Guelph-Humber Student Contributes to Nutrition Study at U of G

Win-win program benefits U of G research, Guelph-Humber students

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Kimberlee Rizun-Glynn already knew a thing or two about feeding kids. Besides having studied nutrition in the classroom at the University of Guelph-Humber, she was a mom of two preschoolers in Brampton, Ont.

What she needed were research skills. That’s why she applied for a toddler nutrition research project in 2011 with a U of G professor – an opportunity provided by a new research program matching Guelph faculty members with Guelph-Humber students.

Now completing her studies in family and community social services, Rizun-Glynn says data collection skills from her work with applied human nutrition professor Janis Randall Simpson will help in her planned career.

Giving students at Guelph-Humber some hands-on research experience is the purpose of a research grant fund (RGF) introduced at the Toronto campus in 2011. Under the program, Guelph or Humber faculty members may apply for up to $10,000 a year in grants to hire G-H students as research assistants.

The University of Guelph and Humber College partnered in the establishment of Guelph-Humber in 2002. George Bragues, G-H assistant vice-provost, says the research fund helps faculty at both parent institutions by supporting research projects and linking them more closely with the new campus. Faculty members teaching at Guelph-Humber are given preference for funding.

Says Bragues: “While we are mostly dedicated to teaching, the research fund underlines that research also involves Guelph-Humber.”

For students, it’s a chance to gain research and scholarship skills that they might ultimately parlay into full-time work. So far, about 50 G-H students have worked with Guelph researchers in human health and nutritional sciences, marketing and consumer studies, literature and theatre studies, psychology, and family relations and applied nutrition.

Randall Simpson, a professor in U of G’s Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, used her roughly $6,000 grant to refine a new nutritional risk screening tool for children.

In 2008, she and other Guelph researchers developed a risk screening questionnaire called NutriSTEP for parents of three- to five-year-olds. This fall, she released a related screening tool for toddlers 18 to 35 months of age.

Both are designed to help parents check children’s eating habits and prevent health problems and health-care expenses, says Randall Simpson. Ten to 20 per cent of both groups of children are at risk for nutritional problems.

To refine the new toddler questionnaire, she hired two G-H students part-time to interview parents and caregivers. Those students came to Guelph for research training before heading into the field.

By interviewing Toronto-area subjects, the students helped Randall Simpson expand her study’s geographic reach. Noting that Rizun-Glynn recruited study participants, the professor says, “We have not just Guelph parents, but parents from all over the province involved in our studies. It’s a win-win situation for these two students and for our research project.”

Rizun-Glynn worked on the project in summer 2011 and winter 2012. She figures her new research savvy will come in handy during her student placement this year with the Social Planning Council of Peel in Mississauga.

“My involvement provided me with a valuable, first-hand working experience in data collection,” says Rizun-Glynn, who plans to pursue grad studies and eventually work with people with disabilities. “Being a mom of children in the same age range as the study, I was able to speak to the research participants and understand, to some extent, the position they would be in with their children’s nutritional standing.”

This year, Guelph professor May Aung in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies received about $6,000 from RGF. She hired two research assistants from Guelph-Humber. They’re looking at brand loyalty of customers of two smartphone companies.

The students – Samuel Lei, family and community social services, and Kapil Gurbani, business – have collected and analyzed data about customer interactions in online communities, looking for differences between sites run by customers and by the companies.

Says Lei: “The study could be important to help aspiring young businesses create a brand or help already established businesses strengthen their brand.”

Now in fourth year, he plans to pursue graduate studies in business.

In 2011, Gurbani had worked with Bragues as a research assistant, helping to collect data on the influence of business and political writing on Canadians. “I had expected research to be straightforward, but I found there were lots of grey areas,” he says. “It’s not as straightforward as you think.”

Working on both RGF-funded projects allowed him to practise concepts he’d learned in his courses. “I found that really fascinating. It’s hard sometimes to connect what you do in class with the real world. This puts everything in perspective,” says Gurbani. He figures his experience will give him an edge in becoming a business analyst after graduation in 2013. “Other people know the theory. I also know the practice side and have actually applied it in a real-world situation.”

Results of the study will eventually appear in an academic paper, says Aung. She and her students will share their preliminary results at a conference next spring.

She was pleased with her students’ initiative and interest in her project. Referring to the grant fund, she says, “It’s a chance to teach Guelph-Humber students what qualitative research is all about. That’s part of my passion, so it works both ways.”

Click here to learn more about other University of Guelph-Humber programs.

And here for information about Guelph-Humber’s 10th-anniversary celebration and Oct. 13 open house.