CUP Graduate Student Equity Award: Final Celebration Event

On the morning of May 18, CUP held a celebratory event for the ten recipients of our first-ever Graduate Student Equity Award. This event was also attended by members of CUP’s Steering Committee, CUP staff, and several of our friends and colleagues from across the university.

19 June 2023

Pictured (top left to bottom right): Megan MacNeil, Tessa McDougall, Michael Barrett, Bryna Gibbons, Luc Sauze, Jessie Conrad, Hanji Baek, Audrey Medwayosh, Jah-Amaka Enwedo, Mary Etem Mbiatem

What did we do?

CUP launched the Graduate Student Equity Award in May 2022 with the support of the Suncor Energy Foundation. Prior to this, we spent several months reviewing best practices for equity award processes, consulting with our Steering Committee, and reflecting deeply on how to create a meaningful award and process for equity-deserving graduate students. Creating this opportunity was truly a collaborative experience.

CUP’s award provided recipients both financial support and the opportunity to take part in a series of “community of practice” sessions facilitated by researchers from CUP, the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, and the Women and Children's Health Research Institute (WCHRI). Over the past 8 months, CUP also sought to collect and share the stories of award recipients, inspire conversation about community-engaged research across the university, and create environments where students could seek mentorship, form relationships, explore career and research directions, and build their confidence as both academics and community members.

The final celebratory event was a chance for award recipients to reflect on their experiences and share their learnings from the past year. CUP would like to express deep appreciation to everyone who helped make this event a success and contribute to an inspirational and thought-provoking discussion.

What did we hear?

CUP is excited to share some of the most memorable things we heard during this conversation.

What impression did the award application and adjudication process have on recipients?

  • Award was unique and unlike other funding opportunities at the university
  • Award opened the door for “non-traditional academics”
  • Award recognized the value of applicants’ community experiences, lived experiences, and personal identity without needing to “check boxes”
  • Students appreciated that there was no requirement to submit publications, a C.V., or reference letters
“I really want my research to help the community and be relevant.” - Award recipient

What motivates the recipients to pursue community-engaged research?

  • A desire to engage in community-led initiatives (ex. collaborative projects, knowledge co-creation, community-based evaluations to improve programming)
  • A desire to advance EDII (ex. anti-oppressive methodologies, decolonization, Indigenous healing, working with vulnerable communities)
  • Giving back to communities (ex. compassion, desire to facilitate community experiences and projects, desire to enact policy changes to improve the lives of communities)

“This experience helped me find meaning in my work.” - Award recipient

What impression did the community of practice (CoP) have on recipients?

  • The award’s value was greatly enhanced by the CoP and other networking and community-building opportunities.
  • The CoP was a safe environment that reflected intersectionality
  • The CoP gave students a chance to reflect on their personal transformation over the duration of the award
  • The CoP was an opportunity for students to learn from their peers, including those at different stages of their academic career
  • The CoP was a source of support and encouragement
  • The CoP promoted a sense of belonging and new relationships

“The CoP was inspiring because it brought in diverse experience and research interests. I learned how personal experience can strengthen or change the type of research someone wants to pursue. The experience also cemented for me how my personal experiences can benefit my research.” - Award recipient

What did recipients learn about community-engaged research over the award duration?

  • Community members have invaluable knowledge to contribute to research
  • Community-engaged research is often complex and involves “expecting the unexpected”
  • Community-engaged research often involves critical thinking, reflexivity, and shifting one’s mindset
  • Community-engaged research often requires overcoming silos between the community and the university and between disciplines

“I saw so much potential and value in community-based research. It stresses the importance of trust between researchers and those who are being helped. I don’t know if there’s any meaning to research if it doesn’t ultimately help people in need.” - Award recipient

How did the award help recipients think about their career?

  • The opportunity helped students “connect the dots” between ideas, research methods, and issues in the “real world”
  • Students were inspired to make a difference through research
  • Students have a strong desire to pursue community-engaged research professionally or work in the not-for-profit sector
  • Students saw the award as an opportunity to navigate different academic spaces and consider new research directions

“This opportunity has opened so many doors.” - Award recipient

How did the recipients feel at the end of this experience

  • Trusting of one another
  • Excited to continue doing community-engaged research
  • Hopeful
  • More prepared to engage meaningfully with communities

“It’s amazing to think that we are all bodies of culture and experience, and we are able to share our different intersectionalities and feel validated and heard. It creates a sense of community and belonging. I could really see that I was not alone in this journey.” - Award recipient


What comes next?

CUP is currently planning how to best share the many lessons and questions that emerged for us throughout the experience of designing and administering the Graduate Student Equity Award. We are continuing to reflect on the process alongside our network and Steering Committee members.

In the coming months, CUP intends to produce an article outlining some of our key learnings and encouraging more universities to push the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to student funding and support for equity-deserving students.

We are also developing a plan to share our learnings with our peers and colleagues at the University of Alberta in hopes of advancing conversations about how to provide meaningful, ongoing, and sustainable support to equity-deserving students and students pursuing community-engaged research.

Please stay tuned for more information.