Meet the 2024 HSD Research Excellence Award winners

Research Excellence winners 2024

A researcher who leads a collaborative drug-checking project in downtown Victoria that is savings lives during the toxic drug crisis.

An Anishinaabe scholar whose research in Indigenous law and governance is advancing the goals of Indigenous self-determination and sovereignty.

An early career academic who seeks to empower people through digital technology so they can make informed health choices.

The winners of this year’s HSD Research Excellence Awards are testament to the diverse fields of expertise across the Faculty of Human and Social Development. 

Associate Dean Research Nathan Lachowsky says what unites the winners is their shared leadership towards creating more just, equitable, decolonial and sustainable futures.

"All of these scholars exemplify transformative research with real world impact," he says. "They engage with key decision makers in communities, government and industry to mobilize knowledge for good."

The awards this year included a new category for Collaborative Research Excellence. Lachowsky says the award was created to celebrate the diverse and extensive partnerships our scholars uphold, which are critical to meaningful community-engaged research.

"This new award helps to raise the visibility on the impact our research is having locally and globally," he says.

Here are the winners of this year’s awards:

  • Collaborative Research Excellence: Bruce Wallace, School of Social Work
  • Indigenous Research Excellence: Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, School of Indigenous Governance
  • Early Career Research Excellence: Helen Monkman, School of Health Information Science

Bruce Wallace – Social Work

Bruce Wallace

It is one of the biggest public health crises of our time. Toxic drugs have killed more than 14,400 people in BC since a public health emergency was declared in April 2016.

A UVic team, including Social Work Professor Bruce Wallace and Chemistry Professor Dennis Hore, came together in 2018 to develop a drug-checking project to respond to the epidemic. 

Substance Drug Checking has evolved from working at the back of overdose-prevention sites and in hotels during the pandemic to the only street-level response of its kind in North America.

In collaboration with Vancouver Island University Chemistry Professor Chris Gill, the team operates a mass spectrometer at Substance’s storefront in North Park.

Award nominator Tim Naimi, director of UVic’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, says the Substance team literally brings the lab to the street. He says Substance does so in a spirit of further community engagement and collaboration, providing trace-level detection and measurements of the concentration of illicit drugs.

Last year, the Substance team conducted about 10,000 drug checks, along with local and regional public health monitoring data. Their goal is to continue to seek ways to expand the scale and reach of drug checking to have meaningful impact here and globally.

Substance also provides meaningful experiential learning opportunities to students providing practicums, co-ops and support to undergraduate and graduate students across Chemistry, Social Work, Computer Science, Public Health, Social Dimensions of Health, and Nursing.

Wallace says the collaborative nature of Substance is its strength.

“One of the things our project shows is that UVic has a role,” Wallace says. “We can play a real, significant role to push the response to this public-health emergency.”

Naimi, who is also a professor in the School of Public Health and Social Policy, says the Substance project is an outstanding example of how UVic can engage researchers, internal and external partners, and students in innovative solutions that respond to pressing societal issues.

Other Substance team members, including external partners, honoured include:

  • Dennis Hore, Department of Chemistry, UVic
  • Solid Outreach Society – Mark Willson
  • Vancouver Island University, Chemistry – Chris Gill
  • BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions – Ken Tupper, director, Policy and Partnerships
  • Island Health Authority – Murry Fyfe, medical officer

Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark – Indigenous Governance

Heidi Stark

Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark’s groundbreaking research in Indigenous law and governance is centered in a profound commitment to community engagement.

From examining the complexities of Indigenous resurgence in scholarly texts to working directly with Indigenous groups on issues of self-determination, governance and sovereignty, Stark’s research has made significant contributions to academia and Indigenous communities alike.

Award nominator Hōkūlani Aikau, director of the School of Indigenous Governance, says Stark’s innovative research demonstrates the transformative potential of centering Indigenous perspectives, specifically Indigenous stories, in academic and legal scholarship.

Stark, an associate professor in Indigenous Governance, co-edited the 2023 book, Indigenous Resurgence in an Age of Reconciliation, which explores the central concerns and challenges facing Indigenous nations in their resurgence efforts while mapping the gaps and limitations of both reconciliation and resurgence frameworks.

The book is based on a symposium that Stark, who is also director of the Centre for Indigenous Research and Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE) at UVic, organized and hosted.

Grounded in her Anishinaabe heritage, Stark has worked with numerous groups, including the Zagime First Nation, the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation, and the Saagamok Anishnawbek First nation to support their efforts to revitalize their governance structures by drawing on Indigenous traditions.

“These partnerships also provide a model of how academics can deploy their skills and knowledge for purposes beyond academic publications,” Aikau says.

Stark was an expert witness for Restoule v Canada, a landmark case for Indigenous legal and political rights, in which signatory communities to the Robinson Huron Treaty took the Crown to court for failing to meet treaty obligations. 

In 2018, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the Crown had a duty to increase annual payments to the beneficiaries of the Robinson-Huron Treaty. Last year, Canada, Ontario and 21 Anishinaabe communities along the north shore of Lake Huron reached a proposed $10-billion partial settlement to compensate for unpaid past annuities.

Legal counsel Dianne Corbiere says Anishinaabe law was central to the success of these negotiations, and that Stark’s knowledge of Anishinaabek treaty principles and sacred stories played an important role in this complex case.

“It can be said that Dr. Stark’s contribution to the advancement of Anishinaabek law has not only pushed the courts, but the governments as well, to seriously contend with Indigenous legal orders as giving shape and meaning to treaties as international accords; as the nation-to-nation relationships that they were always intended to be,” Corbiere wrote in a letter of support for Stark.

Stark says she is honoured to receive the award but draws attention to her community partners for their work.

“[The award] is more so a reflection of the brilliance and fortitude of the many Indigenous nations and communities that I have had the privilege to walk beside and learn from over the years," she says.

“I am continuously inspired by commitment to imagining and enacting better futures for our people despite the everyday challenges brought by settler colonialism."

Early Career Research Excellence - Helen Monkman 

 Helen Monkman

Thought leader, mentor and innovative researcher, Helen Monkman has earned a global reputation as a digital health scholar.

Monkman seeks to empower people through digital technology to help them have better conversations with their health care providers and ultimately make informed health decisions.

An assistant professor in the School of Health Information Science (HINF) since 2020, Monkman has earned numerous accolades, including being named one of Digital Health Canada’s 2023 Women Leaders in Digital Health.  

Monkman has published 67 peer-reviewed publications. Since 2020, five of her papers and one of her student’s papers have won awards. For example, a 2021 paper she collaborated on that examined vaccine hesitancy in Canada won a best paper award and has been cited 224 times.

Drawing on her training in cognitive psychology, Monkman considers the human factors behind health information technology and how we can maximize capability and minimize error. Her primary research interests are in consumer health informatics, which include user experience, usability, digital health literacy, and information visualization. 

Award nominator Karen Courtney, an associate professor in School of Health Information Science, says Monkman’s influence extends internationally, proven by her ongoing collaborations with researchers from various institutions in Canada, the United States and abroad, including Denmark, France, and The Netherlands. 

A mentor to undergraduate and graduate students alike, Monkman is the school's undergraduate advisor and a friendly face at student-focused events and at recruitment and career fairs.

She is currently supervising 10 graduate students and one Valerie Kuehne Undergraduate Research Award student. Courtney notes that Monkman has published 16 papers with student co-authors, showing her commitment to fostering collaborative research experiences for emerging scholars. 

“Helen serves as a source of inspiration for the upcoming generation of investigators, seamlessly integrating her research into her classes and providing support to students in their individual research pursuits” Courtney says.

Monkman says she is thrilled and honoured to be recognized with the award.

“Digital health has the power to transform lives and improve health equity and I am so grateful to be working in this field,” she says. “I am so fortunate to work with phenomenal people in a role I love—teaching future leaders and researching topics that have the potential to revolutionize the way we provide health care."