May 3, 2017

Scholars reach across disciplines to study the newcomer experience

Members of Newcomer Research Network inspired to make a difference for both personal and professional reasons
New network
New network

The lives of newcomers touch every aspect of community — from education to health care, family to work life — which is why the University of Calgary research group dedicated to studying and improving intercultural practices with newcomers takes the broadest possible approach, drawing together academics from an array of disciplines, faculties and backgrounds.

The Newcomer Research Network (NRN) launched in the fall with funding from the Office of the Vice-President (Research) as part of the Human Dynamics in a Changing World strategic research theme. It includes academics from education, arts, linguistics, medicine, nursing and social work who are inspired by both personal and professional experiences and are committed to advancing and advocating for research in support of immigrants, refugees and international students.

“Research on intercultural practices with newcomers is a very exciting interdisciplinary priority, and there is enormous potential for it here in a multicultural city like Calgary,” says Nancy Arthur, associate dean of research in the Werklund School of Education, who is leading this initiative along with colleagues from the six faculties/schools.

The network is open to any faculty member with an interest in newcomer research. Members meet regularly to develop new partnerships for research, funding and community engagement. The first network meeting was March 3, 2017, followed by a research showcase and networking event in the Werklund School of Education on March 30.

Catalyzing research that optimizes intercultural practices

“We had a lively conversation about the many challenges facing newcomers such as housing costs, access to services, loss of first language, and professional recertification,” Arthur says. “We worked on the ways the NRN can catalyze research to optimize intercultural practices with newcomers.

“I became a passionate advocate for mental health and career development services that support international students when I lived in student housing in graduate school with a large group of international students. Recruitment of international students needs to be matched with culturally — responsive services that support their academic and personal success,” Arthur says.

“The opportunity to work with like-minded researchers across disciplines is a true strength of the NRN,” says Suzanne Goopy, a researcher in the Faculty of Nursing and a Canadian newcomer herself. “It is a very dynamic group and offers us ways to look at old problems through fresh eyes.”

 Christine Walsh, associate dean of research and partnerships in the Faculty of Social Work, says she was struck by the absence of and understanding of immigrant populations in the field of homeless research. “I am advocating for knowledge to inform policy development and social service provision for newcomer populations who are impacted by poverty, housing insecurity, and/or social exclusion.” 

“My work takes me out into the community where I have seen many things first-hand that require attention,” says Tanvir Turin, a member of the NRN, newcomer, and public health researcher with the Cumming School of Medicine. “The NRN is an excellent space to open conversations about health needs, and to meet and work with people from such diverse backgrounds, all of whom are striving to improve the lives of newcomers.”

NRN member Mary O’Brien, an associate professor in the School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures and Cultures, says language is crucial to how well newcomers settle and thrive in the new country. “In my research I explore aspects of newcomers’ language and listeners’ attitudes toward non-native speech; it’s very exciting to be part of the network and to see the many interdisciplinary implications and applications of my work.”

Upcoming NRN events

The NRN meets next on Friday, April 28, for a Newcomer Research Showcase and Network event in the Faculty of Social Work, and then on Wednesday, May 10 in the Werklund School of Education for a networking event to discuss research ideas and collaborative grant strategies. Please RSVP here for the May 10 networking event.

“These networking events are a great opportunity for informal conversation between faculty members and postdocs from several faculties,” Arthur says. “Each event will have a different format, but have the same goal to promote discussion and potential connections for research about intercultural practices with newcomers.” For more information about the NRN contact or slorraine.wilson@ucalgary.cas.

The pressures of our rapidly growing global population are driving unprecedented changes in our social, political, cultural and natural systems. The University of Calgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World research strategy is addressing our need to understand how we adapt to rapid change, to ensure our security and quality of life.