Transforming lives through knowledge creation

Vice-President Research and Innovation, Usha George speaks at Ryerson's New Faculty Orientation. (top right) Sarah Sabatinos and Josephine Wong share a laugh during the panel discussion. (bottom right) Julia Spaniol looks on as Alison Matthews David shares her insight with the audience.
Vice-President Research and Innovation, Usha George speaks at Ryerson’s New Faculty Orientation. (top right) Sarah Sabatinos and Josephine Wong share a laugh during the panel discussion. (bottom right) Julia Spaniol looks on as Alison Matthews David shares her insight with the audience.

In a room filled with the eagerness and excitement of new Ryerson professors, during the recent new faculty orientation, I was reminded of the privilege of an academic career. I was struck by the opportunity that lies ahead for not only the researchers in the room but also for the many lives and communities that will experience the impact of their future work.

I remembered my first year as a pre-tenure faculty member at the Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. As a relative newcomer to Canada, I was excited to have the opportunity to work in a university setting, as I had before I immigrated. I loved working with students and getting them engaged in the learning process. Research was integral to that engagement.

The focus of my scholarship was/is newcomer settlement and integration. As a graduate student in Chicago, I was very intrigued by how immigrant communities tried to blend their identities into their adopted identities. In spite of the common “melting pot” perception ascribed to American society, it was clear to me that immigrants embraced hybrid identities.

Later, in Canada, I studied the challenges that came with high levels of immigration during the 1990s with newcomer settlement concentrated in Toronto (almost 40 per cent settled in the Greater Toronto Area). The introduction of the point system for immigration removed racial discrimination from the selection process and introduced tremendous diversity among the newcomers arriving in Canada. The federal department of Citizenship and Immigration was interested in understanding the challenges related to settlement of the different communities in order to create programs to respond to the needs of newcomers. I completed a number of studies with new immigrant groups from various countries such as Iraq, former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Mainland China and several African countries.

As I concluded a number of these ‘needs’ studies, I came to the realization that the settlement needs of all newcomers were similar— all needed:
•    gainful employment,
•    housing,
•    language training,
•    information about available services
•    and social connections.

What was unique about each group was the language and cultural background and their pre-immigration experiences.  Based on this newly created knowledge , and the proposal for a model of settlement service delivery that followed, my research informed policy and practice as new programs were introduced in some Ontario cities to the benefit of the newcomers. As I evaluated some of these programs, I was able to see the application and impact of my research.

From studies on settlement and organizational practices that create barriers to settlement, I have moved on to studies on integration of newcomers to Canadian society. Currently, I am working on a study of the citizenship experience of racialized women.

Seeing the transformative effect of scholarly research continues to inspire my work. It was clear to me at the new faculty orientation that the excitement of creating knowledge is still alive, and I look forward to sharing in the passionate endeavours of our new researchers.