Students bring ‘so much passion and enthusiasm’ to research projects at Holland Bloorview Hospital
Hannah Maclean is a 19-year-old music lover on the autism spectrum, so spending her summer helping research technology that would help young people with disabilities participate in the arts, music and physical activity is ” like a dream “.
“I’ve discovered that using music helps people and I’m extremely lucky to work in this lab,” said Maclean, who is entering her second year at the University of Toronto and has been playing the piano since she was young. five years old, guitar since the age of 11 and recently joined a band.
The lab in question is PEARL (Possibility Engineering and Research Lab) at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, where Maclean will help researcher Elaine Biddiss on the project.
There was a time when research projects were only assigned to graduate students, leaving bright and curious undergraduates looking forward to the day when they could unlock their own mysteries.
But universities, hospitals and businesses have broken down those barriers and are welcoming young helping hands.
The Ward Family Summer Student Research Program at Holland Bloorview, for example, is aimed at undergraduate students, with a 12-week program that offers mentorship and a salary to young researchers. It also reserves one place for an Aboriginal student and one for a student living with a disability.
“It’s important to engage student researchers in this direction as early as possible,” said Tom Chau, vice president for research at the hospital and director of its research institute. “There are so many potential research areas to attract students and the area of disability may not be the first that comes to mind as a career. It is important to bring the idea into people’s consciousness.
Maclean contributes to research which, according to Biddiss, “aims to reduce the opportunity gaps that exist in the early years to access music education. For children with disabilities, there are often obstacles. And we’re trying to solve that problem with a fun and engaging app that provides learning opportunities.
Maclean reviewed music curriculum guidelines for grades 1-3 in school districts across the province, outlining accessibility considerations that will help ensure the app aligns with music curricula , Biddiss said. She is also mentored by the lab’s game developer. They reflect on which of his discoveries is transferable to an application.
Maclean hopes to pursue a career as a music therapist or music teacher. “It will help me prepare,” she said.
Mallory Solomon, a psychology graduate from Algoma University, is also spending her summer doing lab research, working virtually. Oji-Cree from Constance Lake First Nation, Solomon lives in Hearst, Ontario, far from the Bloorview Research Institute.
Solomon is part of a team developing brain-computer interface tools for children who cannot talk. One in particular, a cap, translates signals from the wearer’s brain into various actions, such as turning on a light or playing a video game. It helps children with disabilities to be independent and to interact with their environment.
Solomon’s task is to create a framework to bring Indigenous voices to research and allow Chau’s team to incorporate an Indigenous perspective.
“We don’t want to exclude anyone’s voice, but many Indigenous communities are reluctant to participate in research in general,” Solomon said. “I try to build relationships with Aboriginal organizations and present research in the right way, through sharing circles for example.
“It’s really exciting work,” added Solomon, who plans to pursue his master’s degree in psychology at Lakehead University this fall and then earn a doctorate. “It is important that Indigenous voices are included in health research so that their needs can be met.
Biddiss believes the summer research program is valuable for students and established researchers.
“Teaching students and providing research opportunities is an investment in the next generation of science and research innovation for children with disabilities,” Biddiss said. “Students come with so much passion and enthusiasm; it is rejuvenating and enriching for us as researchers and it is an honor to participate.
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