Viola Cohen

Email: viola-cohen@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

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WHETHER HE’S HIKING A NEW PEAK or setting up cameras for field research, Dr. Adam Ford can’t help but see the Okanagan Valley’s incredible beauty—and the intense pressure the region is under.

“The Okanagan is exceptionally diverse ecologically,” says Dr. Ford, an Associate Professor of Biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and the Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology (Tier 2).

“We have salmon swimming in large lakes right beside a desert with cacti and rattlesnakes, grasslands with badgers, and within a 60-minute drive you can be above the tree line in an alpine meadow with mountain goats and grizzly bears. It’s also a vibrant, food rich and urban place—one of the fastest-growing communities in Canada because people want to be here. It’s beautiful.”

With that agricultural and urban growth comes challenges to biodiversity, such as water limitations, development through wildlife corridors and the shrinkage of rare grasslands.

A landscape photo of the Okanagan Valley, with brownish brush in the foreground. A few sticks from old trees are standing, and in the background is the Okanagan Valley.

Plants have returned to the site of the devastating 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire, and this area now supports a vibrant wildlife community. Between the City of Kelowna and the fire are many agricultural operations, including fruit orchards and vineyards, making this land some of the highest valued real estate in Canada.

As the new Director of the Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience and Ecosystem Services (BRAES), Dr. Ford wants the institute—and UBC Okanagan—to support local communities, land, wildlife and water, offering research that helps build a more sustainable way of life in the Okanagan.

BRAES is one of five research institutes at UBC Okanagan, funded by the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation to provide opportunities for researchers to collaborate and share knowledge across disciplines and into the community.

As the head of BRAES, Dr. Ford hopes to strengthen the institute’s research support network. His priorities include strong regional partnerships and speaking to the need for reconciliation, including support for indigenizing research programs and partnering with Indigenous communities, particularly in the Syilx territory where UBC Okanagan is located.

His background has positioned him well for the new role.

A landscape photo of the backsides of nine people who are standing at the crest of a hill. The wide angle shot juxtaposes the group against the mountains in the background and blue sky above.

Community leaders from Esk’etemc First Nation, BC Wildfire Service, non-governmental organizations and BRAES researchers gather to plan cultural and prescribed fire in the Cariboo region. Indigenous-led fire management is helping to reinvigorate cultural practices and restore populations of wildlife species like bighorn sheep, elk and mule deer.

Dr. Ford leads the Wildlife Restoration Ecology (WiRE) Lab, where he studies how human activity in landscapes affects interactions between large predators, prey and plants. The key goal of this work is restoration—the human-assisted recovery of nature. To do this, he and his lab partner with governments, Indigenous communities and other organizations to help people and wildlife co-exist more peacefully.

His past and ongoing research projects include an award-winning study of the tripling of a mountain caribou herd under Indigenous-led stewardship, informing on human/wildlife conflict with wolves in coastal BC and bears in the Rocky Mountains, and assessing the functionality of wildlife corridors in BC—or, areas set aside from human development to allow animals to move through the habitat.

“Dr. Ford brings energy, creativity and extensive research experience to the leadership of BRAES,” says Dr. Phil Barker, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. “His work in conservation and regional collaborations are a perfect fit for the BRAES mandate, and I am looking forward to seeing how he will use this role to benefit not just the institute and our campus, but the wider sustainability conversation in the Okanagan.”

While many researchers in BRAES are biologists like Dr. Ford, interdisciplinarity is one of the institute’s key strengths.

A photo of a small deer eating grass

As an indicator species, mule deer are the “canary in the coalmine” that tells researchers about the health of the landscape. Dr. Ford helps lead the province’s largest mule deer study to date—the Southern Interior Mule Deer project—involving several graduate students, hundreds of trail cameras and GPS tracking of deer migrations.

BRAES connects researchers across disciplines, from biology to computational statistics to the humanities. For Dr. Ford, these diverse skills are essential to solving complex problems like climate change and sustainability.

“The world is a complicated place, and we need a lot of different ways of knowing to help solve these problems,” he says. “Western science can be a helpful tool, but it’s just one tool in the toolbox. To solve complicated problems, we need a diverse set of tools.”

In the future, Dr. Ford dreams of UBC Okanagan researchers having access to field research facilities in the Okanagan, coordinating with community partners on long-term biodiversity monitoring for the valley and hiring an interdisciplinary postdoctoral fellow who could work across faculties in BRAES.

“You can look at the recent wildfires in the Okanagan and see the need for the work BRAES members do to support better decisions and give the landscape a voice,” says Dr. Ford. “We care about this community, and we’re doing work that we believe will help the Okanagan.”

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WHILE WESTERN POPULAR CULTURE HAS DOMINATED the entertainment scene across the globe for decades, since the early 2000s a new competitor has emerged: Hallyu, or the Korean Wave.

From TV programs and pop music to video games and films, two decades later the global circulation of South Korean popular culture is bigger business than anyone could have initially imagined; the country’s exports of cultural content almost sextupled from USD $2.3 billion in 2008 to USD $12.4 billion in 2021.

Now, words and phrases like Blackpink, BTS, Gangnam Style, Squid Game and mukbang are readily recognizable and synonymous with South Korea’s culture and success.

But how exactly does pop culture move from one country to the next, and why do certain cultures explode in popularity?

That’s what Dr. Kyong Yoon wants to find out.

A Professor of Cultural Studies at UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, Dr. Yoon researches digital media, mobile communication, migration and Korean popular culture.

A giant statute of two golden arms crossed at the wrists. The move is symbolic with the Gangnam Style song, and the words are etched into the side of one of the arms. A round platform is under the arms, where people can stand.

The 2012 global hit “Gangnam Style” by South Korea’s PSY eventually inspired this statue in Seoul. Standing on the stage below the hands triggers the art installation to play the iconic song. The statue has also become the new landmark of South Korea’s now-famous Gangnam neighbourhood.

He says that South Korea is one of the few countries in the world that exports its popular culture to such a degree as a means of developing “soft power.” Soft power refers to the influence a country exerts through its image rather than through military or another coercive force.

“In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a rapid movement towards digitization. Videos and music could be shared more easily between people, which was further helped by the arrival of digital platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Netflix.

“All these factors combined at just the right time to help South Korea effectively export its culture.”

Dr. Yoon adds that compared to other Asian nations, South Korea is relatively small, which means its media and culture industries don’t have as large a domestic market as China or Japan. In response to rapid digitization, the country needed a new market, which turned out to be global.

As UBC Okanagan’s Principal’s Research Chair (PRC) in Trans-Pacific Digital Platform Studies, Dr. Yoon aims to advance the research on digital platforms that cross the Pacific Ocean like YouTube and Netflix, which are increasingly reshaping cultural production, distribution and consumption.

“My research over the last 10 years has found that cultural content and technology are very closely tied together. Technologies like the mobile phone and social media have been a definite component of success for South Korean content expansion.”

During his five-year PRC project, Dr. Yoon will comprehensively examine how media production, circulation and consumption are reshaped around major digital platforms and in transnational contexts. This will be done through an investigation of various platforms, the media content available on them and audience engagement with the platforms.

“These global platforms have contributed to the unexpected international success of non-Western media that otherwise would not have been disseminated globally.”

Dr. Yoon points to examples like the hugely popular Netflix show, Squid Game, as well as the growth of online videos like mukbang (known in English as an “eatcast”).

In these cases, viewers find the South Korean cultural content relevant to their everyday lives; “Squid Game depicts the hardship and insecurity that many people face in competitive capitalist societies, while mukbang offers the viewers a sense of eating together in increasingly individualized societies where people often have to eat alone,” Dr. Yoon says.

“These mukbang streamers sit in front of a camera and just eat. Sometimes there’s no communication, other times they tell a story. Some streamers also slurp and crunch and make all those noises that lead the viewer to ‘feel’ something while they’re watching.”

Research shows that watching mukbang can help viewers recreate the social aspect of dining with others; it can also open the door to enjoying luxury food or something not permitted on a diet, like binge eating junk food.

In exploring platforms like YouTube and other social media, Dr. Yoon hopes to use his PRC to explore this emerging field of digital platform studies, and move beyond the dominant Western-centric discourses about digital media.

“My goal is to contribute to opening up new areas of digital research, and enhance the interdisciplinary research capacities of UBC Okanagan, which has been a true space for inspiration for me.”

He adds: “The Principal’s Research Chair program has enabled me to develop global networks with leading scholars in the field of trans-Pacific digital media studies beyond UBC and Canada. I hope in the near future to host a first-of-its-kind international conference on trans-Pacific platform studies here on the UBC Okanagan campus, where a whole host of stimulating digital projects in the arts and humanities are taking place.”

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