Convocation Fall 2007 

Three convocation ceremonies took place on Sunday, Nov. 11, in the Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts. Although all three cycles of students receive degrees at fall convocation, the spotlight is on graduate students. In our Oct. 25 issue, we told you about John-Christopher Boyer, winner of the Governor-General’s Gold Medal. Below, we introduce you to the three valedictorians.

Studying the family album

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Sharon Murray, who graduated with her MA in art history, delivered the valedictory at the combined ceremony for Fine Arts and Engineering and Computer Science. She has been at Concordia since 2005, when she got her undergraduate degree from NSCAD, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

Her thesis looked at a late-19th- century photograph album compiled by a Canadian missionary to western India. She drew on anthropology, mission history and postcolonial theory to examine how photography was used to visualize the harsh reality of missionary work and “the contradictions and ambiguities of this kind of cultural imperialism.”

Now she is working on her doctorate in photographic history and theory under Professor Martha Langford.

“My grandparents were missionaries to India; my mother was born and raised there. I grew up with fragments of India all around me — stories, pictures and objects. It wasn't until I was in my early twenties, when my family and I travelled to India, that I realized how unusual and complex that connection really is.

“I am studying the photographic archive of a community of retired missionaries to India, my grandparents among them, who are now settled in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. I am keenly interested in the relationship between photography and memory, photography and community and photography and cultural identity.”

The photographs for her doctoral project are fairly recent, having been taken mainly between 1945 and 1970.

“They offer a more contemporary view of the missionary's use of photography (most of what's been studied thus far is from the 19th and early 20th centuries) and the dual, personal and political meanings of these images.

“Their photographic archives, combined with the life-story interviews I will be doing with these former missionaries, will also offer a unique look at Canadian overseas mission work during the post-WWII period, an understudied topic of our national history.”

Among her Concordia memories are the start-up of the EV building.

“In the fall of 2005, I remember coming to class armed with wool sweaters and scarves even though it was still lovely and warm outside. It seems that the climate controls were not yet perfected — the air conditioning was a little too strong! We were freezing — teeth chattering and all!”

Elders know best

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Kelly McShane was the valedictorian at the Arts and Science convocation ceremony. As part of her doctorate in psychology, she studied family health and parenting in an urban Inuit community.

McShane, who grew up in Toronto, said she has always had an interest in culture and parenting.

“A discussion with my supervisor, Paul Hastings, led me to read about parenting in aboriginal communities. I was disheartened to read so much on problems facing aboriginal children and their families, and realized there was little information and research on supportive parenting and resiliency.”

She decided to do her research in collaboration with a community, and set up a project with another researcher, Janet Smylie, and the staff of the Tungasuvvingat Inuit Family Resource Centre in Ottawa.

McShane looked at how Inuit families in Ottawa get their health information, and developed a CD-ROM that presented an Inuk elder talking about how to support mothers during pregnancy. The reactions of the families who watched it suggested that this was a good way to transmit health knowledge.

During her research with Inuit who live in Ottawa, she found that parents combine support for their children's autonomy — for example, looking at the child’s own interests — with the traditional closeness of their own upbringing in the North.

Her research suggests that health promotion information is most effective when it is oral and visual, in Inuktitut, presented by an elder giving traditional health knowledge.

McShane is now a postdoctoral fellow supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Strategic Program and the Peterborough K.M. Hunter Foundation. She is based at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

She continues to work with the Tungasuvvingat Inuit Family Resource Centre in Ottawa, developing more CD-ROMs on health information and parenting for Inuit.

“We plan to evaluate the impact of sharing the health knowledge, and we have submitted funding proposals for the development of a population health database for urban Inuit.”

Work absenteeism is seen through a gendered lens

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Eric Patton, who delivered the valedictory address at the John Molson School of Business convocation ceremony, is one of our own. From 1991 to 2002, when he decided to go for his PhD, he worked in Financial Services as the university's Senior Budget and Financial Planning Analyst and subsequently Director of Processes, Systems and Procedures.

He did his doctoral thesis under management professor Gary Johns, an expert in absenteeism. Patton said in an email interview that absenteeism is one of the oldest research areas in organizational behaviour and human resource management, but there was room for more investigation.

“Most of the traditional research has focused on how people like their job or workplace vis-à-vis how often they miss work. My experiences led me to be more interested in other reasons why people might be absent, the importance of when a person is absent, and what workers and managers perceive to be acceptable versus unacceptable absence.”

Studies have consistently found that women are absent from work more than men, but there has been a lack of research explaining why. Patton explored expectations surrounding women’s absenteeism from work, and found that perceptions of family roles are a major contributing factor.

“Looking at the press is an interesting way of seeing what expectations, stereotypes and beliefs about absence are out there, and how it is discussed beyond a work context.”

To conduct his research, Patton looked at articles on the issue in the New York Times. He read and manually coded 2,785 articles from 1851 to 2005, and focused on 167 of them. It was time-consuming, but fun, because of the breadth of topics that emerged.

These topics included the implications of absence during the Second World War, what he called “the deviant connotation of absence” by politicians, the reporting on high absenteeism in communist countries, the reporting on women's absence relying on stereotypes, the changing face of illness absence over the decades (from cold and flu to depression and obesity), the use of mass absenteeism as a form of social protest, and a wealth of other sub-topics.

Patton has just taken up a teaching post at Saint Joseph University, a Roman Catholic liberal arts institution in Philadelphia. The research he did with Johns will appear in the November issue of Human Relations.


Concordia University