Making the community a healthier place to be

Community Scholar Award winner recognized for research connecting where we are with who we are.

(Edmonton) For public health researcher Candace Nykiforuk, receiving the University of Alberta's Community Scholar Award isn't just an accolade-it's an affirmation of her approach to research and her mission to make the university a resource for the wider community.

"It's recognition for taking academic work and making it relevant to the community by engaging the community in doing that work," Nykiforuk says of the award. "Community impact is as important to me as scholarly impact. My community partners help to define project research questions, and in turn, the research helps to address issues that they are working with in daily practice."

That commitment has earned Nykiforuk the Community Scholar Award as part of the U of A Community Connections Awards. The award recognizes academic staff members who not only excel in their scholarship, but also bring that scholarship into the community, showing how their work affects people's lives.

Nykiforuk will be recognized at a ceremony at Edmonton City Hall at 12:30 p.m. May 14, along with two other recipients: the Adopt a Heritage Chicken Program, winner of the Community Leader Award; and Jack Francis, UAlberta Advocate Award winner. Everyone is invited to attend the awards ceremony.

Nykiforuk says her work in the Policy, Location, and Access in Community Environments (PLACE) Laboratory at the School of Public Health is focused on the core question at the intersection of health promotion and human geography: "How does where you are affect who you are, what you do and the kinds of decisions you make-and how does this shape your health and well-being?"

This theoretical framework forms the basis for policy development and projects that have impact in the "built environment," whether it's creating a community walking map in north-central Edmonton, assessing usage patterns and barriers to participation at indoor fitness facilities in Strathcona County, establishing no-fee summer programs of unstructured play for children and youth in St. Paul, or working with town planners to support physical activity opportunities for seniors in Bonnyville.

Partnerships and community relevance, along with public health impact, are integral to Nykiforuk's work as an Applied Public Health Chair-one of 14 in Canada-with a mandate to help advance the field of population health intervention and health equity. The Applied Public Health Chair is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions.

Her team also works with municipal, provincial and federal decision-makers to develop and implement healthy public policies that will create healthier environments for Albertans and Canadians, and provides resources to evaluate the outcomes of community-based health initiatives.

All of this work, Nykiforuk says, requires a lot of time building relationships and establishing credibility among community partners and decision-makers. She says people in the community should be valued as "co-creators of knowledge," so the rapport is as much a goal of her research as the means to an end, a fact she strives to impress on students.

"In public health, most of our students end up working as practitioners in communities, so it's important to break the ice and make the university a really accessible go-to place, and to raise interesting questions that benefit both scholars and the community when they're answered."