Moose Jaw doctoral student using VR technology to support mental well-being of Indigenous youth –

University of Saskatchewan graduate student and Moose Jaw resident Lindsey Boechler was named a 2022 Vanier Scholar. Other award winners this year are Gilbert Adum, Cody Koloski and Pezhman Zolfaghari Didani.

The prestigious annual Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships recognize academic excellence, research potential and leadership in scholarly work.

Each of the students will receive a $150,000 grant over a three-year period to fund their doctoral research programs.

Boechler was part of the Doctorate of Educational Leadership Program, but after receiving the Vanier Award, she decided to progress to a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in January. She also works from home in Moose Jaw with Saskatchewan Polytechnic through the Center for Health Research, Innovation and Scholarship.

“We are working with rural remote indigenous communities to try to create a virtual platform that supports spiritual well-being,” she explained.

“As we in Saskatchewan know, in remote rural areas, actually anywhere in Canada, it’s sometimes really difficult to access care or resources that are more readily available in urban centers. What we want to do is build a virtual reality platform that you can fully immerse yourself in. Technology to access these resources to varying degrees. We don’t underestimate or underestimate the importance of personal or face-to-face relationships, we just try to build them and then build on them virtually.”

Boechler will work with Associate Professors from the College of Education, Dr. Vicki Squires (PhD) and Dr. Michael Cottrell (PhD).

“The virtual platform will include things like workshops that you can attend from your own community,” she noted.

“Educational articles, things you’re curious about but kinda afraid to ask, or things that could have a strong impact on you. We plan to create a social platform so that once the youngsters from different communities meet, they can continue to meet virtually and build their relationships. The founding framework of the platform is to be able to, counseling and clinical access to provide care in a safe manner so that they can access that care that they might not otherwise be able to access.”

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They worked to give the youngsters a really good understanding of what they want and what would benefit them.

“Building the relationships and getting that feedback from the students, but then we also started creating virtual reality segments together. We will still be looking for means to build a secure platform to house everything once it is ready, but for now we are actually using specialized cameras and the students and I will be capturing different cultural teachings or parts of their environment that really appreciate them.”

Boechler hopes to secure funding to build the platform by next year. So far, they have been funded by SHRF (Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation) and through community initiatives through NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada).

Listen to Cory Knutt’s full interview with Lindsey Boechler: