Third time in four years an Okanagan student wins award at Universitas 21
The tradition of excellence continues.
Robyn Giffen, an anthropology student at UBC’s Okanagan campus, has earned a top prize for her oral presentation at the recent international Universitas 21 Undergraduate Research Conference in Amsterdam. Giffen is the third student from UBC’s Okanagan campus to win in the past four years.
Universitas 21 is an annual conference that brings together more than 50 oral presenters from nearly 30 of the world’s leading universities. Giffen follows in the footsteps of computer science student Ryan Trenholm and psychology student Andrew Hughes, who won in previous years.
Giffen, now working on her master’s degree, credits the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award (URA) and support from faculty members for her win.
“The URA experience really gave me an edge,” Giffen says. “Much of the work by other presenters was preliminary, however the URA requires you to complete the full scope of a research project.
“You get experience in writing grant applications, collecting data, analyzing findings, and completing presentations. I was able to do research start to finish, which was a big advantage.”
Giffen’s winning presentation, Developing languages for urban development: examining how the minority language of Nabit can be used in an urban centre, was a reflection of the work she undertook during her URA. Nabit, a regional dialect spoken in rural Ghana, does not have a written form. This is an issue for anyone seeking jobs or interaction outside their local district — while some people learn English for social and economic opportunities, Nabit is the language that connects them to their community.
Giffen’s URA project centred on creating a written Nabit alphabet that she hopes will be used in urban centres to educate people in their mother-tongue, before they branch off and learn English.
Through her master’s work, Giffen plans to work with the Nabit-speaking community to finalize the writing system, and incorporate it into the education system.
Prior to her U21 win, Giffen also won a top oral prize at the 2012 Multi-disciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference in Vancouver, and she has been selected to speak this October in Ottawa at the Foundation for Endangered Languages. She credits the support of her supervisor, UBC Assoc. Prof Christine Schreyer, and URA coordinators Assoc. Prof. Bruce Mathieson and Senior Instructor Trudy Kavanagh.
“They all gave me a lot of feedback and helped me practice and fine-tune my presentation.”
Giffen has also been awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Grant to pursue her graduate work.
Kavanagh, an advisor for the URA program since 2010, says the program helps students focus on their academic and research interests.
“Unlike some other funding opportunities that rate grades as the most important factor, URAs consider the quality of the research proposal as most important, which leads to exciting opportunities for students to investigate a question of interest,” says Kavanagh.