School of Public Health associate professor Kate Storey receives prestigious CIHR-IPPH Trailblazer Award in Population and Public Health Research

Kate Storey and her SIRCLE research lab are creating a culture of wellness for children, families and communities through school-based programs that foster resilience and empowerment.

Shirley Wilfong-Pritchard - 13 July 2023

Kate Storey and her research team are helping to improve children’s lives — and the lives of their families and communities. Through school- and community-based initiatives that promote well-being, prevent chronic diseases and reduce health inequities, they are empowering and inspiring youth to create pathways to holistic wellness.

Storey is an associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)/Public Health Agency of Canada applied public health chair and a Stollery Science Lab Distinguished Researcher. She is a member of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute and a scientist with the Centre for Healthy Communities, leading research in the area of healthy school communities.

Storey has also just won the prestigious CIHR Institute of Population and Public Health (IPPH) mid-career Trailblazer Award for 2023. 

The Trailblazer Award recognizes exceptional contributions to population and public health research through leadership, mentorship, innovation and impact on policy and practice. Each year, CIHR receives applications from across the country and selects up to one outstanding researcher from each career stage —  early, mid or late — to receive the award.

“It is humbling and a tremendous career honour to have received this award. To me, this award recognizes that research is relational, as the work I lead is grounded in partnership with so many individuals, organizations and communities,” says Storey, who works to meaningfully engage knowledge users and partners as co-investigators and collaborators in her research projects.

Storey leads the Settings-based Intervention Research through Changes in Lifestyles & Environments (SIRCLE) research lab, which delivers, evaluates and scales school-based healthy living programs across Canada and the world. 

After leading numerous studies on what it takes to create a healthy school community, Storey and her team established the essential conditions for comprehensive school health — transforming the culture of schools, promoting healthy behaviours for students and improving academic outcomes. These essential conditions have been adopted into Canadian policy and practice as the Canadian Healthy School Standards, a significant career highlight for Storey. 

“It is what we all hope to achieve as scientists: that our work truly impacts and improves the health and health equity of Canadians,” says Storey.

With this focus on the school environment — a central hub of communities — not only are young people’s lives and educational outcomes improved, but their families and community members are impacted as well. 

“Facilitating a healthy lifestyle is much more than telling people: eat healthy, be active, stop smoking, get enough sleep, or be mindful. We need to create a culture of wellness for kids, their families and communities, and that requires systems-level change,” says Storey, who feels strongly that empowering youth and listening to their voices with an open heart is the pathway to health and health equity. 

“Youth are natural leaders. However, we know not all youth have been given opportunities in this role. We focus on understanding who is not there and work together with all youth to co-design strategies to promote health for their own school communities,” says Storey.

All SIRCLE projects centre around the core principles of equity and prioritizing youth voice — and the projects are making an impact. 

For example, a Grade 5 student in the Sleeping Soundly project shared that “Sleep is healthy for your body and your brain” and “if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re not going to have enough energy for the next day.” And in STOMP (Students Together Moving to Prevent Tobacco Use), youth are driving change by developing strategies to prevent and curb tobacco and vaping use in their school communities.

A student from the Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program commented that they learned to be humble and patient with themselves and others. Another said that through mentorship, they now have the confidence to try new things.

“When a school principal said that the Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program is ‘the heartbeat of what reconciliation should be,’ I have never been more certain this is the future we need for our children and youth,” says Storey, “and the future is now.”

Storey reflects that she is grateful for the mentorship she has received throughout her career. She also mentors others, including her students, staff and trainees at SIRCLE. “One of my goals as a mentor is to demonstrate my own commitment to continuous learning and expanding my knowledge,” says Storey, who is looking forward to continuing to grow and stretch, ensuring her worldview remains reflexive, and seeing what new places her students will take her to next. 

Related: Watch Kate Storey’s Trailblazer Award acceptance video.