New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network

Stephanie Ruckstuhl

1) What is your official current position and title?

My current position is as an Instructor with NBCC.

2) What is your educational background?

I received an Arts degree from St Francis Xavier University in 1989, a Nursing diploma from St Lawrence College in 1993, and a Infant Mental Health Certificate from York University in 2012.

3) Talk a little about your career path. Where did your passion for the research/work that you do originate and how did it develop? 

I am an RN by trade and have always worked in grassroots program development until I moved to NB in 2006. I then took a teaching position with NBCC.  I have always looked at communities with the idea that where ever there was an idea and a need, then there was a cause to work toward. I saw the mental health need with children early on when foster parenting through SD and saw the needs of young children with attachment which lead me to return to school and get my post grad certificate in infant mental health. Once I moved to St Andrews and began teaching mental health I saw that young adults struggle with self-love and anxiety which lead me to the research I currently am doing with adolescents.

My students were continuing to struggle with self-love and the need for acceptance and their resiliency was low. As a nurse I wondered how they can care for someone else when they are struggling themselves. How can we make them stronger? I looked at the current research and noted that this lack of positive self-identity started way before they got to college.  Could there be a way to help them grow stronger before they get to that point of being a young adult? The numbers historically in the research were staggering and group after group, my students were showing their struggles. This lead to my application for a SSHRC grant to look at and review the information.

I have always had a passion for basic understanding of how things work in the health care system. Like why do men with prostate cancer also have a high probability/co-morbidity for heart disease? What is the true link between early onset menses and breast cancer? If in a class of 16 practical nursing students 12 are on medication for either depression or anxiety, where did this come from? When did it start?  This led me to find out that by grade 10 only 18% of young girls have positive identity…. How does this get better?

4) Tell us about one or two of your current projects.

Historically, research has shown that adolescent girls have a high risk of poor self-image and self-esteem that leads to developmental deficits. These poor self-images are carried into adulthood.  It is generally believed that there are many benefits to having a positive view of the self and the pro-social skills that coincide with positive view of self. Research conducted by the Girls Action Foundation showed that pro-social behaviour in young girls drops by 35 per cent in the five years between middle school and the end of high school (Girls Action Foundation, 2012).

Researchers with the NBCC College and St Francis Xavier University along with active stakeholders: Anglophone South district School Board, Horizon Health Mental Health team, Antigonish Women’s Resource Center and Sexual Assault Services Association, and CASM Group are working to reverse that trend through their SSHRC-sponsored development of and research on a pro-social role modeling and peer mentoring intervention program. The literature demonstrates success through implementing “girl-specific programs” (as identified through the Canadian Girls Action Foundation); programs designed specifically for girls can play a key protective role in their healthy social development. Using this model ensures that the activities are in keeping with pillars of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), the project introduced workshop-based learning approaches, popular education, role modeling and peer mentoring. The Team reached out to females in the beginning of grade 7 and are continuing to follow them through to grade 10 in Charlotte County, New Brunswick.

The intervention was to create a safe place for young females to learn, share and build their pro-social skills, including self-esteem. The program anticipated to create an environment conducive to the following elements, marked as pillars in SEL: participatory (involving young females in program design and facilitation), empowerment (supporting young females to express themselves and take action), asset-based (build skills and focus on strengths), culturally relevant (respect for and integration of diversity), and community involved (engage community members through mentorship and other means).

Approximately 48 NBCC students over 2 years have helped facilitate the peer-to-peer mentoring program. The researchers are assessing the effectiveness of the program using both quantitative and qualitative methodology. Assessment tools include the Developmental Assets Survey (The Search Institute), group observations, focus group interviews, and photo voice. Concomitantly, participatory action research methodology will guide data collection with and from the participants. Participants will share their learning by choosing from a wide selection of response modalities including digital storytelling, social media, audio and video recording, and other arts-based responses such as creative journaling, craft-making, and painting, for example. This research has a strong focus on the empowerment of girls in rural NB, by helping them to critically trouble the everyday social media messages they receive, as well as interrupt the power imbalances they face within the traditional gender binary, for example. This issue is echoed throughout much of Atlantic Canada.

With increased self-esteem and pro-social skills, we hope this intervention will improve the lives of girls in schools, thereby increasing school success, and setting the foundations for success post K – 12 schooling. At the Summer Institute we plan to share our data from the information gathered in the first half of the 3 year SSHRC sponsored project as well as our ever-evolving work plan, including the intervention program curriculum.

5) How do you see your research/work in terms of possibly contributing to evidence-based public policy?

We will possibly have data that will contribute to understanding of school retention and risk taking behaviours in a community that falls below the province averages in several determinants of health as outlined in our conference in April.

6) Discuss any past achievements that were significant to your professional path?  Have any contributed to the promotion of evidence-based public policy?

The Adolescent Breast Health Project was initiated as a result of the ideas and concerns expressed by women with breast cancer in our region and throughout Canada. In addition, several published reports strongly indicated that a means to break the generation gap and talk frankly and honestly to adolescent girls about breast cancer was urgently needed. The Adolescent Breast Health Program is a peer-lead education program that is based on sound research and the premise that adolescents listen to and respect the thoughts of their peers. This project along with a few other projects that worked with people on the ground set in motion for me the strive to learn and grow. I am always looking for cause and effect and how to make things better for people who might not have a voice or a means to make change in their community.

7) Describe in a couple of sentences your involvement with NBSPRN and how your relationship with the Network has contributed to your research/work and/or to social/economic policy?

The relationship between my team and NBSPRN has been a great evolution. As a first time researcher in the province of NB, I have been supported in learning how to mobilize my knowledge and develop a network of colleagues to help me move forward in with due diligence in the research community of NB.

8) Any last thoughts?

I am a mother of three grown children and a 6 year old daughter. I would do anything for a cause like polar jump in the St Lawrence River in February or move 1000 miles (from Cornwall Ontario to St Andrews NB).  In my world I always look to see how A+B=C!

Copyright 2013
A Ginger Design