11 U of A doctoral students earn Canada's most prestigious scholarship

(Edmonton) The Government of Canada announced Aug. 3 that 11 University of Alberta graduate students have received 2011 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, Canada’s most prestigious scholarship for doctoral students.

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship program aims to attract and retain world-class doctoral students by supporting students who demonstrate both leadership skills and a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies. Vanier scholars receive $50,000 annually for up to three years, and each was chosen as a result of their demonstrated leadership skills and high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences, engineering and health research.

"I am so thrilled to congratulate U of A’s Vanier Graduate Scholarship winners and am pleased that these 11 exceptional students are or soon will be part of our community of learning and discovery,” said U of A President Indira Samarasekera. “Working at the very cutting edge of their disciplines, graduate students are a vital life force in the academy and a major source of technical and social innovation within society.”

Hannah O’Rourke is the first nursing student at the U of A to accept the award, and only the second nationwide to receive it in the discipline of nursing.

O’Rourke’s area of research is in knowledge translation as a mechanism to improve well-being and quality of life for older adults with dementia. The award will be used to fund her doctoral research project, Investigating relationships among RAI-MDS quality indicators for residents in long-term care, which will examine the criteria for elder care  used in long-term care settings across Canada.

“These quality ‘indicators’ represent the proportion of residents within a long-term care unit or facility that experienced a particular problem, such as pain, falls, or depression, during the last three months,” said O’Rourke. “There are 25 indicators, and most facilities can focus on improving just one or two indicator areas per year.”

O’Rourke says she plans to observe residents with dementia to determine what quality indicator areas contribute most consistently and intensely to resident well-being and quality of life. “These indicator areas may be seen as higher priority when caring for persons with dementia, providing guidance for clinicians to use the indicators to improve quality of resident care.”

O’Rourke says the award will allow her to focus on her research full time and to continue to volunteer with people who have dementia through community involvement within a clinical setting.

“Volunteering gives me the ability to sit and visit people with dementia, to listen to them and hear their stories, allowing me to get to know them on a more personal level. When working as a paid clinician, you don’t always have that luxury of time.”

Ultimately, O’Rourke says she would like to develop a research program that focuses on care for people with dementia that will allow health-care providers to be as responsive to dementia patients’ needs as possible.

“When patients, due to their impairments, can’t speak up for themselves, health-care providers need to put extra attention into their care. I hope my research will guide providers as to which areas of care they may want to focus their attention on.”

Other U of A recipients are:

Matthew Benesch, Department of Biochemistry – The role of lipid phosphate phosphatases in attenuating cancer cell survival and migration.

Lauren Bortolotti, Department of Biological Sciences – Recovery of ecosystem structure and function in restored Prairie wetlands.

Stephen Cochrane, Department of Chemistry – Antimicrobial agents based on amino-vinyl cysteine lantibiotics.

Natasha Egeli, Department of Educational Psychology – Hope-focused group interventions for people limited by chronic pain: A grounded theory study.

Robert Found, Department of Biological Sciences – Variation in individual elk behavioural syndromes, and management applications to problems of habituation and loss of migration.

Hadley Friedland, Faculty of Law – Reclaiming the language of law; exploring the contemporary articulation and application of Cree and other indigenous legal principles in Canada.

Derek Gladwin, Department of English and Film Studies – Re-shifting the bog: the impact of boglands in Irish literature and the cultural imagination.

Amanda Kahn, Department of Biological Sciences – The role of glass sponge reefs in nutrient cycling: inputs, outputs and evidence of population changes through the millennia.

Colleen Mortimer, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences – Force balance modeling and calving dynamics of the Belcher Glacier, Devon Island, Nunavut.

Hannah O’Rourke, Faculty of Nursing – Investigating relationships among RAI-MDS quality indicators for residents in long-term care.

Diana Stralberg, Department of Biological Sciences – Multi-scale modelling of boreal breeding bird distribution and abundance to evaluate potential climate and land-use change impacts.