Innovator Spotlight: Kirsty Choquette

Meet Kirsty, a doctoral candidate at the U of A in the school and clinical child psychology program in the Faculty of Education. Her work focuses on understanding Indigenous approaches to child rearing in one First Nation in Alberta, and she's recently received a prestigious Mitacs award in support of it.


Kirsty with her Mitacs award


YouAlberta is written by students for students.

Jeremy (he/him) is in his final year of a MA in Communications and Technology (MACT) at the U of A. When he's not writing a paper or reading a book, you can find him on some of Edmonton's river valley trails, or trying to get sendy on his skis.

Kirsty Choquette (she/her) is a Mik’maw and Ukrainian-Polish woman born and raised in ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (Amiskwacîwâskahikan) on Treaty 6 territory, as well as a doctoral candidate at the U of A in the school and clinical child psychology program in the Faculty of Education. Her dissertation focuses on understanding Indigenous approaches to child rearing in one First Nation in Alberta.

As a member of Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia, she is on a journey to reconnect with and grow her understanding of her Indigenous ancestry and infuse this journey into academic and practical work while still giving back to the Indigenous peoples supporting her. She is completing an internship year with hopes of becoming a registered psychologist.

Recently, she received a Mitacs award in recognition of her work with the Evaluation Capacity Network (ECN) within the School of Public Health’s Community-University Partnership (CUP) for the Study of Children and Families. I was able to speak with Kirsty to learn more about her story, her research and what this award means.

Can you tell us more about yourself and your research?

The ECN aims to enhance evaluation capacities in early childhood and social service sectors. I joined the project in 2020, focusing on a collaboration between the ECN and the Alberta Mentoring Partnership (AMP) to develop a course for community organizations in the mentoring sector. This course, combining didactic and experiential learning, was designed to help organizations create frameworks for evaluating new virtual mentoring services, a necessity during the pandemic.

Over the last year, our focus shifted to delivering the course to organizations involved in the "Mentoring Youth and Young Adults from Care" program, which needed an overarching evaluation framework. In this initiative, we emphasized Indigenizing and decolonizing the content to ensure cultural sensitivity and empowerment for Indigenous youth, who are disproportionately represented in children's services.

What motivates you to work in this area?

I think it's important for us to always be monitoring the services we provide, particularly with Indigenous individuals. A lot of the research historically hasn't been done with them and yet it's the research that we're using and basing our programs off of. It really motivates me to try and find opportunities to raise their voices so they can speak about things that impact them and can have an impact on the services that we're offering to make sure that they are culturally meaningful and safe.

What is one challenge you want to solve through your work?

Through developing a framework like this and being able to engage with a funder like AMP, we can start to shift some of the conversations around evaluation and what we count as data and information. We can also shift from just trying to prove that something works or doesn't work to focusing on ongoing improvement at all stages.

How might this research have a positive effect on our community (our province/country, etc)?

I'm hoping that it will change the way that we define success, data and impact. This is one step that we can take towards raising the voices of other, maybe less represented, communities so they have more say in how we design programs. I think that's one key way we can achieve innovation in Alberta and in Canada. By listening more to those voices and hearing their perspectives because they typically haven't been historically heard, we can learn a lot as they have a lot to offer that maybe hasn’t been considered.

You have been working to Indigenize the programming your group delivers; why is this significant?

We wanted to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk with our work. So it wasn't just about telling the programs how to make an evaluation framework that was culturally meaningful and safe; it was also about making sure that we could practice that in the way we delivered the program. So by integrating ceremony and opportunities to learn from Elders and Knowledge Keepers, not only were the groups that participated able to learn to lecture style about these things, but they also were able to experience these things and be in a room and sit with these experiences. I think, ultimately, this will result in a way of doing evaluation that makes a difference and also feels more comfortable and engaging for Indigenous youth.

The research team
The research team. From top left to bottom right: Courtney Cox (AMP), Kirsty, Al Chapman (AMP), Dr. Rebecca Gokiert (U of A, research supervisor in SPH), Lauren Alston (U of A, PhD Student), and Rachel Zukiwsky (U of A, Master’s Student).

Congratulations on receiving a Mitacs award! How will this further your work and research?

This award will bring awareness to some of the work that we're doing, and I think it’s important for the people who hold the funding power to start thinking differently about the requirements they have of organizations around proving that what they're doing is important and meaningful. It's been really validating on a personal level to receive this award as someone who's on a journey towards understanding my Indigeneity and infusing that identity in my work. This award makes me feel like I’m on the right track. It's also validating, I think, for all the people involved in this work to know that we're on the right track to potentially making a change within the funding system.

What makes the U of A a great place to do your work and research?

The U of A offers a lot of opportunities to do community-based research through CUP, which in turn offers strong relationships and skill-building opportunities to graduate students like me. These include building community-based research skills and being able to do work that actually has an impact in the community, as opposed to work that sometimes can be a little bit lost in translation or feel less directly applicable or impactful.

Is there anything else you want to share about your work and research?

For me, the most rewarding part of this community-based research is the relationships that come out of it. It can feel a bit daunting to do this work because it does take time to build those relationships and to do so in an authentic and meaningful way. But I think it also makes the work so much more rewarding. 

Sometimes, as students, it can be hard to persist through always feeling like you’re stuck at your desk and having to read numbers or write papers or do presentations or study for a test. For me, it was really good to be able to work towards a degree while also doing such rewarding community-based work. I would advise other students to consider community-based research because it's just so relationally bound, and that makes it really rewarding.

What is one piece of advice you’d offer to other U of A students interested in research?

It’s been really important for me to make sure the research I do is not only something that I think is going to have an impact for the community but also has personal value to me. For me, this has meant infusing understanding and learning about Indigenous culture into my work because it also is furthering my own personal journey. My research with CUP, as well as my dissertation work on Indigenous child rearing has been really personally meaningful, which has helped me to persist through what can sometimes be a daunting process. 

Learn more about Kirsty's program: