One of Nicole Blinn’s top priorities in life is developing a career where she can help create healthier populations.
She is particularly interested in learning how the social determinants of health — such as income level, for instance — can prevent people and communities from being healthy, and then in coming up with ways to overcome such obstacles.
“Not just intervening in the biomedical healthcare system when it’s really expensive, but to have interventions before people even get sick and prevent that from happening. I’m passionate about that,” explains the Health Promotion student from Bridgewater, N.S., who is now heading into her fourth year at Dal.
Nicole has channeled this passion for empowering communities to be healthier through her involvement in a number of vital research projects and community work at Dal, all while achieving top grades — accomplishments that have landed her one of only five scholarships awarded each year by active learning firm Top Hat.
Finding her place
All of this would have seemed a distant possibility just a few short years ago, when Nicole says she was unsure if she even wanted to go to university.
“I wasn’t sure that was for me. I was a pretty disengaged high school student and sort of applied to Dal on a whim,” she explains.
Even after she arrived at Dal, Nicole struggled to find her groove. It wasn’t until a course in health promotion in her second year that she found just what she needed.
“When I started in Health Promotion, I really had the opportunity to engage with my professors and my classmates and start engaging in research,” she says. “The switch flipped. I love school now.”
Her first foray into research was as a co-investigator on a project looking into whether starting class with meditation has beneficial impacts on students’ learning experiences. Principal investigator Becky Spencer, an instructor in the School of Health and Human Performance and whose class exercise the research project is based on, became a mentor to Nicole, encouraging her to get engaged in other research projects as well.
Nicole jumped in with both feet. She has worked with Matthew Numer’s lab on a couple of projects, including one about undergraduate student beliefs about sexual consent. And she is also currently involved in Sarah Kirk’s UpLift project, which looks at creating better environments to help support health and prevent chronic disease later down the line for children in Nova Scotia.
Exploring body image
For her fourth-year honours thesis, Nicole will be examining the issue of body image in adolescent young women cancer survivors.
“I had a friend with cancer pretty young. And then I did some research on psycho-social outcomes for people in this population and found that historically women’s health concerns are overlooked particularly in the context of cancer research,” she says.
“That’s a really distinct time to have cancer, when you are going to school and probably losing some independence due to treatments. I thought it was a significant concern that was unaddressed and also a significant population that’s unaddressed.”
Nicole has parlayed her passion for health promotion into community leadership as well, serving as co-president of Dal’s Health Promotion Society, secretary for the Student Association of Health and Human Performance, a member of the Crossroads student health research conference organizing committee, and a volunteer with the student-based Indigenous Health Interest Group.
For Nicole, it’s this connection between her academic work and her work in the community that enables her to have the kind of impact she wants to.
“Research is leadership. It’s one and the same,” she says. “Seeing what is happening in the research, then seeing what is happening in the community and trying to do something about it.”
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