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Graduate students to use U of T funds for professional development, within and outside academia

Ten graduate students across the university receive funding to develop community and professional development initiatives

Branka Gladanac and Tenzin Lama used School of Graduate Studies professional development funding to put on an Indigenous Cultural Competency Training event (photo by Nicole Bodnar)

The University of Toronto’s School of Graduate Studies has awarded $12,525 to ten graduate student groups to develop innovative professional development initiatives.

The awards were given after an intensive competition, with 37 groups submitting proposals. Eighteen groups were invited to present their proposals to a graduate professional development panel, which chose the 10 finalists.

The recipients were:

  • Baycrest Research Training Centre Student Group
  • Centre for Medieval Studies Sources and Resources Student Committee
  • Masters of Public Health – Community Nutrition Students’ Group – (Indigenous Cultural Competency Training Initiative)
  • Graduate Management Consulting Association
  • System Shift Student Group; (OISE/LHAE)
  • Public Sector Innovation and Design Project Student Group; (Munk School of Global Affairs)
  • Association of Information Systems Student Chapter; (iSchool)
  • Graduate Sociology Students Association
  • University of Toronto Industry Insights (UTII) Student Group; (Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering)
  • Graduate Students' Association at Scarborough; Graduate Association of Professional Skills

Each group must submit a report by Aug. 31 indicating how their initiative succeeded in promoting innovation in graduate professional development, said Professor Reinhart Reithmeier, special advisor to the dean, graduate skills development and engagement at U of T’s School of Graduate Studies (SGS).

Reithmeier said the funding was awarded because his office wants to ensure that U of T graduate students and postdoctoral fellows develop the skills to prepare for non-traditional and non-academic careers. “Graduate students are increasingly looking for jobs outside academia,” he said.

 U of T News talked to master of public health students Branka Gladanac and Tenzin Lama from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, who received funding for an Indigenous cultural competency training initiative.

What’s the Indigenous Cultural Competency Training initiative about?

It’s an interactive one-day workshop offered by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres to help bring context to the current health disparities that disproportionately affect Indigenous people in Canada. We commonly hear the statistics without understanding their connection to inequitable social and political environments. Many of us will go on to work in a variety of community and public health settings and it is important to learn how to engage with Indigenous clients in a meaningful way that is respectful of their lived experiences and cultures. This sort of training involves self-reflection and awareness about how our own biases, cultures and social location may impact our interaction with Indigenous clients. We see it as an important stepping stone to becoming critically reflective practitioners who engage in lifelong learning and continuing competency.

By the way, we just got the exciting news that we have secured additional funding so that we can provide food for workshop attendees. Our plan is to cater from a local Indigenous catering company. It would fit so naturally. As food is an integral part of cultures and traditions, we are looking forward to sharing a meal and reflecting on our learnings together. Plus it is a room filled with nutrition students – we all really love food!

What inspired it?

Although a few of our courses have given us the opportunity to engage with the topic of Indigenous health, there is still the demand to learn more about Indigenous health issues and how to apply that knowledge in our work. This demand was highlighted during the 8th Annual Dalla Lana Student-led Conference, Racial Justice Matters: Advocating for Racial Health Equity, in which Indigenous Health was identified as a sub-theme.

Personally, we have actively sought and been fortunate enough to be given opportunities to learn through Indigenous-led organizations, conferences, and courses.  For example, we both completed the online Ontario Core Indigenous Cultural Competency Health Training offered by the Provincial Health Services Authority in British Columbia. In addition, Branka completed the training that we are planning (Cultural Competency Training offered by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres) during her practicum at Noojmowin Teg Health Centre on Manitoulin Island.  That being said, we acknowledge that this is a part of a larger learning journey and we plan to continue to seek opportunities that challenge us to be more reflexive individuals. Additionally, we sought input from the students in our program and nearly all felt that there is a need and that it would be important to participate in a workshop on Indigenous Cultural Competency. It was this collective desire to learn more as well as our first hand experiences that allowed us to see value in such training that inspired us to apply for the Professional Development Grant in order to make this learning opportunity accessible to all our peers.

Why is Indigenous cultural competency important?

As future Registered Dietitians, we feel that Indigenous cultural competency training should be an important part of our education. This was reinforced in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action report that calls for cultural competency training for all healthcare providers. These initiatives can help improve relationships between health service providers and Indigenous clients which could in turn improve health outcomes. On a broader level, these training opportunities encourage system-level thinking and exploration of how organizational practices can transform in order to create environments conducive to health for all.

Are you tying your workshop in with other initiatives at Dalla Lana?

We have been in contact with some important initiatives taking place at Dalla Lana School of Public Health with respect to how such learning opportunities can be continued. One is with a recently formed student group “Allies for Indigenous Health Equity” and the other is with a group of students participating in an evaluation of the 8th Annual Student-led conference, “Racial Justice Matters: Advocating for Racial Health Equity”. The evaluations committee is compiling a list of recommendations for the Dalla Lana School of Public Health with respect to diversity, inclusion and equity as it relates to the topic of racial health inequities becoming further integrated in curriculum development and educational opportunities as well as promoting greater diversity in faculty, staff and students, especially from underrepresented communities. This will include discussions about making recommendations regarding embedding more cultural safety and anti-oppression training for public health students (at varying stages of their academic career). In addition to these initiatives, there is the new Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health from which we anticipate many exciting endeavours. 

For more information on the workshop, please see http://www.ofifc.org/aboriginal-cultural-competency-training-acct