Researchers at Oshawa’s Ontario Tech university awarded $140,000 Banting Fellowships

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Published February 10, 2023 at 12:07 pm

Dr. Juuso Nieminem (left) and Dr. Jessica Wong

A pair of post-decorate researchers at Ontario Tech University have been named to the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, a federal government award valued at $70,000 per year for two years.

Just 70 of the prestigious fellowships are granted to some of the country’s top scholars each year.

Dr. Jessica Wong and Dr. Juuso Nieminen plan to make significant contributions with the goal of improving the lives of others through their individual research projects.

Jessica Wong

  • Project: Innovative approaches to reduce the burden of unmet rehabilitation needs in older adults with back pain: identifying determinants and health inequities, developing and validating a population risk tool, and monitoring effective delivery of rehabilitation services
  • Supervisor: Dr. Pierre Côté, Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation
  • Wong holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Radiation Sciences and a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Toronto. She obtained her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College and became a Fellow of the College of Chiropractic Sciences (Canada). She also completed her doctoral studies in Epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

Wong is focusing her research on something many are familiar with – back pain. Her research aims to optimize health and improve access to rehabilitation services for older adults with disability.

More than just an inconvenience, back pain is the leading cause of disability and the main reason for unmet physical health care needs in Canada and worldwide. Unmet needs greatly affect older adults with chronic conditions and disability, representing key barriers to health.

Wong’s Banting research will look at prevention strategies to reduce the burden in older adults with back pain while understanding treatment needs across sex, gender and diversity. The goal is to lead an independent program of innovative, policy-relevant research focused on aging and physical wellness.

“With its focus on ‘Tech with a Conscience, Ontario Tech University upholds a unique and socially-minded research environment to serve the interests and needs of complex populations,” Wong explained, adding she hopes to gain additional expertise through the fellowship “to improve the well-being of people with disabilities.”

Cote said Wong was “most deserving” of the award. “Chronic low-back pain is the main cause of disability in Canada, yet we have very few means to effectively prevent it or treat it. This award has set Dr. Wong on an academic trajectory that will impact health policy nationally and internationally.”

Juuso Nieminen

  • Project: Inclusive learning environments in higher STEM education: supporting the sense of belonging of students with disabilities
  • Supervisor: Dr. Robyn Ruttenberg-Rozen, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, Ontario Tech University
  • Nieminen holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, a Master of Philosophy degree in Mathematics and Technology Education, a Master of Education degree in Special Education as well as a PhD in the field of Assessment in Higher Education (undergraduate mathematic) all earned at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

Nieminen is using his background in teaching along with STEM experience in higher-education mathematics to support his Banting research project. Through this project he hopes to better understand and provide answers to the question, how could learning environment design promote the inclusion of diverse students in STEM settings?

Access to higher education in STEM fields is becoming more readily available for students coming from a diverse range of backgrounds and abilities. As these students gain greater access to higher STEM education, Nieminen believes it’s important to look at opportunities to provide support during their studies once they are in a STEM program.

Together with his supervisor and an Ontario Tech mathematics instructor, they will design an inclusive mathematics course by including the voices of all stakeholders – notably students – in the process of designing the course. The goal of the project is to really hear the voice of the students with disabilities on many levels in the learning environment design of higher STEM education. The findings will be helpful in Canadian STEM education as well as internationally.

“This is an important investment for higher quality teaching and assessment practices that would not see diversity as something to be avoided and mitigated, but as something to be celebrated as such. This funding will provide the highest quality of scientific rigour, while also aiming to promote better practice in higher education,” Nieminen said. “Having resources to do this kind of research – namely, funding – enables research about inclusion in STEM to grow and develop.”

Ruttenberg-Rozen said she is “extremely excited” to have Nieminen join the lab. “He is a most deserving recipient of one of Canada’s most prestigious fellowships (and) has already made important contributions to our collective understanding of equity and access for marginalized people in STEM higher education.”

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