June 5, 2020 | Science, Society
As MacEwan University prepares to announce the 2020 Board of Governors Research Chairs, we asked the outgoing chairs (also the first to hold the position) to reflect on their two years in the role.
Both Dr. Sandy Jung and Dr. Samuel Mugo agree that their two-year terms as MacEwan University’s first Board of Governors Research Chairs have been a gift of time.
“It is something we never get enough of as academics,” says Sandy, a professor in the Department of Psychology.
Time is key, adds Samuel, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Sciences, because each phase of a research program – identifying opportunities, applying for grants, partnering with academics and community organizations, conducting the research, sharing results and mentoring student researchers – is tied to the next. “Gaps can tank productivity and end up with the research program suffering.”
It’s why both Sandy and Samuel looked forward to investing the teaching release time that comes with each Board of Governors Research Chair position into their respective research programs.
For Sandy, the extra time was dedicated to advancing a decade’s worth of work with policing agencies – studying a risk tool the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) uses to evaluate domestically violent men who are being investigated, and securing a $25,000 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Engage Grant that allowed her to work with EPS’s Behavioural Assessment Unit (BAU) researching how detectives manage and supervise high-risk violent offenders. Having the flexibility to spend time working out of the EPS unit and connecting directly with detectives and the community agencies they work with has serious implications for Sandy’s research.
“Context is important when trying to understand your data,” she says. The opportunity to see for herself how multiple agencies work with BAU detectives and the role each plays in helping offenders maintain prosocial lives in the Edmonton community, says Sandy, will help her make better recommendations that address real-world issues and problems.
Dr. Samuel Mugo spent his time as Board of Governors Research Chair advancing his research to develop nanomaterials and sensors that increase sustainability, including a plant sensor to monitor wellness in the field.
Samuel’s tenure as research chair also focused on building partnerships to address practical problems – in his case, environmental and food monitoring. In November 2019, he travelled to Costa Rica to join an interdisciplinary team of scientists and materials engineers developing nanomaterials (tiny chemical materials with unique tailorable features) that can be integrated into sensor devices. He forged relationships with researchers in China looking at development of
“electronic skin” patches that can be used for dermal drug release and non-invasive wellness diagnostics. In early 2020, his project that uses wearable sensors to detect environmental stress on plants, such as sweet peas, received $70,000 in Alberta Innovates funding.
“We plan to deliver a wearable sensor that can monitor plant wellness in the field and contribute to sustainability and precision agriculture in Alberta and Canada,” says Samuel. “This success can be attributed in large measure to the Board of Governors Research Chair teaching time release.”
Samuel and Sandy aren’t the only people at MacEwan who have benefitted from their time as research chairs. Students also play a central role in the faculty members’ accomplishments over the past two years – conducting research, working with community partners, contributing to journal publications and book chapters, presenting findings locally and nationally, and often going on to graduate school where they continue to hone the research skills they first learned at MacEwan.
“In research circles, these students are referred to as ‘highly qualified personnel,’” says Samuel. “Seeing them contribute the skills they have learned at MacEwan to their workplaces and grad school programs brings to life the significance of what I do – I feel like their success is the trophy of my own scholarship.”
“Watching students develop their knowledge as consumers, and then as researchers, is an amazing experience,” says Sandy. “The role has allowed me to showcase not only the findings my students and I produce, but also what MacEwan research is about – change, collaboration and community.”
2019 Board of Governors Research Chairs
Dr. Shelley Boulianne and Dr. Erin Walton continue to advance the profile of research, scholarly and creative activities at the university for 2019 and 2020.