As a recent graduate of St. Clair College’s Bachelor of Applied Arts in Social Justice and Legal Studies degree program, Caitlyn Massad was one of the first students to participate in an NSERC funded College and Community Social Innovation Fund, awarded to St. Clair College. This unique opportunity improved her reading and writing skills, gave her experience in community engagement, while receiving valuable hands-on and practical work knowledge. She is planning to attend Law School at the University of Windsor in the fall, and is confident that her experience with St. Clair College’s Research and Innovation Department is what took her application to the next level.
Caitlyn was a student researcher on a project focused on childhood literacy with a primary focus on addressing literacy concerns in Windsor-Essex, especially amongst low-income families. The project worked in collaboration with ProsperUs, and saw the team conduct focus groups and pre- and post-test surveys, with the goal of designing a literacy program based on the community’s needs rather than an outsider’s perspective.
The project, dubbed “1000 Books Before Kindergarten”, was presented in collaboration with the Windsor Public Library in Windsor and the Essex County Library in Leamington, and aimed to get kids reading to remove the barriers for low-income students so they are at the same level as higher-income kids when they start school. The study is complete and currently in the analysis stage, and while Caitlyn could not share specific results just yet, she did confirm it was successful.
Presenting her research at the WE-SPARK Health Conference, she was the only student who gave a presentation on the social determinants of health. Several attendees mentioned to her it was very refreshing to see research that examines how things like poverty can have an effect on one’s health, and it’s clear to her that further research is necessary.
Caitlyn’s work on this project did not go unnoticed, as she won the 2023 Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada (SWAAC) Student Leadership Award. This award is given to students who are nominated by professors, one student at each school in Ontario, then a winner is chosen by a committee. As the winner for 2023, Caitlyn said it was a “wonderful experience going out and meeting other powerful women in academia.”
As she prepares for the new challenge of Law School at UWindsor, she reflects on the immense value of her work at St. Clair College. She credits the small class sizes and close relationships with professors with enabling her to secure a research position, obtain personalized letters of recommendations from her professors, and contribute heavily to the community through volunteer work with Street Help and Windsor Family Homes.
Although she was accepted to Law School at Queen’s University as well, she chose to stay home to remain close to her community and support network. Once she is called to the Bar, she hopes to specialize in family and criminal law, with the primary goal of improving access to the legal system for low- and middle-class individuals.
St. Clair College has continued to broaden their research initiatives and investigate more research opportunities, including in three main areas of Advanced Manufacturing, Automobility, and more recently, Community Health and Social Science. Growth in these areas allows for students across the college to gain novel research experience with a hands-on, applied research lens. Caitlyn was a volunteer with WE-SPARK and believes concentrating on community health and social science really opens the doors to a lot of investigation into the social determinants of health versus just the physical determinants, which are often studied more in-depth. Caitlyn’s experience has not only demonstrated the benefits of such grants to students, but also displays immense value for the broader community as a whole.