Stacy Penner

(She, Her, Hers)

Communications Strategist

Office of the Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation
Office: ADM006 (WK11)


Inaugural Campus as a Living Lab projects to focus on student mental health and sustainable infrastructure

View east down University Way towards the Commons with green trees and blue sky.

While UBC Okanagan is home to a range of labs dedicated to everything from sensory ethnography to trace element analysis, two new research projects funded by the Office of Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation will use the campus itself as the laboratory.

The Campus as a Living Lab initiative, launched in late 2022, pairs UBCO researchers with campus operations staff to help design and implement innovative solutions to challenges on campus. Projects are meant to have immediate impact on campus but also be applicable to societal challenges in the Okanagan region and beyond.

This inaugural year saw two projects selected:

A joint effort by Dr. Lesley Lutes, Department of Psychology professor, and Dale Mullings, Associate Vice-President, Students, is aiming to improve mental health care for students via a new partnership between the Student Health Clinic and the UBCO Clinical Psychology Program. Students who visit the on-site Health Clinic will now be referred to the Psychology Clinic, where supervised student clinicians provide clinical psychology services.

Eventually, the project hopes to fully integrate psychologists on-site within the services offered by Student Health Clinic and act as a model in BC for integrating mental health services into primary health care.

“Research and practice from around the world show the importance of caring for the whole person. Integrating mental and behavioral health within primary care improves patient outcomes while also supporting our primary care medical teams,” says Dr. Lutes. “Thanks to the Campus as a Living Lab initiative, UBCO will be a leader in showing what psychologists integrated in a primary care network could look like in BC, starting right in our own backyard.”

The second project, led by Dr. Shahria Alam, Dr. Lisa Tobber and Dr. Andi Zahedi from the School of Engineering in collaboration with Andrew Lawson, Manager for the Construction Management Office, will aim to make the concrete structures on campus more sustainable and durable.

To assess current concrete conditions on campus, the team will extract cores from aging structures for analysis and develop rehabilitation techniques to extend the concrete’s life. The aim of the project is to develop an innovative, durable and sustainable concrete mix for repairs and new structures. This mix could reduce UBCO’s carbon footprint by using low-carbon materials and by making the concrete structures last longer, reducing emissions from repairs and new construction.

“Using the UBC Okanagan campus as our lab will allow this project to study real-world effects on concrete structures in the region and share those findings with local companies,” says Dr. Tobber. “Not only will UBCO benefit from sustainable concrete mixes in future construction, but we also hope this research will advance Canada’s plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.”

The project hopes these concrete mixes could extend the service life of current structures by 20 years and see newly built structures last more than 50 years.

“Here at UBC Okanagan, partnerships solve problems,” says Dr. Philip Barker, Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “The Campus as a Living Lab initiative allows us to support activities that will use the campus as a test bed to try new approaches to benefit our University.”

Campus as a Living Lab project lead Dr. Miranda Hart was delighted to see the potential for real-world impact in both projects.

“Mental health and climate change are complex problems facing our society that have direct impacts on this campus,” says Dr. Hart. “We look forward to seeing how these unique partnerships between faculty and campus operations staff can create change not only for UBC Okanagan, but for our wider community.”

UBC’s Dimensions Action Plan for EDI in Research, published today, comprises 24 objectives and 43 actions to improve equity, diversity and inclusion in UBC’s research community. The plan was developed as part of UBC’s participation in the federal Dimensions: equity, diversity and inclusion Canada pilot program from 2020-2023 and will be integrated into UBC’s Strategic Equity and Anti-Racism (StEAR) Framework.

The action plan addresses several policies, programs and initiatives relating to the university’s:

  • Research services;
  • Internal funding and award opportunities;
  • Research culture;
  • Hiring, promotion and retention practices for research faculty and staff; and
  • Recruitment, admissions and funding for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and undergraduates involved in research.

The Dimensions Action Plan builds upon, and complements, UBC’s ongoing initiatives to address and enhance equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism at the university, including the Inclusion Action Plan, the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence (ARIE) Task Force Report and recommendations, UBC’s Employment Equity Plan, and UBC’s Canada Research Chairs EDI Action Plan.

“UBC’s Strategic Equity and Anti-Racism Framework will provide the avenue through which our Dimensions Action Plan for EDI in Research will be implemented and evaluated,” says Dr. Arig al Shaibah, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion. “The Dimensions plan’s focus on our research ecosystem is an important component in building a coordinated roadmap to change throughout the institution.”

As part of the federal Dimensions pilot, the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation and the Equity and Inclusion Office coordinated a diverse, cross-campus team that led an assessment to identify systemic barriers and inequities experienced by historically, persistently or systemically marginalized people in the UBC research community.

The assessment sought to leverage lessons from UBC’s existing action plans and initiatives relating to EDI in the research ecosystem, and included feedback, testimonials, and lived experiences. It then examined university policies, programs, practices and initiatives for potential barriers and inequities, and invited members of the research community to engage with the assessment’s findings and share their feedback. An action plan was then developed to address identified institutional barriers and inequities in UBC’s research ecosystem.

In October 2022, UBC submitted its Dimensions action plan for peer review and evaluation for recognition by the federal Dimensions program.  The peer review panel awarded UBC a “Construction” designation, the second of four levels in the federal program’s cycles of transformational change, recognising the strategic, coordinated and ongoing nature of UBC’s efforts to enhance EDI.

“The federal Dimensions program’s designation acknowledges UBC’s commitment and actions to enhance equity, diversity and inclusion to date, while acknowledging that there is still work to be done to make the research environment a more welcoming place.” says Dr. Naznin Virji-Babul, Senior Advisor to the Provost on Women and Gender-Diverse Faculty and Chair of UBC’s Dimensions advisory committee.

“I would like to recognize the work of all those involved in the self-assessment process and in developing this action plan,” says Professor Gail Murphy, Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “The resulting plan provides a lens on EDI that addresses broad issues that relate to the university as a whole, as well as research-specific programs and support. I am particularly grateful that it details deliverable actions and objectives that can drive us towards a more equitable and inclusive research ecosystem.”

Implementation of UBC’s Dimensions Action Plan for EDI in Research will be coordinated by the Equity and Inclusion Office.

Eminence Clusters of Research Excellence announced for 2022/23

This year’s newly funded Clusters of Research Excellence showcase UBC Okanagan’s commitment to a greener future.

Funded through the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation’s Eminence Program, Clusters of Research Excellence are interdisciplinary teams of researchers that focus on addressing complex societal problems beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries.

After a tight competition, four teams were chosen for the Clusters of Research Excellence program:

Battery Innovation, led Dr. Jian Liu, will work to design and manufacture sustainable solid-state batteries that have more power capacity packed into smaller, safer designs. By exploring the environmental, economic and social impacts as well as local supply chain feasibility, the cluster will work to accelerate Canada’s transition to net-zero emissions.

Living with Wildfire, led by Dr. Greg Garrard and Dr. Mathieu Bourbonnais, is collaborating to better understand wildfire in the BC Interior, contrasting the millennia of Indigenous land management with more recent settler-colonial fire suppression. With interdisciplinary research ranging from wildfire imagery to the impact of fire on biodiversity, the team will explore better ways of living with wildfire in the uniquely fire-prone landscape of the Thompson-Okanagan.

Build Better, led by Dr. Lisa Tobber and Dr. Solomon Tesfamariam, is researching how to improve reinforced concrete for tall, high-density housing to alleviate the lack of affordable and available housing in Canada and globally. The team will coordinate with stakeholders from real-estate developers to regulatory officials for housing that is not just sustainable, but also resilient to disasters like earthquake and wildfire.

Solar Energy for Net Zero, led by Dr. Alexander R. Uhl and Dr. Robert Godin, is developing solutions to harness, convert and store the sun’s abundant energy. By identifying low-cost materials, advancing devices for light-generated electricity and solar fuels, and examining power grid challenges for solar energy integration, the team aims to reduce greenhouse gases with the adoption of solar energy.

“In a cohort of strong applications, these projects stood out for their innovation and potential to harness UBCO research capacity,” said Dr. Phil Barker, Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “These four new research clusters showcase UBC Okanagan’s growing leadership in sustainability. Challenges around climate change are complex and require interdisciplinary solutions that UBC Okanagan is positioned to offer. We look forward to seeing the impact these clusters will have on our campus and in the larger community.”

Each cluster is funded for three years—an investment meant to help jumpstart collaborative research which can then attract further external funding opportunities.