The Steadward Centre for Personal and Physical Achievement welcomes new Director

    Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation alumna brings a lifelong commitment to inclusive physical activity to her new role

    By Nicole Graham on October 1, 2018

    The last time Jennifer Leo was at the Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement, she was an eager graduate student just delving into the world of research. Jennifer’s journey is now coming full circle as she returns to the University of Alberta as the Director of the Steadward Centre. 

    It was here in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation where the Ontario native learned just how much she loved research, and saw firsthand how scientific discovery can be combined with the communities that organizations like the Steadward Centre work with.

    “Building a program of research that matters starts with fostering relationships in the community. I learned the importance of doing this on a daily basis when I came to work every day as a Research Assistant with the Steadward Centre. The opportunity to speak with members in informal ways—such as asking about their day—was critical in helping us shape our research questions.”

    Jennifer expanded her research experience over the next several years as she pursued a PhD with the Faculty, focusing her dissertation on examining disability simulation activities used in undergraduate student preparation. During her PhD, she moved back to Ontario to take on a fulltime position at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ontario—a world class recreation, athletic and performing arts facility fully accessible to all persons of all ages and abilities. From her experiences in the Steadward Centre and her academic accomplishments, Jennifer was well-equipped to take on the role of Director of Research, Education and Innovation for the centre, all the while completing her PhD.

    Since 2012, Jennifer has been responsible for the Abilities Centre’s research and evaluation activities, and providing strategic direction for education and professional development activities. Over the past six years, Jennifer has built a program of research that is imbedded in inclusion and innovation. She has continued to integrate research and the community throughout her career, bridging the gap between community and academia by bringing research outcomes back to her colleagues and the community members they work with.

    “If we want to offer a meaningful tool, program or resource, we have to work with those who will be using the tool or resource, or is participating in the program from the very beginning. This is what I am most excited about in returning to the Steadward Centre, as the connection and opportunities between research and community are so strong.”

    Jennifer joins the Steadward Centre team on October 1st. Under her direction, the Steadward Centre will continue to focus on knowledge sharing to showcase the great work that has and is happening at the centre, and work with members, staff, advisory committee and community partners to ensure the programs offered are supporting community members experiencing disability in a meaningful way.

    “Everyone has the right to be physically active in a way that is meaningful to them. Participating in sport, physical activity and recreation helps to build more inclusive communities when people have the access to their desired activities and the individualized support needed. Being active feels good and makes people happy. Everyone should have access to the opportunity and experience.”

    Career Highlights

    • Completed a MA (’06) in Adapted Physical Activity at the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation under the supervision of Janice Causgrove-Dunn
    • Joined the Abilities Centre in 2012 as Director, Research, Education & Innovation
    • Completed a PhD (’15) in Adapted Physical Activity at the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation under the supervision of Donna Goodwin, while working fulltime at the Abilities Centre
    • Took a one-year leave from Abilities Centre to complete a Postdoc with the UNESCO Chair in Inclusive Physical Education, Physical Activity, and Sport at the Institute of Technology Tralee in Ireland. Postdoc focused on developing a resource to help fitness professionals make their practice more inclusive
    • Current member of the Family Engaged Sport & Exercise Team with the Canadian Disability Participation Project involved in several initiatives focused on increasing physical activity behavior among youth with disabilities. Recently launched a Family Advisory Committee to learn from families about how they would like to be involved in research and how findings can be shared with them
    • Joins the Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement as Director on October 1, 2018