Expanding Network of Research Champions

Opportunities are plentiful for those looking to influence research in Healthy Aging

By Kristian Partington

In the fall of 2013 when dignitaries gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the Schlegel Centre of Excellence for Innovation in Aging, Ron Schlegel addressed a large crowd to speak about his passion for research and innovation, and the partnerships that fuel advancement in an aging society.

“We are building an infrastructure for innovation and aging that is unparalleled anywhere in the world,” he said at the time and today, while the construction of that world class centre on the University of Waterloo’s (UW) North Campus continues at full pace, other less visible pieces of that infrastructure are making their own advancements. They are Research Champions and within an organization that has always made the art of connecting research and innovation to life within the villages a priority, these champions are significant influencers at a time when several overlapping research projects are underway within the villages.

The Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA) continues to lead the bulk of these projects in partnership with several other universities, colleges and organizations specializing in healthy aging. RIA Research Application Specialist Lora Bruyn Martin says with around 30 different projects of varying scale underway – ranging from the optimization of medication use to falls prevention to evaluations of the Neighbourhood Team Development program– the RIA and its partners have never been busier.

Since the RIA hosted its inaugural Research Day last summer, the network of research champions connected to the villages has grown from 35 to 55 people, comprised mostly of team members with a few residents and a family member in the mix as well.

“This network is going to be really, really critical when it comes to bringing research to practice,” Lora says. “These are the people who are going to help us communicate results, put things into practice and inform policy changes . . . all with the intention of improving quality of life for residents.”

She points to the efforts of Jeff Thompson, a personal support worker at the Village of Glendale Crossing in London as an example of the positive impact these champions can help foster within the villages. Jeff attended the Research Day last year and has since developed teaching materials and spoken in all the neighbourhoods at the village about the importance of collaboration among researchers, care partners and residents.  

“The end goal is two-way communication,” Lora says as she considers the future of the research champion network, which she hopes will expand as more people get involved. “It’s not just research results that we want them to disseminate within the villages. The communication and the ideas really need to go both ways, so we’re looking for people who are able to recognize challenges or opportunities to make things better, people who have a natural, inherent curiosity.”

Considering the number of research projects underway, the opportunities to support and influence the direction of healthy aging research are plentiful. For more information on how you might get involved, please contact Lora Bruyn Martin at 519-571-1873 ext. 193 or e-mail lbruynmartin@uwaterloo.ca.