Community benefits from work by psychology and kinesiology students in C4 capstone course

Frontline workers who deal with people in poverty who are the victims of trauma, in Toronto and globally, now have a new online resource, thanks to a group of students – including three Faculty of Health undergraduates – who took part in one of York University’s new Cross-Capstone Campus Classroom (C4) courses, an interdisciplinary capstone course model launched last fall.

Students in Faculty of Health C4 capstone course
Students in Faculty of Health C4 capstone course. From left, Kim Dadgarian, Emma Bennett and Yitian Tang. Photograph by Julie Condor

In partnership with the Yonge Street Mission, the C4 students from various disciplines worked together to answer a key question: how can understanding experiential trauma and recovery help frontline workers understand the effects of poverty on the brain? To answer that question, the students created a website that provides frontline workers with up-to-date information about root causes (e.g., racialization, migration), their effects (e.g. biological or neurological problems), treatment approaches, public policy and societal concerns. The website was created as a way to assist them in their day-to-day interactions with people who have experienced trauma. The students hope it will become a place where frontline workers from around the world can come together to share problems and concerns.

“We wanted something accessible and engaging and we thought that this was a way to reach frontline workers in Toronto and elsewhere,” said Kim Dadgarian, a fourth-year double major student in psychology and law and society, who was the team leader for the C4 project.

Melding as a team, deciding on a goal and sharing the responsibilities required a lot of time and effort from all eight team members, including Dadgarian, fellow psychology student Emma Bennett and kinesiology student Yitian Tang. They gathered and collated information on the neurological impact of trauma and stress created through the experience of poverty and designed and created a website to make this information accessible. They met weekly as a team and also met monthly with their mentor, a manager at the Yonge Street Mission. They also sought the guidance of the C4 creators and their professors. The information they gathered for the website comes from both scholarly journals and interviews with scholars in the field, health-care professionals, counsellors and other frontline workers.

The team initially expected the product to be focused solely on the Yonge Street Mission, but they broadened their scope to make the contents relevant to other organizations that deal with victims of trauma.

Michael Boni

Dadgarian, Bennett and Tang are among only a handful of Faculty of Health students who took part in the new C4 program, which is an interdisciplinary approach to the traditional capstone course. The trio were “cutting edge participants as part of this cross-campus pilot project,” said Michael Boni, an assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Science, who supervised a participating student.

The students and the supervising faculty – Boni and Julie Conder of psychology – say they are all enthusiastic about C4 and the opportunities the program provided.

“What I’ve heard over the years from students is that they want a way to connect their academics with the community,” said Boni. “C4 offers the opportunity for exposure, experience and ties to the community. It allows the students to envision what they can do with their expertise. The feedback I’ve been getting is that it has been eye-opening and that the students have grown in ways they never expected.”

Conder is also pleased to see her students getting hands-on community experience.

Julie Conder
Julie Conder

“I love the idea of the students going out and solving a problem that has no prescribed outcome,” Conder said. “As members of a multidisciplinary team, they get to showcase their unique skills from their discipline and use them in a real-world setting, solving an actual problem.

“Experiences of this nature are exactly like what they’ll be doing when they enter the working world,” added Conder. “You may try something and see it fail, so you need to try another approach. There will be times when people won’t like what you’re doing, so you’ll have to figure out how to deal with it and make changes.”

Dadgarian is delighted by her C4 experience.

“We have to be independent, but we also have to work as part of a team,” Dadgarian said. “It’s our project and it’s our responsibility to figure things out. Working with people from different fields also means we need to be sure we’re on the same page.”

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus