Michele Vitale

I am completing my PhD in Human Geography with Dr. Sean Doherty. My research focuses on the weight, diet, and physical activity of immigrants after settlement in Canada in order to better understand if, why, and to what extent their risk of weight-gain gradually increases since arrival.

While most previous research has assumed that foreign groups equally converge to the higher obesity levels of the host society, we found that obesity risk significantly varies depending on ethnicity, gender, and education background, with less-educated male Hispanics being the most vulnerable group. In addition, data collected shows that weight gains are larger and more likely to happen for newcomers suffering of depression and reporting above-average psychological stress levels, which suggests that obesogenic disorders may depend on the behavioral and physiological consequences of repeated exposure to migration-related psychosocial stressors, such as financial insecurity, language barriers, and social isolation.

In an increasingly diverse and multiethnic Canada, future prevention efforts should focus on those newcomers without adequate nutrition knowledge and coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. We also hope that our research findings will encourage the development of obesity preventive programs that include social integration strategies and assess and monitor individual stress levels to help immigrants to avoid frequent unhealthy stress-coping behaviors, such as the consumption of sugary foods, emotional eating, physical inactivity, and reduced sleep. 

Anthony Piscitelli

My Masters of Arts thesis explores the relationship between fear of crime and civic engagement, an area that has yet to receive adequate treatment from the literature. The study begins by using the 2011 Waterloo Region Area survey to explore quantitatively the nature of the relationship between fear of crime, social capital and civic engagement, which for this survey was measured by looking at voting. After these tests, in-depth follow up interviews with 12 survey participants were conducted to reveal alternative hypotheses. Interviewees suggested that fear of crime may be a cause of participation in a community crime prevention initiative which serves as a proxy for civic engagement. However, the interviews could not provide definitive insight into the casual direction between fear and participation. Following these interviews, data from the 2009 Statistics Canada General Social Survey was used to examine the relationship between fear of crime, social capital and civic engagement. In the 2009 General Social Survey civic engagement is characterized primarily through participation in community crime prevention initiatives. Results show fear of crime and social capital were positively related to civic engagement. The fear of crime variable, however, did not have an impact when the variable disorder was added as a causal factor for civic engagement. This work raises the possibility of a new theory relating disorder and civic engagement. The newly proposed theory argues that disorder in neighbourhoods with high social capital can be used to stimulate civic engagement. Therefore community crime prevention initiatives are ideally begun by an outside agency in areas where there are many individuals with high fear of crime and high social capital.

Since my completion of this thesis in 2011 the work has served as the basis for a report published by the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council examining fear of crime in Waterloo Region and as the basis for an article, co-authored with my thesis advisor Doctor Andrea Perrella, which was published in Municipal World Magazine. This article makes policy recommendations for municipalities to address crime. In addition, I have worked with Doctor Andrea Perrella to revise parts of the thesis into a journal article which we have submitted to a journal for consideration.

Monica Molinaro

Pediatric cancer, otherwise referred to as childhood cancer, accounts for less than 1% of all cancers diagnosed in Canada; however, childhood cancer still accounts for the greatest number of deaths in individuals between the ages of 0 to 19 in Canada annually – greater than the number of deaths of children from asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and AIDs combined. Additionally, the survival rates for pediatric cancer have increased, which have led to increases in the late effects of cancer treatment. Research has begun to address the severity of the late effects on pediatric cancer survivors and their family members, yet gaps in the literature exist. Much of the research addressing pediatric cancer survivorship is quantitative in nature, and only addresses particular outcomes, such as physical effects. This research aims to examine the lived experiences of pediatric cancer survivors and their primary support person in order to understand how these individuals perceive their late effects, and to provide a more holistic understanding of the effects that pediatric cancer can have on survivors and their support persons. The experiences of these individuals aid in developing themes that could be applied to many undergoing a cancer experience, as well as help medical professionals and families develop and implement support networks and services for all individuals involved in a cancer journey – not just the diagnosed, and improve on services that are already available. Lastly, this research will allow for individuals currently undergoing the cancer experience themselves to draw strength from this work, and provide comfort knowing that there is success and positive aspects that come from these experiences.

Alex Hirniak

I am currently completing my Masters in Social Psychology under the supervision of Dr. Justin Cavallo. My research investigates how perceived self-esteem of one’s romantic partner influences their perceptions of their partner and the social support they receive from them. I have found that efficacy seems to mediate this relationship such that people who view their partner as having low self-esteem see them as less efficacious, leading them to not want to ask them for help, which ultimately lowers relationship quality. As my previous studies were conducted online, I am now investigating this relationship in laboratory studies, as well as trying to pin point what about low self-esteem individuals is causing their partners to have these opinions about them. These results will help to explain why these couples have trouble with social support, as well as pave the way for intervention studies that can help improve social support in these relationships. This work will be presented at the annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in Winter 2016. 

Hi, I am Divyang Patel and I am currently completing my MSc in Integrative Biology under the supervision of Dr. Allison McDonald. Our lab studies how organisms produce energy. Specifically, my project involved yeast with an oyster gene.

But first a little background. Each cell contains different organelles. For example, the nucleus coordinates the cell’s functions and duplicates DNA. The Golgi body folds proteins. The mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell – it provides the energy needed for all of the cell’s activities. Without sufficient energy, muscles and bones do not develop, neurons cannot carry out their functions, and the body generally wastes away. These are exactly the symptoms in patients with mitochondrial diseases, the majority of whom are infants and children. Mitochondrial diseases also affect the elderly, and we all know of loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer’s, dementia and ALS. We study the alternative oxidase gene and its potential use in treating mitochondrial diseases.

We used yeast that expressed an oyster alternative oxidase gene. The yeast was then subject to poisons that would be fatal to humans and so modeled many human mitochondrial diseases. We used high-resolution respirometry, a technique that measures the molecular amount of oxygen used, to test yeast respiration, a proxy for energy production. My project showed that the genetically modified yeast was able to survive even when subject to these poisons and that this was due to the presence of the alternative oxidase gene.

Mitochondrial diseases affect about 1 in 5000 people and there are no effective cures. Perhaps in the not too distant future, alternative oxidase can be used as gene therapy for patients suffering from mitochondrial diseases.

I am from New Brunswick originally. I attended Acadia University with a Bachelor’s in Political Science. I completed my Master’s Degree at Laurier in the Religion and Culture Program before moving on to the PhD program in Religious Studies. I am in my fourth year of the PhD and working with Dr. Jason Neelis to complete my dissertation. My research focuses on Buddhism in North America in the early half of the 20th Century.

My research analyzes doctrinal adaptations of Buddhism in North America in the period between 1900-1955. This is often considered a “low point” for Buddhism in North America as there was little institutional strength, immigration was halted, and Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Canadians were in internment camps during World War 2. Therefore this time period is drastically understudied in academia. However, by studying the publications of Buddhist groups during this time I show that Buddhist doctrines were being adapted to better fit a North American audience. During my time period, Buddhism in North America was actually considered a dangerous cult whose doctrines were antithetical to democracy, women’s rights, and peacefulness. These ideas were more often based on issues of “race sciences” which were considered cutting edge science at the time. As Buddhist’s reinterpreted their doctrines for a North American audience, the religion gained in popularity, fuelling the Zen Boom of the 1960s and our current positive views of Buddhism generally. In other words, my micro study of Buddhism in North American during a specific time period shows the way in which immigrant communities and outside religious traditions can adapt themselves to a North American societal context. Buddhist groups actively changed the very doctrines of their religion in order to adapt to North America.

Agricultural systems around the world face challenges from current agricultural practices, over-exploitation of natural resources, population growth and climate change. As a result, understanding agricultural sustainability has become a global issue. Assessment is a first step in benchmarking and tracking agricultural sustainability and can support related policy and programmes. This thesis applied the PSEDCE (Productivity, Stability, Efficiency, Durability, Compatibility and Equity) categories to understand more about the complexities inherent to agricultural sustainability assessment.

Agricultural sustainability assessment (ASA) requires a wide variety of ecological, economic and social information with various methods. In the first part of this thesis, a systematic analysis of the scientific soundness and use-friendliness of eight ASA approaches revealed that Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) ASA is the preferred holistic method. MCDA can take into account both qualitative and quantitative indicators of all dimensions of sustainability and analyze them to draw a comprehensive picture. As a multifaceted, complex issue, agricultural sustainability assessment is well-suited to MCDA, which is able to handle large data sets including stakeholders’ perspectives. Given that it is a relatively new analysis procedure in the study of agriculture, only a few researchers have applied this technique to measure sustainability. Considering these findings, three MCDA methods, Multi Attribute Value Theory (MAUT), Preference Ranking Organization Method for Enrichment Evaluations (PROMETHEE) and Elimination, ware tested to measure the relative sustainability of five agricultural systems in coastal Bangladesh.

To investigate the performance of MAUT, PROMETHEE, and Elimination, a total of 50 indicators from agricultural sustainability categories of PSEDCE were tested. From these 50 indicators, 15 composite indicators were developed through proportionate normalization and hybrid aggregation rules of arithmetic mean and geometric mean. The 15 composite indicators were used in MAUT and PROMETHEE analysis, and 50 indicators were used in Elimination analysis.

The analyses show that MAUT is able to aggregate diverse information and stakeholders’ perspectives to generate a robust score that enables a comparison of sustainability across the different agricultural systems. PROMETHEE is a non-compensatory approach that can also accommodate a variety of information and provide thresholds for ranking relative agricultural sustainability for each of the five agricultural systems. Elimination ranks the sustainability of agricultural systems through a set of straightforward decision rules expressed in the form of “if … then …” conditions. Elimination appears to be quick and less complex, whereas MAUT and PROMETHEE are regarded as fairly complicated and require software.

Overall, the study shows that MAUT, PROMETHEE and Elimination can handle multidimensional data and can be applied for relative assessment of sustainability of agricultural systems. However, selection of the appropriate criteria, stakeholders’ perspectives and the purpose of the assessment are very important and must be considered carefully for inclusion in MCDA methods for agricultural sustainability assessment. The results of the case studies also demonstrate that these approaches have the potential to become a useful framework for agricultural sustainability assessment and related policy development and decision-making.