Five University of Guelph graduate students have been awarded prestigious Vanier scholarships worth $50,000 a year for three years.

PhD candidates Monica Baquero, Andrea LaMarre, Matthew Little, Erin MacIver-Must and Sarah Rotz were among the 166 award recipients named in August from across Canada.

The federal government introduced the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships in 2008 to attract and retain world-class doctoral students.

Monica Baquero studies host-pathogen interactions in Johne’s disease in the Department of Pathobiology at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC).

A consumptive and chronic condition in ruminants, Johne’s costs the Canadian dairy industry $15 million a year.

“This has important and significant economic benefits to the Canadian dairy industry,” said Bacquero.

“As a vet, I want to understand the dynamics of the host-bacteria interaction during Johne’s disease.  We need to develop future preventive and diagnostic strategies to reduce the economic impact for producers and lead to a possible health impact for consumers.”

Andrea LaMarre, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, is passionate about studying eating disorder recoveries.

“In a society where body size can act as currency, we are continually bombarded with messages about health, size, eating, weight and shape: how we should eat, how we should exercise and how we should feel about our bodies,” she said.

“Eating disorders can result in serious medical complications including repeated hospitalization, mood disorders, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. People with these disorders also have a high mortality and relapse rate.”

LaMarre hopes to use participant-created short films to spark discussion of the topic.

“The best thing about the award is it gives me the flexibility to take this research in a direction that will hopefully lead to real change. I will be able to hold digital storytelling workshops with individuals and their families, and talk with health-care providers about eating disorders and recovery.”

Working on a collaborative International Development PhD and based in OVC’s Population Medicine department, Matthew Little will study chronic disease epidemiology and nutrition in rural India.

“I want to research how nutrition affects the population’s risk of developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes,” he said.

“I’m particularly interested in the Indian green revolution agricultural policies of the 1960s and ‘70s, causing a shift away from traditional grains such as millets and barleys to refined rice and wheat. Such changes have improved food security and eliminated famine but at the potential cost of widespread chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.”

Erin MacIver-Must, Geography and International Development, will study livestock farming and women’s empowerment in rural northern Botswana.

“I am interested in empowerment in a southern African context and the ways animals and humans shape each other’s lives,” she said.

“The government of Botswana, who heavily subsidize the cattle industry and are committed to gender mainstreaming, will be direct beneficiaries. In addition, connecting research participants from different villages together will help to form a social network through which these women can gain knowledge and encourage each other.”

Sarah Rotz, Geography, will study farm sustainability and resilience to climate change in Ontario.

“In looking at both the politics and ecology of resilience in Ontario agriculture, I hope to gain a greater understanding of how the relationships between farmers, their land and various institutions influence agricultural practice,” she said.

“Ideally, this research will benefit the sustainable food community more broadly, by integrating political and ecological research.”

The Vanier awards affirm that Guelph is attracting top graduate students, said John Livernois, interim vice-president (research and external partnerships).

“This shows that our PhD candidates rank with the best in Canada — that their research fields are extremely applicable to the needs of Canada and of benefit around the world. Their advisers should also be congratulated for providing the resources each candidate needed to succeed.”