MSFHR helps researchers change lives

13 December 2010

Part of the story that Dr. Sandra Jarvis-Selinger likes to tell about her recently-secured nearly $1 million grant is how she first got turned down. “It’s all part of the learning,” she says, “and an important step to our eventual success.” PhD trained in educational psychology with specialties in human learning, development and instruction, Jarvis-Selinger practices what she preaches, and it has helped her improve the opportunities for Aboriginal youth.

A 2008 MSFHR Career Investigator and Qualified Health Researcher for the Technology Enabled Knowledge Translation Investigative Centre (TEKTIC) infrastructure grant, Dr. Jarvis-Selinger acknowledges MSFHR as critical to her success, “One of the things the Michael Smith Foundation did for me was give me room to exhale,” she says. “When you don’t have to think anymore about how your position is being funded, you can concentrate on developing proposals, projects and programs that can positively impact others.”

Dr. Jarvis-Selinger’s 2006 CIHR-funded initiative, Community Learning Centres (CLC): A Model of Community Engagement in Health, Education and Training, is one of the projects that did just that. The CLC research team acted as mentors to the BC-based Ktunaxa Nation, helping to train them as researchers and technology specialists in order to address their community’s health education priorities.

Jarvis-Selinger hopes for similar success with her new project, leading a $917,000 initiative funded over four years by CIHR, known as eMentoring: Building pathways to health careers for Aboriginal youth. Although she previously applied for funding, that first proposal was unsuccessful.

“The first time, we went to the wrong granting agency with the wrong ask,” she says, “but we learned a lot from that experience and I like to tell that part of the story because it’s reality; it’s important to take the opportunity you’ve been given and learn something from it.”

It’s this kind of resilience that enhanced the second, and successful proposal. “The second time around we had more time and expertise to reflect on our application,” she says, “and we were one of three chosen from a finalist list of 28. It was extremely validating, and also a credit to our MSFHR TEKTIC funding, which is what gave us the ability to focus resources on the proposal. It made all the difference to our success.”

The eMentoring project aims to connect at least 100 First Nations students in grades six through 12 with 50 post-secondary health sciences students over two academic years. While there are several BC-based programs that target Aboriginal youth, one of the ways eMentoring seeks to fill in the gaps between those programs is to target students early enough to influence their initial high school course choices. “It can be too late in Grade 12,” says Jarvis-Selinger, “If they’ve decided that biology and chemistry aren’t their cup of tea, they probably haven’t kept their options open for a career in medicine. eMentoring is really about giving those options back, keeping the potential open and offering these students the chance to positively impact their lives.  It’s also about changing the way academic institutions think about access to health science programs by making it more about real opportunities for success.”