One of a team of 20 student research assistants at Selkirk College’s Applied Research & Innovation Centre (ARIC) in Castlegar, Kayla Tillapaugh is working on a project for Kootenay Rockies Tourism to assess the effectiveness of current wayfinding and signage in the region.
The assignment is the latest for the 22-year-old who is also currently working on the Economic Pandemic & Disaster Resiliency Project and helped put together both the State of the Basin 2019 Snapshot Report and the 2019 TeckServ Housing Report.
“This particular position as a research assistant has provided me more learning opportunities than I originally imagined,” says Tillapaugh, who graduated from the Integrated Environmental Planning Program in 2019. “A lot of what we do is academic, so when I go back to university to complete my degree I will be completely up to date on my writing skills, my research skills and my analysis skills. This is what we do on a daily basis here, it’s very academic and educational.”
The Selkirk College Applied Research & Innovation Centre is located beside the Castlegar Airport. Though now working from home offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the centre generally bustles with activity on a daily basis, including a staff of 20 intern research assistants. Some of the intern researchers and supervising faculty captured prior to March, 2020 include (L-R): Hannah Dueck, Kim Pham, Jaimee Remond, Adela Kincaid, Leeza Perehudoff, Kayla Tillapaugh and Brigitte Garnier.
Looking to enhance the visitor experience in the region, Kootenay Rockies Tourism has tasked the student researchers to provide a detailed assessment of the current state of signage and information. In preparation for a roadtrip through the Central Kootenay, Tillapaugh and her research partner prepared a literature review based on 14 different studies across Canada.
They have put together a route through the region to document the ease of tourist wayfinding from community to community and attraction to attraction. The pair will travel separately to assess more than a dozen signage attributes including: physical condition, clarity, placement, quality, graphic layout, consistency, safety and overall impression.
Once they have completed data collection in the field, the research assistants will prepare a report and maps for Kootenay Rockies Tourism with the overall goal of enhancing the experience of those who visit the region.
“I have field experience under my belt previously from the Integrated Environmental Planning Program and now the complete opposite side of the spectrum with the experience in the office doing report writing and research,” says Tillapaugh. “I’m glad to have gained experience in both areas and that will help with my future career path.”
Vital Research in Cooperation with Community
By establishing a solid reputation as a leader in rural post-secondary research, Selkirk College has bolstered opportunities for students, graduates and faculty at the Applied Research & Innovation Centre. Located adjacent to the Castlegar Airport, the centre works with community and industry partners to bring a wide array of research projects to life. From housing need studies to creating community plans for disaster and pandemic response to supporting policy direction on food systems and food supply chains, researchers are helping provide essential insight into industry, business, social services and local government.
Evidence of success at ARIC can be seen with a recent grant of $225,000 from Mitacs and local partners. A not-for-profit organization, Mitacs fosters growth and innovation in Canada. Under the supervision of researcher and faculty member Dr. Adela Kincaid, Selkirk College was one of the first colleges in British Columbia to receive funding from Mitacs.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, student research assistants worked at the ARIC building adjacnet to the Castlegar Airport. Now working from their home offices, the projects continue to be actioned by both students and faculty.
The grant equates to 15 projects that are carried out by connecting community partners who identify local research needs with a faculty supervisor and highly motivated students.
“As a result of the Mitacs grant and other funding opportunities, we have built a vibrant research program that offers student research internships that link community-identified research needs while pairing projects with student skills and interests,” says Kincaid. “These projects enable a unique rural research focus that supports local community needs and in turn helps strengthen our economy and create a better understanding about the region in which we live.”
Mitacs is just one of several provincial and national funders who provide the financial foundation at ARIC. Other important funders include the National Research Council, Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada.
“Our new Selkirk College strategic plan includes a commitment to transitions to the workforce by providing students with experiential and work integrated learning opportunities,” says Dr. Terri Macdonald, Director of Applied Research & Innovation. “With grants like Mitacs, we can further expand these opportunities for our students and partners.”
Impactful Opportunity for Student Researchers
Students and recent graduates from an array of programs are able to transition from learning concepts in the classroom to applying them in the community. Research positions for both domestic and international students are available throughout the year in part-time and full-time capacity. Student research assistants work with a community partner, faculty supervisor and with the support of a research team.
Selkirk College ARIC student research assistant Kayla Tillapaugh is a graduate of the Integrated Environmental Planning Program.
Tillapaugh successfully applied for a student research assistant position shortly after graduating from her two-year diploma program last April. The projects she has worked on and the skills she has developed at ARIC have emboldened the desire to continue her formal post-secondary education. She plans on completing a degree at a four-year school starting in September 2021.
“Coming to Selkirk College was life-changing,” says Tillapaugh, who grew up in the Okanagan. “It set me on a much more positive path than I was originally following. It has broadened my spectrum of interests, ideas and aspirations. I know that the experience that I have gained here will be beneficial in whatever field I decide to pursue.”