a student with a backpack and a mask in front of the Ryerson Student Learning Centre
Since the pandemic began, we’ve been working hard to support our students and broader community.

Few events have impacted our lives and livelihoods like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. From the beginning, the FCS COVID-19 pandemic response has been one of action from every part of our faculty. We’ve been committed to research and understand how we can improve people’s day-to-day realities in our shared constituencies. 

Early in the pandemic, we took proactive measures to protect students and ensure they could relocate away from campus safely, supported by a $545,000 emergency bursary fund. We took action to support our community and teaching partners by providing PPE, hospital equipment and creating experiential learning placements in COVID-19 response roles. We also engaged our communities to help make and deliver masks to Indigenous communities. FCS launched various research initiatives to better understand the pandemic and its effects with two rounds of Rapid Response Research project funding through the leadership of Professor Jennifer Martin, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Scholarly, Research and Creative (SRC) Activity, Faculty of Community Services and Associate Professor, School of Child and Youth Care. Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing Urban Health Chair Josephine Wong and professor Sepali Guruge also received funding for major research projects looking into pandemic impacts on Canadians of Asian descent, Immigrants, and older people living alone. Guruge engaged frontline health care workers about both how they cope and innovate. Professors Tim Sly, and Thomas Tenkate, from the School of Occupational and Public Health, became regular fixtures throughout Canadian media, online and on the evening news. They helped journalists explain evolving pandemic realities to the general public. 

COVID-19 has proven to be an ongoing and difficult challenge for us all. Despite those challenges, FCS staff and faculty made every effort to research and understand the pandemic’s impact. We continue to use these insights to help offer solutions and ongoing recommendations to these challenges so we can respond and cope more effectively.

PPE donations and students on the frontlinesSupporting First Nations with masks and essential itemsRapid Response research funds addressed multiple pandemic-related issues
a nurse in PPE vaccinating an elderly woman wearing a mask
Our nursing students have joined the effort to administer COVID-19 vaccines to at-risk groups.

Nursing school donates PPE and hospital beds to local hospitals and teaching partners in need, and nursing students help distribute the vaccine

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, FCS schools rallied to support their community and teaching partners, sharing personal protective equipment (PPE), 20 hospital beds, and other health equipment with local hospital partners, including Women's College and St. Michael’s hospitals. “We are glad to be able to help out at this challenging time, even in a small way. As nurses, we need to be thinking about how we can best work together and make whatever contributions we can to our partners and colleagues. Our clinical partners are critical to our students’ successes across all our programs, and they have always been there for us. We need to be there for them when they need us now,” Nancy Walton, then director of the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, said at the time.

The Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing provided the equivalent of 64 full-time frontline staff to Humber River Hospital.

As the pandemic propagated, FCS continued to place a high value on the importance of experiential learning and maintaining high-quality placement opportunities for students in various programs. “Innovation and collaboration have been vital,” said Susana Nives-Silva, manager of Central Placement Office and Simulation. “If you are getting a COVID-19 test during the week at a major Toronto hospital, the test is probably administered by one of our student nurses working under a preceptor supervision model.” Pre-graduation students are both providing much-needed support in the current stressed healthcare environment and are making significant contributions to the COVID-19 vaccination of at-risk groups. These experiences will certainly prepare them with the skills and knowledge needed for the handling of future pandemic and crisis situations. The Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing provided the equivalent of 64 full-time frontline staff at Humber River Hospital, a valuable teaching partner. “Experiential learning is an important component of our curriculum. It helps us ensure that our graduating nurses are both safe and competent care providers,” said Professor Maher M. El-Masri, current director of the school. 

hands crafting a mask
We contributed to the Finding Our Power Together initiative by donating thousands of masks and other essential items to First Nations.

Ryerson Professors answer the call to get masks for First Nations in Northern and Southern Ontario

Professors Judy Finlay, School of Child and Youth Care, Shelagh McCartney, School of Urban Planning, and Nicole Ineese-Nash, Early Childhood Studies, mobilized the Ryerson community and community partners, early in the pandemic, to support northern communities with whom they have long-term partnerships. Ineese-Nash built this initiative into the Finding Our Power Together initiative.

“The work doesn’t end with masks,” said Ineese-Nash, the founder of Finding Our Power Together. “We are also collecting and sending educational supplies for children, including books, colouring sheets, toys, and craft kits so they can have access to educational material while in isolation.” This initiative is an Indigenous non-profit organization working to support Indigenous youth across Turtle Island to gain access to the resources they seek to achieve their self-determined goals.

10,000 masks, 140 hygiene kits, educational materials, art supplies, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food items were donated and delivered to 6 first nations.

Finding Our Power Together, in collaboration with Finlay and McCartney, collected and shipped over 45 boxes worth of donations received from generous donors. This shipment included over 10,000 masks, 140 hygiene kits, educational materials, art supplies, cleaning supplies, and non-perishable food items to Nibinamik, Eabametoong, and Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, Neskantaga, Webequie, and Canoe Lake Cree First Nation.

“This was a youth-led initiative,” said Finlay.  “Knowing that other people care is important, so are ways of staying connected. We were able to supply some phones with prepaid minutes on them, although service and internet access is spotty in the north. We are following the tradition of mamow-Ki-ken-da-womin - searching together for answers.”

Professor Eric Liberda, School of Occupational and Public Health, and Responsive Ecologies Lab director Jason Nolan, Early Childhood Studies, are supporting the Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia to build capacity to develop beyond COVID-19 personal health equipment PPE needs, helping to establish local emergency preparedness fabrication infrastructure for present and future pandemic and emergency management needs. “We have recently expanded our partnership with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the northern First Nation communities of Peawanuck and Eabametoong,” said Liberda.  

Currently, among some First Nations, there is a gap in the distribution, manufacturing, and use of PPE. This is especially significant given the rolling shortage of PPE among not only medical healthcare workers, but non-medical community workers who require enhanced precautions and protection. A participatory pandemic framework integrating First Nation and non-First Nation perspectives forms the foundation for the project and works together in developing locally made PPE alongside updating community-specific pandemic plans.

a nurse sitting on the floor with her head in her hands
We studied the emotional experiences of nurses working in COVID-19 positive acute care hospital environments.

Researchers sprang into action, and Rapid Response research funds were used to explore the pandemic from many angles

FCS faculty studied many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on our world. This year $123,606 in funding was granted to eighteen COVID-19 rapid response research projects.  Among them:  

Nick Bellissimo, a professor at the School of Nutrition, used consumer behaviour research models to examine consumer mindsets and communication strategies concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Bellissimo, and his team, identified three different “mindsets” and “communication needs,” if public health messaging is to be effective. “In many ways, I think we were ahead of the pandemic with our research. This study has been replicated in several countries, and we see better results in areas that have followed communication guidelines like the ones we produced in our study,” said Bellissimo.

FCS granted $123,606 in funding to 18 COVID-19 Rapid Response research projects. 

May Friedman, a professor at the School of Social Work, looked at Mothers and COVID-19. During COVID-19, employment expectations, unemployment realities, and mothering expectations collide with homeschool and social expectations that broadly fall on mothers. “Mothers are implicated in specific and complex ways. Supporting mothers in telling their stories may support advocacy that allows for better social supports for mothers and families.”

Jennifer Lapum and Suzanne Fredericks, professors at the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, partnered with nurse leaders at University Health Network and University of Toronto to explore the emotional experiences of nurses working in COVID-19 positive acute care hospital environments. This study highlighted the intensity and complexity of these emotions and how it affected one’s mental health. While loss and trauma were present, their stories also reflected resilience. This research was published in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research and International Health Trends and Perspectives.

Professors Oona St-Amant, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, Karline Wilson-Mitchell, Midwifery Education Program, Henry Parada, Social Work, and Anneke Rummens, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, are analyzing discourses that inform guiding policies and standards of care for frontline workers. The team is identifying how objects associated with the pandemic, such as masks and other personal protective equipment for healthcare providers, have come to symbolize meaning in everyday life. The team has submitted a paper for publication under review. The findings will be used to engage in dialogue with professional associations and advocate for safe and equitable policies and practices for frontline healthcare providers across Ontario.

Fatih Sekercioglu, Richard Meldrum and Ian Young, professors at the School of Occupational and Public Health, studied case and contact management team members. Many of these staff have been working in these roles throughout the pandemic. Their findings will inform strategies to support case and contact management staff and programs for this and future pandemics in Canada and beyond. The team also studied the pandemic’s impact on consumer food handling and hand hygiene practices. They found that Canadians changed a number of practices, including increased hand washing, but also uncovered some potentially harmful ones, such as washing food with soap and other chemicals.

FCS faculty also studied the pandemic’s impact on diabetes, homeless youth, programming for young transgender people, and looked at food security among pregnant and postpartum homeless people in Toronto and how Sign Language and online learning impacted young people and parents.

FCS in action

Here are a few more ways we’ve responded to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year.

  • $652,682 was received in external funding for COVID-19-related research.
  • More than $545,000 in COVID-19 relief and Emergency Bursary funding reached over 1,100 students.
  • FCS loaned 20 much-needed hospital beds to Women’s College Hospital.
  • $500,000 was invested in a new experiential learning solution that was used by 905 nursing students.
  • 589 students had COVID-19-related placements in ICU/Emergency, long-term care, assessment centres/mobile clinics and vaccine centres.
  • A total of 2,948 experiential learning placements have taken place during COVID-19.
  • Over 60% of students in their final year were placed in acute care hospitals.