Resiliency and education

Researcher profile: Stephanie Yamniuk

Stephanie Yamniuk’s excitement about education and interest in the well being of others is evident when discussing her PhD research, her goals, and some of the challenges facing refugee education at home here in Manitoba and throughout Canada.

It was her early passion for travel that prompted Yamniuk to take on a volunteer opportunity in Micronesia where she taught first grade. Her interest in getting students the best education available led to a more hands-on approach to teaching that included field trips to local businesses and schooling more focused on the community.

This initial exposure to culturally aware education brought Yamniuk to the University of Manitoba where she completed an MA in inter-arts theory and got involved in the coordination of the International Student Exchange Programs. She noticed early on how important funding is in securing equal education opportunities for students and after completion of her degree began work in the department of private funding here at the U of M.

Yamniuk’s abilities as a fundraiser led her to take on “one of the best jobs in her life” as regional director for UNICEF, where she worked with former NDP Minister of Education Peter Bjornson on global citizenship and education initiatives. Yamniuk’s work with UNICEF also introduced her to John Wiens, the current dean of the faculty of education, which led her to enroll at the U of M to complete a PhD in education.

With such a wealth of interests, Yamniuk chose her doctoral research from something she learned through personal experience with one of her own children. As a mother of a child with a unique medical condition, Stephanie recognized how important it is for children to have an advocate, and how the resilience of her own child to overcome his challenges has contributed to his current educational successes.

This idea of resiliency stuck with Yamniuk. Her current research looks at “the personal and contextual factors that hinder or promote resilience, adaptation, and acculturation.”

With her experience in cross-cultural education, Yamniuk focused on the factors in refugee children that make them resilient and succeed in spite of their, at times, extremely difficult upbringing. Yamniuk conducted her research out of the Peaceful Village, a part of the Manitoba School Improvement Program (MSIP), primarily through one-on-one interviews with children as well as parental focus groups. Yamniuk uses a strength-based approach in her research, looking at the positive characteristics that affect resiliency.

To understand these characteristics, her research uses the model of the Ecological Systems Theory developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner. This model identifies five environmental systems ranging from the individual characteristics, such as age and health, to the “macrosystem” level, which represents the attitudes and ideologies of the culture. As an educator, her approach is not one-dimensional as she has also included perspectives from social work, family social sciences, and nursing.

In describing the eventual goal of her research, which is the identification of the factors affecting resiliency, Yamniuk states that she hopes to “plug what she has learned into the education system, opening up so many more opportunities for refugee students.”

When Yamniuk is not advocating for others, she loves to be active with her husband and two children, exploring the outdoors through visits to places like Riding Mountain National Park. When first asked what it was she did for fun, though, Yamniuk said with a smile, “talking about refugee education.” It is clearly an important issue to her, and a cause worthy of the attention she’s giving to it.

After completion of her PhD, Yamniuk wants to continue teaching at the university level as a professor and synthesize her research interests in the hopes of drawing awareness and funding for the organizations in place here in Manitoba that provide support for refugee families and help children identify and use their strengths to foster their own resilience.

Organizations such as Newcomer Employment and Education Development Services, Peaceful Village, and the Immigrant Centre are becoming increasingly important as the population growth initiatives in place in Manitoba have nearly quadrupled Manitoba’s immigration intake since 1999. Funding for these programs is essential if we as a community are going to meet the challenges facing refugee education head on.

Yamniuk continues to make a difference everyday not just with her research, but through empowering her students and those she meets to take on her message and bring awareness to these important issues.