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Reflection and Resilience: Community Response to COVID-19

Members of the Saint Mary’s University community reflected on the past year during a webinar held on March 24, 2021. Building Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic was the fourth session of the virtual #SMUinAction event series and featured Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray, Dr. Tony Charles, Crystal Witter BA’21 and Dr. Mohammad Rahaman. Dr. Tony Charles, who also holds the position of director of the Community Conservation Network, shared the 2020 Report on Nova Scotian Communities & COVID-19: Challenges & Resilience. The report looks at how communities and individuals responded to the pandemic as a measure of resilience, as well as the social and economic impacts that the pandemic had on communities. While communities reported challenges in employment, tourism and education, they also shared inspiring stories of leadership and community action. Saint Mary’s President Dr. Summerby-Murray found many parallels between the Nova Scotia report and how the Saint Mary’s community responded; praising technicians, faculty, staff and students for adapting quickly to new learning management systems and pedagogical innovation while understanding the challenges faced. Other highlights from the past year included the Saint Mary’s University Entrepreneurship Centre’s swift response to supporting entrepreneurs and businesses in Atlantic Canada, donor support to the COVID-19 Emergency Student Relief Fund and the investment in digital transformation of the teaching and learning environment. He credits the past year as an opportunity to learn innovative approaches to teaching, research and community engagement. Recent graduate Crystal Witter shared her experience as an international student leader and entrepreneur who navigated the pandemic and graduated as valedictorian in January 2021. Receiving a COVID-19 Student Emergency bursary, along with other scholarships, relieved the financial burden due to loss of income, and having caring professors who provided accommodations allowed her to complete her course load and cross the virtual graduation stage. When reflecting on the past year, she says “I couldn’t be resilient without help of my professors, friends and family. It’s not an individual journey.” Watch a recording of the session

Digital transformation benefits students at Saint Mary’s University

Saint Mary's University is building the learning environment of the future that will give current and future students a world-class engaging and immersive experience. A digital transformation, backed by a series of technology investments, will place Saint Mary's in a leading position for student experience, student choice, and blended learning in Canada and around the world. Saint Mary's has partnered with industry-leading experts D2L and Ellucian to innovate and improve the learner experience in an approach that is on the cutting edge for post-secondary institutions. “The digital transformation will be a game-changer for our students, removing barriers to higher education related to scheduling, learning style and preferences, finance, accommodation, and location,” says Saint Mary's University President Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray. "New technology and digital services will mean that Saint Mary’s students will be able to learn and engage fully with their professors, fellow students, and research partners in the classroom, from their home and from anywhere in the world. This investment will open up doors for completion of degrees online for some students. For others, their courses and experiences will be the perfect mix of in-person, virtual and online. Our students have spoken, and building on what we have learned during the pandemic, we know they want these options and this flexibility. This is the future and this strategic partnership puts Saint Mary’s in a leadership position nationally." Saint Mary's integrated learning environment will be one of the most sophisticated in Canada. It will bring together all aspects of virtual and in-person learning into a seamless whole, including the management of learning, data records, academic and financial services, credentialing, and learner support.

SMU Research Partnership Rewriting History of Pre-Contact North American Copper Trade

A Saint Mary's University research partnership with the Nova Scotia Museum has uncovered evidence that may rewrite North American understanding of the pre-contact trade of copper across the continent. "One of the most important metals to the Indigenous population of North America was copper. It was an essential material for toolmaking and working that also held a spiritual significance," says the lead Saint Mary's researcher on the project, Dr. Jacob Hanley. "The prevailing understanding of copper in North America during the Late Archaic Period to Early Woodland Period, that is to say, is 4,500 years ago to 500 A.D, is that the copper originated from deposits from Lake Superior, the Lake Superior Basin, and Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan. Our findings strongly suggest this is not the case and that a site in the Bay of Fundy played a much bigger role in history." The lead Nova Scotia Museum researcher is Dr. Katie Cottreau-Robins, Curator of Archaeology. Additional project collaborators include Roger Lewis, Curator of Mi'kmaq Cultural Heritage, Nova Scotia Museum, and the New Brunswick Archaeological Services Branch. The project itself would not have been possible without the permission and participation of the Metepenagiag First Nation and Mainland Mi’kmaq Grand Council members who allowed the team to examine significant cultural artifacts. Unlike traditional methods of analyzing artifacts, the team uses a new method usually reserved for finding ore deposits for mining purposes. This new to archeology method is non-invasive and more accurately reads the chemical make-up of the copper while leaving the artifacts completely intact. Hanley and Cottreau-Robins have written about their research findings in a chapter of the upcoming anthology Far Northeast 3000BP to Contact.

Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

Saint Mary's Hosts: Black Business Initiatives - 25 Years & Beyond

On April 20, the Sobey School of Business Community Revitalization & Prosperity Network launched a conversation series with the Nova Scotia-based Black Business Initiative (BBI), the longest serving Black business development initiative in Canada. The first conversation, called Black Business Initiatives: 25 Years & Beyond, featured BBI CEO Dr. Rustum Southwell, Cynthia Dorrington, President of Vale & Associates Human Resource Management and Consulting Inc. and Dr. Harvi Millar, Professor of Operations Management at the Sobey School of Business. The panellists spoke to Dr. Harjeet Bhabra, Dean of the Sobey School, about the history of Black-owned businesses in Nova Scotia and the work that remains to be done to remove barriers to success, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Dorrington noted that due to systemic barriers, it can be difficult for Black entrepreneurs and small business owners to access necessary financing, coaching, advisory services and many of the other keys to business success. Dr. Harvi Millar presented recent research into how Black-owned businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that surveyed businesses are facing challenges including cash flow, reductions in operating capacity, declining customer bases and temporary or permanent business closures. The research shows that in addition to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Black business owners face barriers including racial bias, lack of scale, insufficient access to wealth and collateral, lack of peer-to-peer support networks and limited market access. To lift up Black businesses, Dorrington said we must acknowledge systemic racism as a first step. “We must come together to navigate. Until you face those barriers you don't see them. People who have navigated them in the past, we can put our heads together but speak with one voice.”

SMU archaeologist brings history into focus with LiDAR and 3D tech

Dr. Jonathan Fowler is bringing Nova Scotia’s historic settlements into sharper focus, using advanced digital tools to combine archival maps with landscape data in his research and teaching at Saint Mary’s. “This is about as close as you can get to time travel without a DeLorean,” says the associate professor of archaeology. In a current project, Fowler shows how Fort Anne National Historic Site would have looked in 1706, combining a centuries-old military map with a 3D terrain model created from current aerial Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data. LiDAR technology has been around for decades, but the provincial government’s open data model is enabling an explosion of new research in many disciplines. To process LiDAR data, Fowler’s go-to is the Surfer surface mapping platform from Golden Software of Golden, Colorado. He has been using it for years to visualize geophysical survey data, and more recently to collate and analyze LiDAR data with old maps. For his Fort Anne images, Fowler used high-resolution scans of historic maps of the fortress: a 1706 military map from France’s National Archives, and a 1753 map from the Library of Congress, showing the site under British rule. He put them through a georeferencing process in a Geographical Information System (GIS) program, then used LiDAR data to create a ‘bare Earth’ 3D surface model of the area’s current topography, minus vegetation and buildings. Combining them in Surfer created a 3D map revealing the original layout of buildings within the fort’s ramparts and beyond.

Research Expo showcases the exceptional talent of Saint Mary’s researchers

Sixteen talented researchers from Science, Arts and the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University gathered to share their research on March 5, 2021. The sixteen panelists were asked to condense their research—sometimes months or even years in the making—into a three-minute presentation. Held virtually for the first time, the event had more than 170 registered participants. The wide range of topics showcases the breadth of research expertise at Saint Mary’s. Professors spoke about their work on measuring dark matter, ultra-fast laser scanning microscopes, the psychology behind video interviews in hiring practices, and Colombian post-traumatic literature.  Events like Research Expo are key to building partnerships across different departments within the university as well as external partnerships. The Office of Innovation and Community Engagement (OICE) at Saint Mary’s facilitates research relationships between faculty members and government departments, private companies, industrial associations and international agencies.