UBC Okanagan is celebrating six outstanding researchers with one of its most prestigious research awards—Researcher of the Year.
The award recognizes the ways in which UBCO researchers—three faculty and three graduate student or postdoctoral fellows—are making the world a better place through excellence in research and scholarly activity.
The 2023 Researcher of the Year awards ceremony honoured faculty winners Dr. Heather Gainforth for health research, Dr. Greg Garrard for social sciences and humanities and Dr. Isaac Li for the natural sciences and engineering category.
Alongside her teaching in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Dr. Gainforth’s research in the area of spinal cord injury (SCI) is focused on helping people with SCI live better lives. She engages directly with people living with SCI and invites the SCI community to help direct her work, in order to focus on the community’s high-priority needs that have historically received little research attention. Dr. Gainforth is dedicated to getting her results to those who need it most.
Dr. Garrard researches how humans’ activities and their perceptions of their environments shape the physical landscapes they inhabit. As a Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, he’s a globally respected voice in sustainability who is focusing on the Okanagan region. His work asks people to interrogate their own perspectives on issues such as climate change or wildfires and helps individuals understand other perspectives to combat cultural polarization.
Immersed in the study of the physical interactions between cells, Dr. Li, Assistant Professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, is an emerging leader in his field. His interdisciplinary lab builds specialized, DNA-based molecular tools to visualize these interactions at the scale of single molecules and opens opportunities for controlling these interactions, which can lead to a variety of future impacts, including disease treatments.
“UBC Okanagan’s vibrant research community continues to foster top-notch talent, which is clearly evident from this year’s Researcher of the Year recipients,” says Dr. Phil Barker, Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “I’m so pleased to share and recognize the success of our incredible researchers and their important work.”
Three graduate or postdoctoral researchers were also recognized for their excellence in scholarly activity and highlighted as researchers to watch in the coming years:
- Postdoctoral Fellow Researcher of the Year
Dr. Femke Hoekstra, Faculty of Health and Social Development
- Doctoral Student Researcher of the Year
Melanie Dickie, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science
- Master’s Student Researcher of the Year
Hanna Paul, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
“It’s inspiring to see the breadth of subject matter and the quality of research conducted by our students and postdocs,” says Dr. Peter Simpson, Dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “These researchers are changemakers—conducting research to investigate some of the world’s most challenging problems and producing creative work that addresses the human condition.”
The distinguished award honours leaders at UBCO who have reached across disciplines to have major impacts in their fields, says Dr. Barker.
“Here at UBC Okanagan, we know that working together across traditional boundaries is key to helping advance discovery,” he adds. “These researchers epitomize that call to action and I look forward to seeing where it will lead their fields in the years to come.”
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What: Student Okanagan Film Festival
Who: UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies
When: Monday, May 8 at 7 pm
Where: Mary Irwin Theatre, Rotary Centre for the Arts, 421 Cawston Ave
Next week’s Student Okanagan Film Festival, now in its seventh year, will show a variety of short films from a wide range of genres including mini-documentary, experimental short films, music videos, animation and short narrative films.
This annual event includes films from any student in the Okanagan, including from UBC Okanagan and those in regional high schools and post-secondary institutions.
Visual Arts professor Myron Campbell co-organizes the event theatre along with UBCO faculty members Michael V. Smith and Daniel Keyes. Campbell also helps with planning the branding and design each year and Smith is the emcee for the event.
“We are excited to be able to celebrate emerging student filmmakers of the Okanagan Valley by showcasing their work to a wide audience,” says Campbell. “It’s a great opportunity for these filmmakers to see their work on the big screen.”
Local emerging filmmakers were invited a few months ago to submit their work for the chance to be included in the festival screening. The goal is to create an hour of programming of the best films. A panel of jurors, consisting of faculty members and student volunteers, is working to narrow the more than 40 selections for the viewing.
“The quality of films are getting better every year, and we are looking forward to seeing and sharing what students have produced this year,” Campbell adds.
The Student Okanagan Film Festival is open to the public and the screening takes place at the Mary Irwin Theatre on May 8, starting at 7 pm. Admission is by donation, all proceeds go back into the festival programming for future years.
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In an environment of increasing polarization, debates can serve as a way of bringing worlds together. This belief is behind UBC Okanagan’s venture to champion civil discourse.
“At UBC Okanagan, we believe that debate is an antidote to polarization,” says Lesley Cormack, UBC Okanagan’s Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor and host of the marquee event. “Universities can facilitate tough conversations and convene opposing perspectives, and UBC Okanagan Debates will serve as a lively and engaging platform to examine tough topics in an illuminating way.”
The inaugural debate on May 3 will tackle artificial intelligence—one of the most defining issues of our time. Debaters will present either an optimistic or skeptical perspective of AI and discuss whether we should take a step back and press pause or embrace this potentially disruptive technology.
The debate will be moderated by Nora Young, radio personality and host of CBC’s Spark—a show devoted to digital technology.
“We have the luxury of living in the information age, but the downside is that we are drowning in information,” says Marten Youssef, Associate Vice-President of University Relations at UBCO. “Quantity of information isn’t just the problem, but it’s the quality of it too. This is why debating artificial intelligence is both urgent and important.”
On Wednesday, May 3, UBCO will convene four leading thinkers in artificial intelligence to debate the optimistic and skeptical sides of this topic. How it will impact our human connections, our creativity and the way we work. The debaters are:
On the optimist side:
Kevin Leyton-Brown—a Computer Science Professor who likes to play games with machines. He teaches them how to learn, cooperate and compete in complex environments such as auctions and markets.
Madeleine Ransom—a Philosophy Professor who likes to explore how we perceive the world. She investigates how our senses, cognition and technology shape our understanding of reality and art. She is philosophical about AI: it’s going to change the world for the better.
On the skeptic side:
Bryce Traister—Dean of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, he has expertise in early American literature, culture, religion and science fiction. He is also a master debater who can challenge any professor to a verbal duel. He loves sci-fi and is proud to be a nerd.
Wendy Wong—a Professor and Principal’s Research Chair of Political Science. She has written a book about data and human rights that will be published in October 2023. She thinks AI poses a threat to our social and political frameworks, and it is time to empower the stakeholders in AI discussions.
Hosted by Dr. Cormack, the event takes place at UBCO’s Commons theatre at 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public but registration is required. More information, and a registration link, can be found at: ok.ubc.ca/debates
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What: Wrap-up event for Okanagan Short Story Content
Who: Fiction writers across BC’s Southern Interior
When: Thursday, April 6, at 7 pm
Where: The Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, 421 Cawston Ave., Kelowna
Drum roll, please.
The winners of the 2023 Okanagan Short Story Contest are about to be announced.
UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies (FCCS) has published the finalists of the annual fiction writing contest.
The Okanagan Short Story Contest recognizes the best new short stories by emerging fiction writers in the Southern Interior of British Columbia, explains FCCS Professor Nancy Holmes. Past winners have gone on to publish with Penguin Random House, Arsenal Pulp Press and NeWest Press, as well as numerous national and international magazines and journals.
A total of 150 short story entries were submitted for the adult category, and 54 stories for the high school category.
“Once again, the quality and quantity of the entries were amazing,” says Professor Holmes. “The Interior of BC is becoming a hotbed of great fiction.”
Shortlisted authors: Adult Category
- Nils Donnelly, Kelowna
- Carolyn Mitchell, Lake Country
- Miracle Adebayo, Kelowna
- Alison Braid, Summerland
- Glenna Turnbull, Kelowna
- Jules Vadura, Kelowna
- Faye Arcand, Okanagan Falls
- Marina Meyer, Penticton
- Trista-Lee Godfrey, Kelowna
- Madeleine van Goudoever, Kelowna
- Kristin Burns, Vernon
- Claire Miller-Harder, Lake Country
- Dene Moore, 100 Mile House
- Levi Ravsborg, Kelowna
Shortlisted authors: High School Category
- Camryn Mackiewich, Vernon
- Sybella Stehmeier, West Kelowna
- Rhiannon Spinks, Kelowna
- Acacia Cousins, West Kelowna
- Sara Gray, Kelowna
- Emma Xu, Kelowna
- Dorian Detta, Cranbrook
- Vivian Bruce, Lake Country
Holmes says there are a few fun facts about a number of finalists. For example, Glenna Turnbull is a former prize winner while Kristin Burns, Faye Arcand, and Nils Donnelly—a current UBCO undergraduate student—have all been shortlisted in the past. Marina Meyer is an Okanagan College student while Miracle Adebayo and Claire Miller-Harder are current Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) students in creative writing. Finalist Kristin Burns is also a UBCO MFA alumna.
FCCS is offering cash prizes to the top three stories—$1,000, $400 and $200.The first prize winner also wins a one-week retreat at The Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre in Kelowna. The top story by a high school student receives a prize of $200. Co-sponsors of the contest are FCCS and the Central Okanagan Foundation.
The winners of the Okanagan Short Story Contest will be announced at a live event with contest judge Corinna Chong who is an acclaimed Canadian writer, editor and English professor at Okanagan College. The event will take place on Thursday, April 6 at 7 pm at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art.
To learn more, visit: fccs.ok.ubc.ca/short-story
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What: Fifth annual Life Raft Debate
Who: UBC professors compete to win a role to lead society
When: Wednesday, January 25, beginning at 7 pm
Venue: COM 201, Commons building, 3297 University Way and over Zoom
As the Okanagan winter progresses some people might dream of being cast away on a deserted beach.
But a few UBC Okanagan professors have now landed on a fictional island and have their work cut out for them.
Each year UBC Okanagan’s Society of Scholars hosts a Life Raft Debate, pitting faculty against each other as they maintain why they alone have the skills to help save the world and therefore deserve the last seat on the life-raft.
The premise for the fifth annual Life Raft Debate involves faculty who have crash-landed on a fictional tropical deserted island, explains Society of Scholars spokesperson Aimee Davarani. Recognizing the necessity for governance in their new home, the survivors must hold an election to determine who will become their leader and last hope for a civilized society.
“This is their chance to campaign as the new leader of the island,” she says. “With all the resources provided to stay alive, the chosen one must take on the challenge of forming a new culture that can be sustained for the future. Because who knows when help will arrive? But first, they must win the debate.”
“The members of the audience are the ones who will vote for their new leader, making this an entertaining and interactive evening,” Davarani adds, a third-year psychology student.
This year the debating professors include Dr. Jordan Stouck from the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, School of Engineering’s Dr. Alon Eisenstein and Dr. Renaud-Phillippe Garner from the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
“We invite people to come and watch the professors from different faculties debate against each other to prove that their discipline is superior to all others when it comes to creating and maintaining a new society,” adds Davarani.
To add intrigue to the evening, the final debater, Dr. Matthew Nelson, will play the role of Devil’s Advocate. The biology professor will campaign that none of the academic debaters deserve to be in a leadership role and the fate of society should rest with the audience as a whole.
“We really encourage our community to come watch our faculty members as they deal with this unique twist on defending their expertise,” says Davarani. “The annual Life Raft Debate has become a fun and entertaining way to help people discover how different points of view and areas of expertise can work together, or against, improving our society.”
More information and registration can be found at: students.ok.ubc.ca/life-raft
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While December is the time many people look forward to carrying on favourite traditions, the creative writing faculty at UBC Okanagan is encouraging local writers to begin a new one.
UBCO’s Okanagan Short Story Contest was initiated 25 years ago by Nancy Holmes and John Lent. Holmes, Associate Professor of Creative Writing, says if budding writers haven’t yet participated in the annual contest, maybe this is the year they should.
“When we launched the contest, we had no idea it would just get bigger and better two and a half decades on,” says Professor Holmes, who teaches in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies. “Each year the stories that win are amazing. I’m hoping for 25 more years and many more wonderful stories.”
The short story contest has a long tradition of introducing budding writers to the Okanagan community. Winners in previous years have gone on to publish with Penguin Random House, Arsenal Pulp Press and NeWest Press, as well as numerous national and international magazines and journals.
Local emerging writers are invited to submit their work for the chance to win great prizes, including a top award of $1,000 and a one-week retreat at The Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre in Kelowna. Second and third prizes are $400 and $200, respectively. This is the fourth consecutive year the contest has been open to high school students and the top prize for that category is $200.
Entries are open to fiction writers in the Southern Interior of British Columbia—east of Hope, west of the Alberta border, north of the border to the United States and south of Williams Lake.
All original entries must be between 1,000 and 4,000 words, and writers are welcome to submit as many entries as they choose. There is a $20 entry fee for each story (but no charge for students in the high school category). All proceeds will go towards the FCCS Creative Writing scholarships at UBC Okanagan, and towards supporting Indspire, an Indigenous organization that invests in the education of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.
“I really do hope people, who might have some time during the upcoming holiday season, try their hand at creative writing and test the waters by submitting an entry to the short story contest,” says Holmes. “Who knows, this might become an annual tradition for them.”
Entries must be received by 11:59 pm February 6, 2023.
Submitted entries will be adjudicated by celebrated Canadian fiction writer Corinna Chong and faculty from the Creative Writing Program. Chong won the 2021 CBC Short Story Prize for her work Kids in Kindergarten. Her first novel, Belinda’s Rings, was published in 2013 and her short fiction has been published in magazines across Canada, including The Malahat Review, Room, Grain and The Humber Literary Review. Chong currently lives in Kelowna and teaches English and Fine Arts at Okanagan College.
Winners of the short story contest will be announced in March at a public event where the finalists will be invited to read from their work. For a full list of contest details and rules, visit: fccs.ok.ubc.ca/short-story
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