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Six FIFSW PhD students receive a Royal Bank Graduate Fellowship

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five photo grid featuring headshots of Keri West, Nelson Pang, Kaitrin Doll, Gerardo Betancourt, and Ali Pearson.

The Factor-Inwentash Fauclty of Social Work would like to congratulate the six PhD students who received a Royal Bank Graduate Fellowship (RBGF) in Applied Social Work Research this year.

The Royal Bank Graduate Fellowship is designed to support FIFSW research by providing PhD students with research training opportunities and financial support.

This year’s RBGF recipients include:

  • Gerardo Betancourt, who will be working with Professor David Brennan.
  • Kaitrin Doll, who will be working with Professor Shelley Craig.
  • Vilmara Lucas, who will be working with Professor Ka Tat Tsang.
  • Nelson Pang, who will be working with Associate Professor Lin Fang.
  • Ali Pearson, who will be working with Professor Peter Newman.
  • Keri West, who will be working with Assistant Professor Keith Adamson.

Photo, top (left to right): Keri West, Nelson Pang, Kaitrin Doll, Gerardo Betancourt, and Ali Pearson. (Not pictured: Vilmara Lucas)

Learn more about our award winning PhD students and their RBGF projects below!

Gerardo Betancourt

Gerardo Betancourt has a Master in Adult Education and Community Development from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and a BA in Law. He has been working as an educator for 25 years in several countries. His educational projects have been implemented and evaluated in Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Canada.

“I always felt compelled to understand sexualities,” says Betancourt. “There is some magic when people attract another one, but that magic, I believe, is not only biological and natural, but also, I suspect, influenced by deep cultural patterns, ingrained education of desires, and hierarchies intervening in sexual activities, such as race, body image, socioeconomic status, history, age, and even geography. Sexual health practices are also social affected, similar to health literacy, and social norms.”

Kaitrin Doll

Kaitrin Doll’s  research area of interest is sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations and the interplay between SGM community membership, social support, connectedness, and mental wellness. Their research will explore the experiences of SGM roller derby players and the factors that impact inclusion, participation and the interconnection with mental wellness. The aim of this research is to inform both policy and practice in relation to SGM populations, in particular gender minorities, and investment in this research will contribute to building more equitable and affirming environments where SGM can thrive. The Royal Bank Graduate Fellowship will allows them to work with and learn from Dr. Shelley Craig, whose research specialty is resilience and SGM populations.

“With the support of the RBC fellowship to continue to work with Dr. Craig, I will further develop my research skills by conducting multimodal analysis on Level Up! an LGBTQ gaming study,” says Doll. “This work is directly relevant to my thesis and involves data analysis using constructivist grounded theory, thematic development, and preparing manuscripts.”

“Going forward with the support of Dr. Craig, I will also have the opportunity to act as co-chair of the Canadian Regional Research Network to advance sexual and gender minority research in Canada. I am grateful to be a recipient of the RBC fellowship in that working with Dr. Craig will help me to build my research skills to further my own doctoral research and participation in innovative and emergent sexual and gender minority research.”

Vilmara Lucas

Vilmara Lucas, MSW, RSW, is a second-year doctoral student at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. She has extensive front-line experience working within the intimate partner violence sector. Vilmara’s doctoral research focuses on Exploring the Experiences of Black and other Racialized Immigrant Workers in Ontario’s Post-Pandemic Job Market.

“The Royal Bank Graduate Fellowship provides an opportunity to engage in research within settlement sector which is so important for my future research among immigrant communities,” says Lucas.

Nelson Pang

Nelson Pang is a first-year PhD student at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. Nelson completed a Master of Social Work at the University of Toronto, along with a Bachelor of Social Work and Bachelor of Arts in Social Development Studies at the University of Waterloo. Nelson’s research interests include children and youth mental health, issues in access to health care, and social epidemiology.

“Under the supervision of Dr. Lin Fang, my Royal Bank Graduate Fellowship project is called Practice-Based Research with Talk It Out Online Counseling Clinic,” says Pang. “The Talk It Out Clinic is delivered by trained and supervised Master of Social Work students and is designed to be a culturally responsive and trauma-informed care program. I will be involved in the evaluation of the program to explore client outcomes and student experiences. This fellowship will assist in future research which will similarly focus on the evaluation of solutions for youth mental health.”

Ali Pearson

Ali Pearson is a second year PhD Student at Factor Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. They graduated from the Honours Bachelor of Social Work at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Maire.  They earned their Master of Social Work at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, in Social Justice and Diversity with a collaborative study in Sexual Diversity. Ali’s research is grounded in Social Justice and Diversity and utilizes post-feminist theories to support youth at the intersection Neurodiversity and Sexual/ Gender Diversity. Their work seeks to bring visibility to the barriers in accessing community, autonomy, and service provisions for Neurodivergent and Sexual Gender/ Diverse Youth.

The Royal Bank Graduate Fellowship will support their interest in developing diversity and inclusion for minority demographics in research.  Through submersion in the process of ethics research review they will deepen their knowledge of research ethics, ability to reviewing and preparing research ethics boards submissions. The Fellowship will also assist them in building an understanding of the inequities that are faced by research participants and in gainning understanding of how the ethics process can mitigate further the oppression of minoritized groups.  These foundational skills will support their growth and development as an emerging researcher.

Keri West

Keri West is a doctoral candidate at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW). She completed a Master of Social Work degree with a specialization in Gerontology at FIFSW in 2015. Keri is deeply interested in simulation pedagogy and innovation in social work education. She has had an instrumental role in the development and deployment of several simulation-based teaching interventions to foster holistic competence.

Through the RBC Fellowship, Keri will contribute to the enhancement of a competency framework for communicating evidence in therapeutic relationships and a pilot study examining the perceived impact of a simulation-based learning activity on students’ knowledge and skills in communicating evidence to clients. The Fellowship will provide valuable mentorship for an early-career researcher and social work educator in curriculum design, implementation and evaluation. Keri’s future research will focus on the use of simulation in gerontological social work education and teaching meso- and macro-level practice skills, as well as the effectiveness and optimization of standardized peer-to-peer simulation as an alternative to traditional (non-peer) simulation.