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Research and Innovation

INNOVATION NEWSLETTER

INNOVATION - Ryerson University Research & Innovation Newsletter

Issue 22: July/August 2016

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With an ever-growing focus on social innovation for systemic change, our researchers are exploring innovative ways in which we can achieve social justice for all—in particular for those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." This newsletter looks at how our research and innovation can inform decisions and improve lives. Our research is not only highlighting social inequalities but is also developing cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approaches toward a more just society. Bold new partnerships that challenge the status quo can create exciting new solutions, as our researchers look beyond the scope of their own work and branch out into our communities and beyond. Whether it’s working with local service agencies or reaching out to northern rural communities, research and social innovation at Ryerson are having real impacts that change lives. With ongoing help from our community partners and funders, we can continue to make Toronto, Ontario and Canada an even better place to live.

In this issue, we highlight how research at Ryerson is making great strides to help those at risk, assist those without a voice, and lift those who need it most. You’ll read about how Judy Finlay (Child and Youth Care) is co-chairing a project that impacts youth who have one foot in the state care system and another in the criminal justice system; how a new online geographical map, developed by Eric Vaz (Geography), tracks data and engages the community around legal issues and accessibility to attorneys; how Agnes Meinhard’s (Business Management) research demonstrates that social enterprises not only benefit participants financially, but also impact society at large; and how Vid Ingelevics (Image Arts) is curating photographs that examine the inequities and injustices that children endured in early 20th-century Toronto, contrasting their reality with that of today’s children.

Additionally, this issue highlights a cross-disciplinary collaboration between Lesley Campbell (Chemistry and Biology) and June Komisar (Architectural Science), who are building a community partnership that is growing food in a local botanical garden. Our spotlight shines on a program that is succeeding in diverting young girls toward the pursuit of sciences in order to set them up for success in engineering, spearheaded by Liping Fang (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering).

 

Usha George
Vice-President, Research and Innovation (Acting)

 

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Image: Cross-Over youth are young people within the child welfare system who are also involved with the criminal justice system. Photo courtesy of Cross-Over Youth project.

For youth in state care, over-representation in the criminal justice system is a pressing issue. The Cross-Over Youth project is working to address the challenge and is already creating success stories.

Judy Finlay is a professor in the School of Child and Youth Care whose previous work showed a strong correlation between being involved in the child welfare system and being incarcerated, demonstrating a clear need for intervention. The term “cross-over youth” identifies these youth who are in some way involved in both the child welfare and judicial systems. “Approximately, 50 per cent of the kids in the youth justice system are from the child welfare system, and that’s fundamentally wrong,” said Finlay.

In 2014 and 2015, Finlay organized several forums, round table discussions, surveys and interviews in order to determine the needs of cross-over youth with funding from the Canadian Department of Justice. Key themes were identified that would help craft the cross-over youth project: collaboration across sectors, cross-sectoral training, reasonable bail conditions, the role of child welfare workers, lawyers who can work both in family and criminal court (a.k.a. “two-hatters”), guidelines for criminal charges against youth in group homes, specialized court workers, mentors for youth, alternative forms of residential care, and education.

“We know that these youth have already experienced some sort of trauma, and they find themselves re-traumatized by the system,” said Finlay. “These kids have complex needs. If you aren’t collaborating with all the service sectors, you’re only dealing with a piece of this child’s life.”

Bringing all players to the table, from the child welfare system to lawyers, police, probation officers, and family members allows for the creation of unique solutions tailored to fit each individual youth’s needs without laying criminal charges.

Sheena Scott, the director of the project at Ryerson, says the project’s outcomes are being monitored closely, but so far, among approximately 25 youth who have passed through the family court site at 311 Jarvis St., there have been some successes in diverting toward solutions other than involvement in the criminal justice system. By the end of the year, the pilot will move out of 311 Jarvis St. and on to the next site in Belleville. Currently, Thunder Bay is launching its pilot and Chatham-Kent has been identified as the fourth site in the province to start coordinating services.

Youth involved in the project have complex needs. With the help of the project, the system has been better at coming up with solutions that focus on children’s services and not youth justice solutions. The hope is that once the pilot is complete, those who are dealing directly with the youth will have the resources needed to move forward with a new, more integrated approach.

According to Justice Brian Scully, co-chair of the project, one of the strongest predictors of incarceration is a previous incarceration. Keeping youth out of the system to begin with will help ensure that they have the opportunity to live productive lives without entanglement in the legal systems. Scully said that changing protocols and how individual frontline workers execute their jobs has proved challenging. However, the desire for change in the system leaves him hopeful that real solutions will come forward in this process.

“We have been challenging people to think outside of the box,” said Scully. “We have already had a number of cases where, by planning and coordinating, working with the families, the child welfare system and the various resources, we have had great success in keeping youth from incarceration. There have been tears of great relief from families.”

 

 

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Image: At work in the Inspirations ceramic studio. Credit: Inspirations Studio.

Investing in social enterprises not only benefits the participants but also society at large, according to a study by Agnes Meinhard, director of the Centre for Voluntary Sector Studies and her co-investigator Pauline O’Connor.

As a professor of Business Management, Meinhard has been examining the long-term impact of “Inspirations”, a social enterprise that supports homeless and marginalized women in the Toronto area by providing them with a space to create art and generate income.

Over a five-year study, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Meinhard conducted an in-depth analysis, including an observational and survey analysis as well as focus groups of the social enterprise. She and her team, including undergraduate research assistants, calculated the social return on investment (SROI) and found that the women saw an improvement in their mental health and in their overall health, they slept better, experienced less stress and anxiety, and they had fewer encounters with law enforcement. “For every dollar spent on the program, we saw a $3 social return on investment,” said Meinhard. Moreover, a few of the women said that Inspirations “saved their life.”

Through Inspirations, a ceramics studio located in the resource centre Sistering, the women can not only create art, but learn business skills and have the opportunity to sell their pieces and retain some of the profit. For the women, the project has helped boost their self-esteem and has given them some discretionary funds to supplement their Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Pension (ODSP) funds within the limits allowed.

Many improved their overall health, quit smoking, decreased their emergency room use and purchased better quality food, said Meinhard. Some women reported sleeping better because they had lessened anxiety. Creating the ceramic cups, plates, and platters gave the women purpose and confidence, said Meinhard. “Some said they were finally able to buy Christmas presents for their grandchildren. It gave them a sense of value to be able to contribute to their families instead of being dependent.”

The women also benefited from the social aspect of participating in the cooperative artistic endeavour. “They have created friendships that they didn’t have before,” said Meinhard. “They considered each other family.”

 

 

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Image: A Geographical Information System will help track legal services available to Ontarians. This photo shows a screenshot of the map in progress.

Through the use of spatial analysis software, geography professor Eric Vaz is working with the Boldness Project to identify gaps in legal services in rural and remote areas in Ontario.

The Boldness Project — spearheaded by a network of social justice advocates including founder of the Social Projects Studio at Ryerson, Ric Young — is creating an inclusive justice approach for rural and remote areas in Ontario. Vaz recently became involved with the project, collaborating with Legal Aid Ontario to map the available services throughout rural regions.

Vaz is creating a Geographical Information System (GIS) to map out the areas in Ontario where access to legal services is lacking. In its first phase, the online map will consist of several layers of information including locations of legal aid clinics, legal aid service offices, and courthouses, providing details such as hours of operation as well as catchment areas for each of the clinics. As the map grows, more information — such as census data and content generated by users on Twitter or online reviews — will be incorporated to compile a more complete picture of the rural legal service. The map will be made accessible for the general public, for use by both individuals and organizations. “We want to know what is the community saying about legal aid in Ontario,” said Vaz.

Moreover, the map will help generate data for research. “We are creating a knowledge system,” said Vaz. “We want to find the patterns of where there are no services and try to understand why some areas have greater needs for access to legal assistance.”

‘Hot spots’ on the map are identified as areas that are underserved but have great needs for legal help, whereas ‘cold spots’ are areas that have no service at all. “There are definitely injustices,” said Vaz, noting that especially in northern Ontario, the dispersed population creates very large catchment areas with very few available legal staff. He added that access to legal services is important to the overall well-being of a community. “The map becomes a tool to mitigate the imbalances and asymmetries,” he said. “It can be used by policy makers when creating boundaries and addressing staffing [shortages].”

The first phase of the map is scheduled to be launched in October, 2016.

 

 

 

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Image: Two photos juxtaposed to show the contrast between the early 20th century and the modern day. (Left) Corner of Elizabeth and Louisa Streets, May 1912. Credit: Arthur Goss. Courtesy of City of Toronto Archives. (Right) Corner of Elizabeth and Hagerman Streets, Oct. 2015. Credit: Mary Anderson.

Using images to tell the story of children in early 20th-century Toronto, Vid Ingelevics, a professor of Image Arts at Ryerson, is examining how underprivileged children – often from immigrant families – lived in a city in the midst of modernization.

As part of a larger multi-institutional team of social work academics led by the University of Toronto, Ingelevics is a co-investigator on the project, which will culminate with a richly textured exhibition titled “From Streets to Playgrounds: Representing Children in Early 20th Century Toronto” that will be presented at the City of Toronto Archives at 255 Spadina Road. The exhibition features photographs, paintings and texts drawn from research that focused on the civic push in the early 20th century to regulate the activities of Toronto’s children. During the time period studied, roughly between 1910 and 1925, there was a movement to get children off the street and onto playgrounds, where they would have regular interaction with public health nurses or other child workers who could monitor their health and well-being.

Ingelevics and the team, which is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, are working with the images of two particularly iconic Toronto photographers of the era, Arthur Goss and William James, as jumping-off points for their research. Both made significant contributions to the visual history of the city in their own ways. Ingelevics’s research showed that some of the photography was used in multiple contexts, as they were often used to highlight the situations of poor immigrant families in a growing industrialized city. “You see some of the same photos used over and over again but often in different contexts each time,” said Ingelevics. The photographs provide documentation of social issues that shaped the time, he said. In the display, which will open on September 29, the photos will be contextualized with information culled from research carried out by members of the team. The display shows what photographers presented at the time as a need to provide safer spaces for children in the city. This concern was linked to fears about the impact of Eastern European immigration prevalent amongst citizens of Toronto of the day.

“The situation of children in our city today presents us with a very different scene,” said Ingelevics. Indeed, young children standing and/or playing unaccompanied in the streets was common-place in the early 1900s, the photos reveal. “The streets appeared to be filled with children.” The team’s project is looking at how social activism in Toronto focused on children in particular. “The photographers’ images – some working for the City of Toronto and others for the media of the time – were often used to show social conditions in immigrant neighbourhoods,” said Ingelevics.

While photographs are documents, they inevitably have an aesthetic about them, which Ingelevics also addresses. “There is always a tension between the pleasure we gain from how an image is composed and its informational content,” said Ingelevics, adding that the photos offered a dark but captivating image of the era. “In the late 19th century, there was an image environment prevalent, which includes fine art painting, that romanticized poverty and especially children on the streets,” he said. “The children were often portrayed as these ‘picturesque waifs’.”

However, some of the photographers of the era were also very “media savvy” – with examples like Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis being the best known – and in today’s context, such photographers would likely be using tools like Twitter to disseminate their messages of social concern. “Certain photographs taken by Toronto’s photographers were deployed strategically – and usually not by the photographers themselves – to send a message,” he said. Using images as documents to attest to conditions was recognized at the time as a powerful tool for engaging the community in improving social conditions and, relatedly, the city’s often primitive infrastructure, according to Ingelevics. “In our exhibition, we are hoping that the form of our presentation tells part of the story too,” he said. “The images and what we have done with them draw you in and, hopefully, will engage you with our subject.”

 

 

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Image: Community groups get involved in the planting of the gardens as conceived and planned by the Edible Allan Gardens project. Credit: Joe Nasr

What started as a small seed, the desire to bring the disciplines of botany and architecture together, has grown into a lush garden of which Ryerson’s neighbouring community has reaped the benefits.

The Edible Allan Gardens project was launched in June in order to better understand how botany and architecture could complement each other. Professors Lesley Campbell of Chemistry and Biology and June Komisar of Architectural Science embarked on a joint research project that helps bring their two fields together and create community engagement at the same time. Several community players joined the project, including community groups, Building Roots, Friends of Allan Gardens and ERA architects, along with students from Ryerson’s architecture program and botany program.

Prior to planting, students from Campbell’s group conducted research in different community gardens in Toronto. “We surveyed gardens to try to figure out the kind of foods that Torontonians want to eat, and what actually grows here,” said Campbell. “We became aware of the food diversity here in the city, and that informed the design of the garden.” Campbell’s research on crop diversity showed 108 different crops in 10 allotment gardens around Toronto, including a variety of root vegetables, leafy greens, tomatoes and different squash-type vegetables. Additionally, it showed that the polyculture nature of urban gardens often resulted in very high yields with the help of vertical structures like trellises and stakes to make the most of the space. The research also pointed to the fact that gardeners were more likely to plant more expensive vegetables, which suggests that food security could be motivating urban gardeners.

The results of this research can be seen in the robust Ryerson Home Grown project, a student-initiative that involved both Campbell and Komisar, and saw both in-ground and rooftop vegetable gardens built at Ryerson. According to Komisar, the Edible Allan Gardens project has created an experiential learning opportunity for master’s of architecture student Ashley Adams and her team of master’s of architecture students who collectively designed and oversaw the creation of the structures in the garden, worked out a budget, consulted and coordinated with stakeholders and ensured that needs of all groups were addressed.

“We have elderly people who couldn’t bend over to reach low garden beds and young children who couldn’t reach the high garden containers,” said Komisar. “For a student, this was a great learning project.”

Come the fall, Campbell and her students will assess what was harvested.  “We will be asking what was a success and what was a failure,” said Campbell. “How often people picked food, how much people ate.”

According to Komisar, they can already see that more communication could have ensured better garden management, as the crops were not always harvested in a timely manner. “We had lettuce shoot up to four feet tall,” she said, explaining that an overgrown lettuce would be bitter and not desirable to eat. “People were too polite and didn’t pick when the crops were ready. We could have communicated over social media when produce was ready and ensured that the food was being harvested.”

Komisar says that all signs point toward a successful endeavour that she hopes will expand in years to come with additional urban spaces being used for community gardening.

 

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Image: Grade 9 and 10 girls involved in the Pitch Black program learn about engineering in a gender-neutral, youth-focused setting. Photo courtesy of Pitch Black project.

In an effort to reach girls who might be interested in pursuing engineering, Ryerson researchers have set out to “rebrand” engineering to make it more authentic and engaging for girls.

Supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada PromoScience grant, Liping Fang (Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Student Affairs) and Nika Zolfaghari (Engineering Enrichment and Outreach Coordinator) have established an outreach program, named “Pitch Black,” at Ryerson. Pitch Black is run by Ryerson's Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science, bringing undergraduate students to high schools throughout the GTA with the goal of rebranding engineering education in order to encourage more girls to learn about and pursue the field.

In the last session of Pitch Black, over 2,000 students participated in the workshops, which featured undergraduate engineering students mentoring grade 9 students in an engineering challenge. In grade 9 science classrooms, students were tasked with repairing a circuit board to “restore power” to light bulbs in various environments, such as hospitals or grocery stores, to give real-life context to the problem.

Research has shown that "several bottlenecks were contributing to low female enrolment in engineering,” said Fang. “Students are making decisions about future career opportunities as early as grades 9 and 10 by selecting or opting out of courses like physics." Grade 10 science classes in Ontario boast gender parity, yet female students only comprise about 34 per cent of the students in grade 12 physics (a pre-admission requisite for engineering).

Fang co-authored a research paper titled “Female Millennial Perceptions of Engineering Identity” — featuring work from WEMADEIT, a partnership with Hydro One and four universities, led by Ryerson — that aimed to assess the deficit of girls pursuing undergraduate engineering programs. The project spawned a youth think tank that generated key findings and recommendations in addressing the gender gap. They discovered that, although developing technical skills and finding gainful employment are important, these are not the themes that are most effective at inspiring girls in grades 9 and 10 to choose an engineering educational path.

The youth think tank members recommended the promotion of a more youthful and gender-neutral engineering identity that emphasized the creative, collaborative, and socially and environmentally impactful nature of the profession.

Subsequently, programming like Pitch Black was developed to take the messaging into the classroom. Entry and exit surveys conducted during Pitch Black presentations showed changes in the students’ views on engineering — using descriptions like “making the world a better place” — and 54 per cent of the female students reported that they had an increased interest in engineering after the activity. Moreover, Zolfaghari said that many teachers wrote to her following the presentations to thank her for the program.

According to Fang, getting girls engaged in engineering has an important social benefit. “The research shows that female students want to do good for society,” said Fang. That mindset is “really beneficial to the engineering profession as a whole,” he added.

 

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Congratulations to the Ryerson faculty who have recently received grants in support of their research programs.

The list below includes a selection of grants, awarded between mid June and end of July 2016, where Ryerson is the principal grant holder and publication of the award is approved by the corresponding granting agencies.

 

Principal Investigator

Award /Program

Andrew Millward (Geography)

Ontario Centres of Excellence VIP 1

Jennifer McArthur (Architectural Science)

Ontario Centres of Excellence VIP 1

Deb Fels (Information Technology Management)

Ontario Centres of Excellence Advancing Education Program

Kaamran Raahemifar (Electrical & Computer Engineering)

NSERC Collaborative Research and Development Grant

Xiao-Ping Zhang (Electrical & Computer Engineering)

NSERC Collaborative Research and Development Grant

Andrew Millward (Geography)

NSERC Engage Grant

Sharareh Taghipour (Mechanical & Industrial Engineering)

NSERC Engage Grant

Michael Arts (Chemistry & Biology)

NSERC Engage Grant

Elsayed Elbeshbishy (Civil Engineering)

NSERC Engage Grant

Khandaker Muhammed Anwar Hossain (Civil Engineering)

NSERC Engage Grant

Mark Towler (Mechanical & Industrial Engineering)

CIHR Project Grant

Costin Antonescu (Chemistry & Biology)

CIHR New Investigator Award

Ken Grant (Entrepreneurship & Strategy)

Mitacs Accelerate

Frank Russo (Psychology)

Mitacs Elevate