Patty Wellborn



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.”

The post UBCO celebrates the researchers of the year appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

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

The post UBCO experts discuss what’s changed after two years of COVID-19 appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

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.

Shane Koyczan

Canadian poet and spoken word artist Shane Koyczan will address the UBCO graduating class of 2021.

Virtual ceremony recognizes more than 1,800 graduating students

UBC Okanagan is marking its second virtual convocation next week.

More than 1,850 graduates — including 1,600 undergraduates as well as more than 100 masters’ and doctoral students — will tune in to celebrate the success of their educational journey.

“This has been a remarkable year for our students and our faculty,” says Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC’s Okanagan campus. “While the ceremony will be virtual, the remarkable achievements of our students are very real and worthy of recognition. I invite everyone to join me in celebrating the Class of 2021.”

There are also some new faces in the procession of dignitaries that will congratulate the graduates this year. UBC’s 19th Chancellor, the Honourable Steven Point (xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl), will preside over the ceremony, his first since taking on the role of chancellor last year. And this will be Cormack’s first convocation since joining the university in July 2020.

“Coming to UBC Okanagan during a time when our students are learning remotely has indeed been interesting,” Cormack adds. “Through it all, our students have shown remarkable fortitude while learning and conducting research online. I commend them all for their accomplishments.”

Once the ceremony has begun, UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono will address the Class of 2021 live, dressed in full academic regalia and graduates will have an opportunity to take a virtual selfie with President Ono. Along with a congratulatory message from Cormack, graduates will also hear inspiring words from student speakers Ali Poostizadeh, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, and Blessing Adeagbo, who has earned a Bachelor of Human Kinetics.

Another highlight of the 50-minute ceremony will be a keynote address from Shane Koyczan. The Canadian poet and spoken word artist will honour the perseverance and resilience of the 2021 graduating class. His message, written from the heart, will inspire all viewers, Cormack adds.

UBC Okanagan’s graduating class will celebrate their accomplishments virtually on June 2, starting at 2:30 p.m. Students and their family members can watch the ceremony on YouTube, Facebook or Panopto, a platform that is accessible from many countries.

To find out more about the virtual convocation ceremony, visit:

This year’s medal recipients

Governor General's Gold Medal: Sandra Fox

Lieutenant Governor's Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation: Aidan O'Callahan

UBC Medal in Fine Arts: Jade Zitko

UBC Medal in Arts: Michelle Tucsok

UBC Medal in Science: Jakob Thoms

UBC Medal in Education: Patricia Perkins

UBC Medal in Nursing: Alex Halonen

UBC Medal in Management: Breanne Ruskowsky

UBC Medal in Human Kinetics: Marika Harris

UBC Medal in Engineering: Rohan Ikebuchi

UBC Medal in Media Studies Sydney Bezenar

Dogs put the fun into learning vital social skills

A new UBC Okanagan study finds children not only reap the benefits of working with therapy dogs–they enjoy it too.

“Dog lovers often have an assumption that canine-assisted interventions are going to be effective because other people are going to love dogs,” says Nicole Harris, who conducted this research while a master’s student in the School of Education. “While we do frequently see children improve in therapy dog programs, we didn’t have data to support that they enjoyed the time as well.”

Harris was the lead researcher in the study that explored how children reacted while participating in a social skill-training program with therapy dogs.

The research saw 22 children from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club take part in a series of sessions to help them build their social skills. Over six weeks, the children were accompanied by therapy dogs from UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention through K9s (BARK) program as they completed lessons.

Each week the children were taught a new skill, such as introducing themselves or giving directions to others. The children would first practice with their assigned therapy dog before running through the exercise with the rest of the group. In the final phase, the children —accompanied by their new furry friend and volunteer handler —would practice their new skills with university students located in the building.

“Therapy dogs are often able to reach children and facilitate their growth in surprising ways. We saw evidence of this in the social skills of children when they were paired with a therapy dog,” says Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education and director of BARK. “The dogs helped create a non-threatening climate while the children were learning these new skills. We saw the children practice and hone their social skills with and alongside the dogs.”

While the children were learning and practising their new skills, the research team collected data.

“Findings from our observations suggested that canine-assisted social and emotional learning initiatives can provide unique advantages,” says Harris. “Our team saw that by interacting with the therapy dogs, the children’s moods improved and their engagement in their lessons increased.”

In fact, 87 per cent of the team rated the children’s engagement level as very or extremely engaged during the sessions.

At the end of the six weeks, Harris interviewed eight children, aged 5 to 11 years old, who regularly attended the sessions. Each child indicated the social skill-training program was an enjoyable and positive experience and the dogs were a meaningful and essential part of the program.

One participant noticed that the children behaved better at the sessions than at their regular after-school care program, and they thought it was because the children liked being around the dogs.

Half of the children mentioned ways that they felt the dogs helped with their emotional well-being, with one participant crediting a dog with helping him “become more responsible and control his silliness.”

As a full-time elementary school teacher, Harris notes that schools have become increasingly important in helping students develop social and emotional skills, and this research could contribute to the development of future school-based or after-school programs.

“Dogs have the ability to provide many stress-reducing and confidence-boosting benefits to children,” says Harris. “It was really heartwarming to see the impact the program had on the kids.”

The research stemmed from the Building Confidence through K9s program, which was offered in partnership with the TELUS Thompson Okanagan Community Board.

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit:

Many people are having to re-think their Christmas plans, or make new traditions this holiday season. 

2020 will go down as one holiday season that’s hard to forget

While it’s true that Christmas 2020 will be unusual for most, a team of UBC Okanagan experts suggest it doesn’t have to be a holiday season to regret. The experts’ advice includes everything from online shopping tips and getting some exercise to curling up with a good book.

Careful while shopping online, suggests Faculty of Management researcher Ying Zhu.

“Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, people should be more mindful of their shopping budget. It’s easy to lose ourselves in the world of online shopping. Balance joyful feelings with a budget.”

Ying Zhu suggests putting down the tablet or smartphone when holiday shopping online, especially when you plan to buy indulgent products in an effort to stem pandemic stress. Her research has shown that study participants were more likely to indulge in guilty pleasures when shopping online with a touchscreen device (i.e., a smartphone) versus a desktop computer. The reason is that using a touchscreen evokes consumers’ experiential thinking, which resonates with the playful nature of hedonic products.

Find creative ways to get some exercise, says School of Health and Exercise Sciences’ Matthew Stork.

“Due to the winter weather and current COVID-19 restrictions, finding ways to stay physically active is more challenging than ever. Try new outdoor activities like skiing or snowshoeing, go for socially distant walks or find creative ways to be active at home.”

If you’re busy, or overwhelmed this holiday season, add some “exercise snacks” into your day. Go up and down the stairs three times in a row, or take a five-minute walk to the end of the street and back. Even short bouts of exercise can add up and can help keep you fit at home.

And if you want to get a bit more out of your workouts—add tunes.

“Music is a simple, yet powerful strategy that can enhance your exercise and make it more enjoyable.”

Okanagan School of Education Associate Professor Stephen Berg focuses on active, healthy children and youth.

Berg has several suggestions for making sure children, and the entire family, have a good holiday season. The idea is to stay active.

“It may seem simple, but getting outside and going for a walk is beneficial. With limited daylight hours, getting outside, even if it is for a short time, will help boost the immune system and provide some much-needed energy.”

Other tips include limiting the treats, trying something new—like a YouTube workout the family can do together, volunteering, and setting basic and small goals, like getting outside for 30 minutes a day.

“My final tip would be to do your best to stay balanced,” he adds. “Quite simply, this has been a unique year. Let children have some fun, relax and breathe. Connect with them. Play board games, find out what they are doing online.”

Alex Hill, who teaches astrophysics at UBCO, suggests people look to the stars as a new activity this holiday season.

When there are clear skies during the holidays, grab a pair of binoculars and get outside after dark, says Hill. The next few days will be spectacular because Jupiter and Saturn will pass quite close to each other—a 400-year benchmark.

“To find them, look southwest as it gets dark, which is nice and early this time of year, about 45 minutes after sunset. If you hold your fist at arm’s length, they’ll be a bit more than two fist lengths above the horizon. They’ll be the brightest ‘stars’ by far and easy to see.”

With binoculars, you should also be able to see the rings of Saturn and the four largest moons of Jupiter. While Jupiter and Saturn are both spectacular with binoculars, they are visible without.

“They won’t look quite like they do in Hubble Space Telescope images you might see in books, but it’s still amazing to be able to see the rings and the moons with your own eyes.”

Fall in love with reading all over again suggests Marie Loughlin, who teaches in UBCO’s English program.

Her advice to anyone is to get settled comfortably with a good story. Loughlin and colleagues suggest books to help relieve stress, help with loneliness or fill in time spent alone.

George Grinnell suggested Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys (Penguin/Random House 2020). “This is easily one of the most compelling and artistically complete novels I have read in a long time.”

Margaret Reeves suggests Thomas King’s newest novel Indians on Vacation (HarperCollins, 2020), saying it is well worth reading for its wry sense of humour.

Joanna Cockerline recommends Idaho (Chatto & Windus, 2017) by Emily Ruskovich; it is set in the rugged mountains of Idaho and is tied around a devastating secret that impacts the life of a man facing early dementia.

Sean Lawrence suggests Andrew Kaufman’s All My Friends Are Superheroes (Coach House, 2003); the ordinary guy Tom has a close group of friends and a wife, all of whom are actually superheroes.

Finally, suggests Loughlin, Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, of which the author’s iconic reading will be featured on CBC over the holidays.

Try something completely new or outside your comfort zone, suggests psychology Professor Lesley Lutes.

“My students suggested we do an online cooking class together,” says Lutes. “I must admit, my first thought was ‘oh lord, this is going to be a disaster.’ But I said yes because they suggested it and I could see they that they needed it. I had never done anything like this before and had no idea how it would go.”

Lutes picked a favourite recipe and purchased all the ingredients, including a candy cane and gluten free dessert. It was a great success and she would do it again in a heartbeat.

Lutes shares other suggestions on how to make the most of this atypical Christmas:

  • Try and accept this holiday season for what it is, instead of what it should have/could have been.
  • If you can connect virtually with friends—do it!
  • Deliver, either virtually or to front doors of your friends and loved ones, gestures of your love/affection/appreciation.
  • Try and find humour and levity in the moment—and put it to good use.

“This was truly one of the most challenging years in modern history,” Lutes adds. “I hope everyone can take some time to slow down, reflect and find safety, love, and feelings of hope during these final days of the year. May 2021 bring us all some much-needed relief but also the resolve to make everything that happened this year matter.”


Associate Professor John-Tyler Binfet's new research seeks to disrupt that notion by showing how adolescents demonstrate kindness.

Associate Professor John-Tyler Binfet's new research seeks to disrupt that notion by showing how adolescents demonstrate kindness.

New research shows adolescents are kinder than we think

A UBC Okanagan researcher is hoping to flip the switch on the pre-convinced stereotype that teens are mean.

Associate Professor John-Tyler Binfet, a researcher in the School of Education, says teenagers often receive a negative reputation, sometimes showcased in mainstream media reports of bullying, cyber harassment or schoolyard battles.

Binfet’s new research seeks to disrupt that notion by showing how adolescents demonstrate kindness.

“There’s been a shift in schools in recent years to move away from anti-bullying initiatives to efforts that embrace and promote pro-social behaviour,” says Binfet. “There is an emphasis on kindness throughout school curriculum, but little is known about how youth actually enact kindness.”

Binfet and his research team surveyed 191 Grade 9 Okanagan Valley students to determine the extent they see themselves as kind in online and face-to-face interactions. The students were then asked to plan and complete five kind acts for one week.

In total, the students accomplished 943 acts of kindness, with 94 per cent of the participants completing three or more of their assigned acts. The kind acts ranged from helping with chores, being respectful, complimenting or encouraging others and giving away items like pencils or money for the vending machine.

“When encouraged to be kind, they surpassed expectations. It was interesting to see how adolescents support others with nuanced ways of helping that included helping generally, physically, emotionally and with household chores,” says Binfet. “As educators and parents model kindness or provide examples of kindness, showcasing examples of subtle acts might make being kind easier for adolescents to accomplish.”

The majority of the participants enacted kindness to people they know, most frequently to family, friends and other students. As the bulk of the kind acts took place at the school, the findings show positive effects for school climate, student-to-student relationships and student behaviour.

Following the one-week challenge, participants were interviewed once again to see how their perception of their own kindness had changed. The findings showed a significant increase in their self-ratings of face-to-face and online kindness.

“This has implications for school-based initiatives seeking to encourage kindness among students who may say, ‘but I’m already kind’,” says Binfet. “The findings suggest that by participating in a short kindness activity, students’ perceptions of themselves as kind may be boosted.”

For years, Binfet’s research has focused on counterbalancing the bullying literature to elevate the discussion of kindness. Through this latest research, his goal is to challenge the negative stereotypes of teens.

“I think adolescents can be misperceived, especially in schools. By understanding how they show kindness, parents, educators and researchers can gain insight as to how they actualize pro-social behaviour,” says Binfet.  “We can find ways to best structure opportunities for youth to be kind to help foster their development.”

The study was published in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit:

UBCO professor offers advice to create a flourishing workplace remotely

Many Canadians have been working from home in an effort to help flatten the curve and limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Some people have been thriving in their new remote work environment, but there are those who have been experiencing challenges.

As BC begins to cautiously re-open and lift restrictions, many organizations are exploring the potential of employees remaining to work from home on a part-time or even permanent basis.

“Working remotely has greatly changed the workplace dynamic,” says Sabre Cherkowski, Okanagan School of Education director of graduate programs and UBC Okanagan’s Social Sciences and Humanities Researcher of the Year. “Many people have experienced a sense of disconnection and disengagement, but there are still ways we can have a sense of flourishing in this new workspace.”

What does a flourishing work environment look like?

While flourishing may look different to staff members—depending on what makes them feel most valued and connected to their work—we all have the opportunity to contribute to building flourishing environments. Research shows there are three areas we need to keep in check: well-being, leaderful mindsets and adaptive community.

The first considers everyone’s personal well-being. This includes positive emotions, positive relationships and a sense of making a difference.

The second is the creation of an environment where staff are encouraged to communicate openly with colleagues, be creative and respond to conflicts as an opportunity to learn and adapt together.

The third is paying attention to how staff can identify ways that their work contributes to the larger, shared goals of the organization, which provides a greater sense of ownership, engagement and shared leadership.

How can people learn to flourish in a remote workplace?

Flourishing at work is something we move towards and we can learn to notice and build on what works. It is moments of contentment or feeling pleased and proud of our accomplishments, and is deeply tied to relationships at work. Each member of the team will experience ‘flourishing’ in their own ways and that is unique to their circumstances.

As a leader, you have the opportunity to model what it means to grow well-being, moment by moment, and can encourage staff to ask for support as they notice shifts in well-being that may occur as our work continues to shift and change. Learning how to notice and nurture what makes us well, and learning to let go in order to sustain, can become an important, enjoyable and even a playful part of our work routines.

What are some practices you can do to enhance your workplace well-being while working from home?

Take opportunities each day to make space and time for what matters to you in your work. There are likely tasks that you dread doing and others that you love. Try making a schedule of your week and ensure you make time for what you love. As the week goes on, pay attention during these moments and savour them. Reflect on them later during the week and remember what you enjoyed in that work time.

Be similarly purposeful in looking for ways to engage your strengths in your work. Talk to your supervisor if there is a project that you would like to work on, or if you have an idea for something that might fulfil a need in the organization.

Find ways to enjoy time with your colleagues, laugh, relax and share ups and downs. Try to schedule a regular virtual happy hour after work or a casual lunch-time phone chat.

Reflect on what is working well for you. As you pay attention to these moments and experiences, you may find that more and more of them are cropping up in your reflections. You may want to try journaling to keep track of how your thoughts, feelings and experiences are evolving over time.

What are some ways we can engage with our colleagues in this new environment?

Find time to connect and be present with colleagues online. Acknowledge their accomplishments and celebrate successes, even small ones.

One easy activity you can do with your team through a virtual meeting platform, is to ask each of them to write down moments when they and their colleagues are engaged and having fun at work, and things that they’re often grateful for at the end of each workday

Allow some time for reflection and then have everyone share their observations, reflect on the conditions that seemed to make these experiences possible, and discuss how the team might support each other toward experiencing more of these moments in your work together.

During these times, it may feel as though the ground you’re standing on is slipping away. I always encourage people to try to see this as an opportunity for new learning, connection and renewal.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

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