PhD grad collaborates with Indigenous youth

Social Sciences

- Anne MacLaurin

UVic PhD graduate smiles on a sandy beach in front of crashing waves on the shore.

Andrea Mellor, who graduates this November with a UVic PhD, was drawn to the interdisciplinary social dimensions of health program because she saw a missing link between her earlier work as a hydrogeologist and the health-related issues occuring in Indigenous communities. Mellor wanted to explore the disconnect she felt in her scientific work by understanding the factors outside of our bodies that influence health.

Now that her graduate studies are complete, Mellor says, “I tell people I focused on the importance of cultural teachings, teachers and communities during adolescence, and that connecting to culture is key to supporting the Indigenous youth community.”

Born in Calgary, Mellor first tackled the hard sciences, studying geology and hydrogeology—drawn to them in part because she’d grown up near the mountains, closely connected to nature. It wasn’t until she was working on an on-reserve groundwater assessment in Northern BC that she realized her studies up until then hadn’t given her the full story about Indigenous water issues.

“I went back to school because I needed a better understanding of how the work I was doing was connected to much more than water coming from a tap,” says Mellor.

Mellor was already working in BC, but a move to southern Vancouver Island fulfilled a childhood dream of attending the University of Victoria.

“UVic was a place that was having these conversations," explains Mellor, and I was able to connect with so many wonderful people that were open to sharing their knowledge and teachings with me.”

Some key milestones included the lessons of exploring self-location and privilege, something Mellor learned during Public Health and Social Policy professor Charlotte Loppie’s Indigenous Leadership and Engagement course. She was also present when Cindy Blackstock and Spirit Bear received their respective honorary doctorate and PawhDs—“a thrill in retrospect,” says Mellor, “considering how much Dr. Blackstock’s work has influenced my own.”

During her graduate work, Mellor was also introduced to Elder May Sam at First Peoples House, and discovered they had a mutual love of working with wool.  

I have always worked with textiles as a hobby—processing sheep fleece, knitting, weaving—and it was through this handwork that I wound up meeting a lot of the people in my community on the Peninsula. It was a true honor to work with Grandma May—she was a wonderful person to chat with about our project, sharing her knowledge about coming-of-age teachings.

—Andrea Mellor, UVic class of 2021

In her PhD research, Mellor supported a community-led project that worked to understand what urban Indigenous youth living in foster care felt was important about a culturally centered coming of age. Alongside a team of community partners, community members and Island Health, the project hosted two youth workshops and a dinner to hear directly from the youth community and develop knowledge-sharing resources.

UVic PhD graduate Andrea Mellor with supervisors, Denise Cloutier (back), Karen Kobayashi (right)
Andrea Mellor with supervisors, Denise Cloutier (back), Karen Kobayashi (right)

“My supervisors were also incredible mentors along the way—in particular, health geographer Denise Cloutier. Her presence at our workshops, during all our community meetings, co-authoring our papers, it’s a long list,” says Mellor.

The future includes working with Cecilia Benoit at UVic’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) as a research affiliate. Part of Mellor’s post-doctoral work will involve understanding the supports that young people who age out of government care need to thrive into adulthood.

Mellor is grateful for the support she received from the Corrine Lowen Memorial Award in Social Dimensions of Health in 2018 and the BC SUPPORT Unit Vancouver Island Centre—Patient-Oriented Research Graduate Fellowship 2019/2020, as well as the funding her project received from a SSHRC Reconciliation Grant and an Island Health Collaborative Grant.


In this story

Keywords: convocation, indigenous, health, community, student life, administrative

People: Andrea Mellor, Denise Cloutier, Karen Kobayashi

Publication: The Ring

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