Community stories

UVic linguist Dr. Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins.
UVic linguist Dr. Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins.

Community involvement makes a difference in Victoria and around the world

Inside the main entrance of UVic’s First Peoples House are two house posts by Tsartlip artist and master carver Charles W. Elliot. UVic linguist Dr. Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins found a quiet moment outside this building a few days after accepting a prestigious BC Community Achievement Award to reflect on her work on the Coast Salish Language Revitalization Community University Research Alliance (CURA) Project. In keeping with the nature of her work, she was not thinking of herself on either day.

A Thunderbird totem pole also carved by Elliot stands at the entrance to the LÁU,WELNEW Tribal School (near the community of Brentwood Bay) where Elliot’s brother John, chair of the Saanich Native Heritage Society, is a teacher. Their father, Dave Elliot Sr. (1910-1986), created an orthography to revive SENĆOŦEN, the language of the WSÁNEĆ people whose ancestral territory includes the Saanich Peninsula and Gulf Islands.

These pieces of an interpersonal, multigenerational puzzle are closely tied, as Czaykowska-Higgins received the provincial achievement award in recognition for bringing consultative, integrative processes into the language revitalization partnership. Speaking about the award, she applauds the Aboriginal communities of Vancouver Island and the Straits Salish communities who partnered with UVic in their work to reclaim their languages, rather than holding the spotlight for herself.

Read more about Dr. Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins' project.

STEHM microscope brings international attention

The University of Victoria is now home to the most powerful microscope ever built. On May 22, the 7-tonne, 4.5-metre tall Scanning Transmission Electron Holography Microscope (STEHM) arrived on campus in 22 pieces. The next day, four large pieces were lowered into a special room in the basement of the Bob Wright Centre, where the microscope has since been assembled under the watchful eye of mechanical engineer Dr. Rodney Herring, director of the UVic Advanced Microscopy Facility.

The STEHM is a one-of-a-kind machine built for UVic in Japan by Hitachi High Technologies Canada and is the highest-resolution microscope in the world. It will allow researchers to see things 20 million times smaller than the tiniest thing the unaided human eye can see.

Unlike conventional microscopes, which use light to peer at specimens, the STEHM uses an electron beam and holography techniques to observe the inside of materials and their surfaces to an expected resolution smaller than the size of an atom. The microscope is expected to draw experts from a vast spectrum of fields—from medical researchers to nanomaterial design specialists—to Victoria. “The STEHM will make the university unique, and a world-class leader. We have so many people asking, from around the world, ‘can we come use your microscope?’” explains a beaming Dr. Elaine Humphrey, manager of the UVic Advanced Microscopy Facility.

Watch a video about the STEHM.

Face Camp youth help autism centre develop treatment tools

When Victoria-area children take part in Face Camp summer programs at UVic, they know they're having fun. But at the same time, they're also crowdsourcing their intuitive understanding of how faces convey feeling, and helping psychologists design better tools for autism treatment.

UVic psychologist Dr. Jim Tanaka has attracted attention in the past for his research on facial recognition, including mentions in the Boston Globe and New York Times for work on implicit bias and facial recognition training. Now he’s leading a brand new UVic centre aimed at helping those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The UVic centre designs breakthrough computer interventions, including a “FaceMaze” game to help children with ASD express facial emotions. To score points while moving a Pac-man character through a maze, children must pose a happy or angry facial expression, recorded by a webcam, and evaluated by a computer software program.

Although the research results from current FaceMaze tests and games are only preliminary, improving attentiveness to and awareness of others’ facial cues, and learning to modify and present emotion-appropriate facial expressions themselves, appears to help those with ASD communicate better with others. And the work done at the centre has also attracted attention from media powerhouses like CNN and The Globe and Mail.

Youth volunteers for this year's Face Camp sessions on the UVic campus are being sought now, as well, for sessions in early and mid-July. Children of all abilities from the ages of 5-12 are invited to learn about the scientific principles of face recognition by doing fun, hands-on activities at this free camp.

Learn more about Face Camp.

Nanotechnology: from solar cells to cancer screening

Two leading UVic nanotechnology researchers are working to change the face of healthcare and renewable energy—possibly at the same time—by investigating the unusual properties of nano-scale metallic structures. Chemist Dr. Alexandre Brolo and engineer Dr. Reuven Gordon are both working in this field, with a variety of likely applications including sensors for cancer diagnostics and the creation of more efficient solar cells.

Read about the Craigdarroch Research Awards 2011.

International development opportunities

UVic students in the Master of Arts in Community Development (MACD) can now study for one term at an international university in Mexico or the US. The School of Public Administration is participating in this international project studying the role of civil society organizations in sustainable community development. The MACD is an online program which has a short residency during the summer term.

Clearing the air on climate research

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) has launched a first-of-its-kind, free online product to educate the public, and to help decision-makers in the BC government separate fact from fiction when creating climate change policies. Developed by PICS—a collaboration of BC’s four research-intensive universities, hosted and led by UVic—the Climate Insights 101 short course series aims to make our changing climate easier to understand.

Bullying prevention program expanded

Since 1998, students in Victoria schools have benefitted from a unique anti-bullying partnership between UVic and the Rock Solid Foundation. The Greater Victoria School District's WITS program aims to reduce victimization in schools. Thanks to $180,000 in funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, UVic psychologist Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater and her team are taking WITS to schools in Canada's rural and remote areas as well.

Read more about the bullying prevention program.

Learning in the key of life

University 101 provides Victoria-area residents who have previously faced barriers to education with free ongoing opportunities for immersion in the humanities, keeping a vital conversation alive about the value of intellectual development, and feeding the quest for knowledge among underserved groups.

Read more about UNI101 in the Ring.

Expanding opportunity for Aboriginal learners

Initiated by the Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association (IAHLA) and carried out jointly by the UVic's Office of Indigenous Affairs and Office of Community-Based Research, the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Transitions Research Project is a community-based and Indigenous-centred research project.

The project was designed to support and strengthen the 34 community-controlled Indigenous Adult and Higher Education Centres scattered throughout the various First Nations communities and urban Indigenous communities in BC. Its goal is to increase the likelihood that Indigenous students will choose to transition into post-secondary education.

Read more about support for Aboriginal success.


Unique in Canada, CanAssist improves the quality of life for people with special needs. UVic students, faculty, staff and community volunteers develop innovative technologies, programs and services that make life easier and more rewarding for those with disabilities.

Read more about CanAssist.

Writing grad champions University 101

John Steinbeck, one of Ann Brydle’s favourite authors, once said teaching “might even be the greatest of the arts, since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” Brydle, who graduates this month with a major in English and minor in professional writing, has witnessed first-hand the effects of inclusive learning, completing four consecutive four-month stints as a work-study student and summer program assistant with the University 101 program, which offers free, non-credit university courses geared for those who face economic and social barriers to post-secondary education. UVic professors and graduate students volunteer their time to teach the classes.

While working with the program, Brydle wrote and produced a Uni 101 volunteer manual. As part of developing the much-needed content, she also organized and helped facilitate focus group sessions with the program’s students to ensure the process was inclusive. Brydle says Uni 101 “really resonated” for her. It’s clear she believes teaching is akin to adorning the soul, to echo Steinbeck’s sentiment. “Education is not a privilege,” Brydle adds. “It is a right we all have.”

Read more about Brydle’s work or about the University 101 program.