farras, who just completed her Bachelor of Arts with a joint major in philosophy, political science and economics.

Shortly after arriving at UBCO in 2018, Farras established a campus-wide chapter of Amnesty International and began hosting conferences and events to examine local and international issues. She coordinated weekly sessions where students could discuss international injustices, while creating a safe space for marginalized students to share their stories and discuss opportunities for students to engage in change.

“Through the Amnesty International chapter, we created opportunities for students on campus to share issues about human rights, protection, justice and conflicts that they care about from their own country,” says Farras, explaining the students had engaging conversations about many issues including the farmer’s protest in India, Tibetan rights to self-determination, the Palestinian rights, and democratic rights for people living in Thailand.

“I am surrounded by a very international community at UBCO and it’s something we should all look forward to in universities,” she adds. “I have a lot of friends from different countries that support me and also celebrate my culture and my beliefs and values as I celebrate theirs. That’s what I’m really happy about.”

In September 2021, she joined the UBC Okanagan Library team as a student representative of the UBC’s Inclusion Action Plan and Indigenous Strategic Plan, where she independently developed projects to highlight Arab, Muslim, Asian, Indigenous and Black voices in literature and academia. Farras built multiple book displays at the library and designed digital LibGuide sites that list resources based on each theme, granting students information and access regardless of their location during COVID-19.

Farras recalls the day when a student approached the service desk and tearfully thanked the library staff saying how encouraging it was to see students with hijabs represented at the library and it helped make her feel included.

“For me, this was a full-circle moment,” says Farras. “Although I did feel isolated in my first year, I was able to change that situation for younger hijab-wearing students. I believe these efforts transpired important representation at UBCO. It raises important conversations on institutionalized racism and discrimination against marginalized groups. I am honoured to be a part of that shift.”

UBCO Librarian Christian Isbister says Farras worked tirelessly to engage the campus community and bring awareness to diverse voices in the library collection. Her book displays were always popular and well-received, and her work on the Book Fairies project helped encourage reading of more diverse authors, including Indigenous, Black, Asian and Arab writers.

“Azzah has dedicated herself to the promotion of inclusion on our campus,” says Isbister. “At the library, she demonstrated great leadership in developing initiatives to highlight diverse voices in our collection, and foster a sense of welcome and belonging for students belonging to marginalized communities. It was a pleasure to get to work with Azzah, and her presence in the library will be greatly missed.”

Also, this week, Anna Bernath, who just completed her Bachelor of Science degree with concentrations in biochemistry and molecular biology, was awarded the Pushor Mitchell Gold Medal Leadership Prize.

The $10,000 prize is the largest donor-funded award available to graduating Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science students. The award recognizes a student who has excelled academically and demonstrated leadership while earning their degree.

Bernath joined Dr. Andis Klegeris’ Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology Lab as a volunteer research assistant, and contributed upwards of 250 hours in the facility. She also conducted research studying the role of microglia—immune cells of the brain—in Alzheimer’s disease. When not in the lab or studying, she worked as a teaching assistant, acting as a liaison between faculty and students.

“I have immense gratitude for the faculty, staff and UBCO colleagues who created invaluable opportunities for growth and leadership, and I hope I made a lasting impact on junior students and excited them about research endeavours,” says Bernath.

The Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Award has been presented to a student at UBCO since 2009, explains Andrew Brunton, Managing Partner at Pushor Mitchell.

“Pushor Mitchell is very pleased to see another deserving student receive this award,” says Brunton.  “Our firm has been supporting this prestigious award at UBC Okanagan for 13 years now, presented to students based on both academic excellence and community leadership. We applaud this year’s recipient Anna Bernath and wish her luck with her career in neuroscience research.”

Farras and Bernath will be recognized as they cross the stage at Thursday’s convocation while Dr. Shaw will receive his medal Friday morning.

Other University of British Columbia medal (top of class) winners are:

  • UBC Medal in Arts: Abhineeth Adiraju
  • UBC Medal in Education: Anica McIntosh
  • UBC Medal in Engineering: Rachel May
  • UBC Medal in Fine Arts: Amelia Ford
  • UBC Medal in Human Kinetics: Kenedy Olsen
  • UBC Medal in Management: Jo-Elle Craig
  • UBC Medal in Media Studies: Jordan Pike
  • UBC Medal in Nursing: Camryn McCrystal
  • UBC Medal in Science: Megan Greenwood

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A photo of this year's UBCO researchers of the year

From left: Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, Dr. Jennifer Davis Dr. Kyle Larson and Rhyann McKay.

Four UBC Okanagan researchers—whose work is making a difference locally and globally—were recognized at a special event last week when the campus celebrated the Researchers of the Year.

In a university dominated by timely and meaningful research, it’s hard to stand out in the crowd. But Phil Barker, UBCO’s Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President of Research and Innovation, says the unique and outstanding contributions from this year’s winners allows UBCO to shine the light on their accomplishments.

“The Researcher of the Year ceremony is one of my favourite events of the year. It is a distinct pleasure to acknowledge some of our star researchers and highlight their contributions,” he says. “UBC Okanagan is one of the most rapidly expanding campuses in Canada and we are attracting top-notch scholars and researchers who are leaders in their fields.”

The winners of the prestigious awards are Dr. Jennifer Davis for health research, Dr. Kyle Larson in natural sciences and engineering and Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta, the winner of the social sciences and humanities award. Rhyann McKay was recognized as the Student Researcher of the Year.

Teaching in the Faculty of Management, Dr. Jennifer Davis is a Canada Research Chair in Applied Health Economics. Her research focuses on improving the health of older Canadians who are at risk for falls or cognitive decline. Much of her work assesses the economic value of dementia and mobility intervention and prevention efforts through partnerships with clinicians. Dr. Davis’s international collaborations have resulted in policy change and significant advancements in applying health economic evidence to lifestyle interventions.

A professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, Dr. Kyle Larson is an innovator of analytical techniques for tectonics research. His novel methods have led to fundamental discoveries about how major mountain belts form, including a solution to a decades-old geological controversy surrounding the origin of the Himalayas. As Director of the Fipke Laboratory for Trace Element Research, Dr. Larson’s work has helped develop paradigm-shifting methods for the rapid dating of geological material.

Teaching in the Okanagan School of Education, Dr. Margaret Macintyre Latta is a prominent researcher who transforms traditional approaches to education. A champion of interdisciplinary and community-based research, her focus is to advance curriculum as a shared learning experience that inspires reconciliation. Her research with Indigenous, school district and community partners helps educators to decolonize curriculum and teaching practices.

As a doctoral student in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Rhyann McKay conducted research in partnership with provincial spinal cord injury organizations across Canada to co-develop behaviour change interventions for support providers to enhance wellbeing and self-care. McKay is currently a health system impact fellow at the University of Alberta, evaluating the implementation of acute care intervention.

“The purpose of these awards is to highlight and honour the research excellence that makes UBC a top-40 global university,” adds Dr. Barker. “I am impressed with the calibre of all our researchers, grateful for their efforts, and am very proud of this year’s recipients. I look forward to tracking their careers and celebrating their future successes.”

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A photo of a researcher and a dog in a virtual therapy session

Taylor Wilson with UBCO studios, Ty Wolczuk and Luna, a rescue dog from Mexico, prepare to film a virtual canine therapy session. Photo credit: Freya Green

While spending time with dogs has been well documented as an activity that improves wellbeing, new research—thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic—proves that a remote canine session can be just as therapeutic as an in-person visit.

The research, led by Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, Associate Professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Education, and Dr. Christine Tardif-Williams, an Associate Professor with Brock University, has found that spending time virtually with a therapy dog can enhance student wellbeing.

This study was one of the first to assess the effectiveness of virtual canine-assisted interventions.

“It’s well known that being a university student can be stressful, and since 2020 students have experienced an increase in stress due to an interruption of their studies and social isolation from COVID-19,” says Dr. Binfet. “Students are continually learning in a virtual world, and it makes sense that some of their social and emotional support could be offered this way as well.”

More than 450 students participated in the study and were randomly assigned to a live online visit or pre-recorded video sessions either with or without a dog present—all visits involved a dog handler. Before each session, participants reported on their wellbeing; specifically measuring their loneliness, stress and connectedness to campus.

Each session lasted five minutes with dog handlers using a script resembling a typical conversation shared during an in-person visit, such as sharing information about their dog and asking participants to reflect on their wellbeing.

Regardless of the type of visit, all students experienced significant reductions in anxiety, stress, loneliness, decreased negative affect, and stronger feelings of connectedness to their campus. Notably, those who participated in an online session with a dog experienced significant improvements in their positive affect.

“The results show that spending virtual time with therapy dogs is a viable way for students to reduce their stress,” says Dr. Binfet. “For some students, virtual may be the preferred way to interact, which may lead to organizations offering more virtual sessions in the future.”

In addition, as in-person access to dogs isn’t always possible for students as not all schools have therapy dog programs, Dr. Binfet suggests the results can influence post-secondary mental health and wellness programs along with the organization and potential delivery of canine-assisted intervention programs.

This research, supported by VEDA Exclusive Student Living, was published in Anthrozoös, an international journal showcasing multidisciplinary research on interactions and relationships with animals.

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Isolation Quarantine Covid-19 stock photo

UBCO experts discuss how society has coped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was March 17, 2020, just on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring the as-yet-un-named virus a pandemic, that BC declared a state of emergency.

Schools were closed, offices shuttered, stores locked and people were sent home to face isolation, uncertainty and a looming sense of fear and bewilderment. And now Zoom calls, masks, vaccines and mandates have become part of everyday life across the country.

How has society coped? What has been learned? Has anything changed?

Long before Dr. Bonnie Henry suggested people be kind to each other, Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, an Associate Professor with the Okanagan School of Education, was making the study of kindness part of his daily routine. Dr. Binfet is joined by six other UBC Okanagan experts, who can field questions ranging from vaccine equity, online shopping trends, the importance of exercise and the impact of so much screen time on children.

Dr. Binfet, Director of the Centre For Mindful Engagement and Director of Building Academic Retention Through K-9s

Availability: Noon, Wednesday and all of Thursday, PST

Dr. Binfet’s areas of research include the conceptualizations of kindness in children and adolescents, measuring kindness in schools, canine-assisted interventions and assessment of therapy dogs. His new book written during the pandemic, Cultivating Kindness, will be available this summer.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Binfet can discuss:

  • University student wellbeing
  • Being kind
  • Why kindness matters

Kevin Chong, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies

Availability: Wednesday and Thursday, 9 to 11 am PST

Chong teaches creative writing, fiction, creative nonfiction, literary journalism, dramatic writing and different writing styles including short story, memoir, personal essay, and lyric essay. He is the author of six books, including The Plague, and wrote a book during the pandemic when the public reading of his play was cancelled due to COVID-19. Dr. Chong also established an online antiracist book club during the pandemic.

Related to the pandemic, Chong can discuss:

  • Writer’s block
  • Online book clubs
  • Antiracist associations

Mahmudur Fatmi, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering

Availability: Wednesday, most hours and Thursday, 8:30 am to noon PST

Dr. Fatmi is a transportation modelling expert. He can talk about how people’s travel and online activities such as work-from-home and online shopping activities have changed during the pandemic, and the implications of these changes.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Fatmi can discuss:

  • Working from home
  • Changes to transit during the pandemic
  • Online shopping trends

Ross Hickey, Associate Professor, Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Availability: Wednesday, 2 to 2:30 pm PST and Thursday, 2:30to 3:30 pm PST

Dr. Hickey is an economist who specializes in public finance, fiscal policy, government expenditure and taxation. Related to the pandemic, Dr. Hickey can speak about:

  • Inflation

Susan Holtzman, Associate Professor, Psychology, Irving K Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Availability: Thursday, 9 am to noon PST

Dr. Holtzman conducts research in health psychology with a special interest in stress and coping, close relationships, depression and social relationships in the digital age. Related to the pandemic, Holtzman can discuss:

  • perceived increase in screen time for young children
  • digital relationships
  • breaking or keeping digital habits after two years of screen time

Jonathan Little, Associate Professor, School of Health and Exercise Sciences

Availability: Wednesday and Thursday, 9 to 11 am PST

Dr. Little’s main research interest is on how to optimize exercise and nutritional strategies to prevent and treat health issues including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and chronic inflammatory conditions. He is also involved in interdisciplinary research within the Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster around mitigating risk of aerosol transmission in health-care settings.

Related to the pandemic, Dr. Little can discuss:

  • Physical activity/exercise during COVID-19
  • Impact of exercise and lifestyle on immune function
  • Aerosols and COVID-19 transmission

Katrina Plamondon, Assistant Professor School of Nursing

Availability: Wednesday, various times in the afternoon PST, Thursday, 7 to 8 am, 11:30 am to noon, 2 to 3 pm PST

Dr. Plamondon’s research focuses on questions of how to advance equity action and vaccine equity. Related to the pandemic, Dr. Plamondon can discuss:

  • Populism and social movements (e.g., convoy) and what this has to do with equity and rights
  • Vaccine equity, particularly the relationship between global vaccine equity and how we can navigate the pandemic
  • Equity considerations as we transition out of pandemic restrictions (e.g., lifting mask restrictions)
  • Equity impacts and health systems considerations

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A group of student volunteers picking up trash

UBCO research determines simple acts of kindness among university students help them believe they can improve the lives of others.

A small act of kindness can go a long way, especially say UBC Okanagan researchers, towards bolstering student health and wellness.

Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education and Dr. Sally Stewart, associate professor of teaching in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences recently published a study that explores how the inclusion of a kindness assignment in an undergraduate course impacted student perceptions of themselves, their peers and their campus.

While there have been several studies that have assessed the effects of kindness on wellbeing, there has been limited research into how university-aged students understand and enact kindness, says Dr. Binfet.

Thousands of university students returned to class across Canada in September, and Dr. Binfet notes that while living in the times of COVID-19 every act of kindness goes a long way.

“We know being kind yields a number of wellbeing benefits, such as stress reduction, happiness and peer acceptance, and we know mental health impacts learning,” says Dr. Binfet. “The post-secondary environment is often the last training ground to prepare students for life so we want to understand how we can prepare students for optimal mental health as adults.”

For the study, volunteer students provided self-reports to determine the extent they see themselves as kind in online and face-to-face interactions, and how connected they felt to their peers and the campus. The students were then asked to plan and complete five kind acts for one week.

The participants completed 353 kind acts with the main themes of helping others, giving, demonstrating appreciation and communicating. Students that completed at least three of the five planned acts of kindness self-reported significantly higher scores of in-person kindness and peer connectedness.

“This research can help students realize that there is evidence behind how and why people are kind, and that kindness does impact health and wellbeing,” says Dr. Stewart. “It also has an incredible impact for teaching in higher education as it provides insight into where students are at with their practice and understanding of kindness in order to build the groundwork for inclusion of this topic within educational practices and course content areas.”

While there are on-campus wellbeing resources available to students at most post-secondary schools, this research demonstrates that by including wellbeing initiatives into coursework, it’s easier for more students to engage in those activities and receive benefits without added effort. The study also demonstrated that a curriculum-based kindness intervention would be well received by students.

“We found that the students loved the assignment,” says Dr. Stewart. “For some, it helped them realize that kindness is a skill that they can learn to do better and that there are many ways to be kind. For others, it helped them realize that they already do kind things. It reinforced their desire and intention of doing more kind acts.”

For years, Dr. Binfet’s research has focused on elevating the discussion of kindness, and he has previously completed studies on how children and adolescents perceive and enact kindness.

“With this research, we now see alignment in how university students and school-age participants define kindness—to them it means actions that can improve the lives of others. Often, it’s simple things such as being polite and helping others,” says Dr. Binfet.

The research was published in the Journal of Further and Higher Education and supported by a humanities and social sciences research grant.

a picture of a Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever Doogle (above), and his people Geri and John Eakins, are one of many volunteer handler-dog teams in UBCO’s Building Academic Retention Through K-9s program. New research confirms that canine cuddles can significantly enhance student wellbeing. Photo by Adam Lauzé.

If you find watching funny dog videos puts a smile on your face, try indulging in canine cuddles.

New research from UBC Okanagan confirms physical contact with a therapy dog can significantly enhance student wellbeing.

The research was led by Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Building Academic Retention Through K-9s (BARK) program. Co-authors include BARK coordinator Freya Green and Zakary Draper, a doctoral student in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences psychology department. Together, the team assessed the impact of client-canine contact on wellbeing outcomes in 284 undergraduate students.

“There have been a number of studies that have found canine-assisted interventions significantly improve participants’ wellbeing, but there has been little research into what interactions provide the greatest benefits,” says Dr. Binfet. “We know that spending time with therapy dogs is beneficial but we didn’t know why.”

Students volunteered to participate and were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions — touch or no touch canine interaction, or to spend time with a dog handler but with no therapy dog present.

Prior to the sessions, participants provided self-reports of wellbeing; specifically measuring their self-perceptions of flourishing, positive and negative affect, social connectedness, happiness, integration into the campus community, stress, homesickness and loneliness.

Participants across all conditions experienced increased wellbeing on several of the measures, with more benefit when a dog was present, with the most benefit coming from physical contact with the dog. Notably, the touch contact with a therapy dog group was the only one that saw a significant enhancement across all measures.

“As students potentially return to in-person class on their college campuses this fall and seek ways to keep their stress in check, I’d encourage them to take advantage of the therapy dog visitation program offered. And once there — be sure to make time for a canine cuddle,” says Dr. Binfet. “That’s a surefire way to reduce stress.”

With many students feeling anxious about the return to in-person learning, the results stand to influence post-secondary mental health and wellness programs along with the organization and delivery of canine-assisted intervention programs.

“When therapy dogs are brought to campus, program organizers must be mindful of the dog-to-student ratio. Our research tells us that interacting through touch is key to reducing student stress so program administrators must be mindful to offer programs that make this possible,” says Dr. Binfet.

The study was published in Anthrozoös, an international journal showcasing multidisciplinary research on interactions and relationships with animals.