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Student stories

UVic professor has a passion for co-op

Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education

Joan Wharf Higgins

School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education at UVic

When Dr. Joan Wharf Higgins was a UVic student, she was enrolled in one of the university’s co-operative education programs (Leisure Studies, now known as the Recreation and Health Education Program). She was a graduate of the first ever class in this program, and the experience made an impact--today, as a professor with UVic’s School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education, she is a regular co-op employer. In fact, UVic co-op students have played an integral role in her numerous research projects.

Read the rest of this experience

Since 2000, Wharf Higgins has acted as primary supervisor for 16 students from the Kinesiology and Recreation and Health Education Programs. Together, she and her students have worked on exciting recreation and health initiatives, including the latest project­a partnership between Thrifty Foods, the Active Communities Initiative, and UVic that has resulted in Wharf Higgins and her students evaluating a series of free nutrition seminars being run at recreation centres across Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

“I know that opportunities to try different work experiences during university is very valuable­it can help students make career decisions and connections. For my projects, I turn to teams of undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate researchers, many of whom are hired through UVic’s co-op programs,” says Wharf Higgins.

One of her most recent students is Sarah Cameron, an undergraduate student in the Recreation and Health Education Program who had already completed a variety of work terms, including positions as a summer camp leader and a project assistant for Project Nova at UVic, before working for Wharf Higgins. As an evaluation assistant on the Thrifty Foods project, Cameron has visited recreation centres to assess the nutrition seminars’ success.

“This work term has offered me opportunities for networking, as I am constantly in and out of recreation centres all over the Island and Lower Mainland,” says Cameron. “I am excited to be part of Joan’s team and to gain such relevant experience.”

The experience is certainly varied. “Students do a variety of research-related tasks,” says Wharf Higgins. “Students have administered surveys, helped to conduct focus groups and interviews, gathered, entered and analyzed observational data, written reports and presented findings at conferences.”

In her appointment as a Canada Research Chair in Health and Society, Wharf Higgins plans to continue to “research, research, research!” She is passionate about understanding how an individual’s life choices are influenced by their circumstances, and learning how to help them make healthy, affordable choices.

Along the way, she’ll continue to encourage co-op student participation. “Without their hard work and commitment, the projects simply wouldn’t come together,” she says. “They play an essential role in the work that I do.”

Update on Sarah Cameron: Since graduating from UVic, Cameron has gone on to work as a youth employment program coordinator for Beacon Community Services in Sidney.

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