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From vulnerable adolescents to Ethiopian city dwellers, Concordia’s newest Vanier Scholars counter adversity

The PhD candidates benefit from the Canadian program supporting social science and humanities research
May 16, 2019
Hone Mandefro Belaye: “Housing is a big topic right now in Ethiopia.”
Hone Mandefro Belaye: “Housing is a big topic right now in Ethiopia.”

The research topics of Sasha MacNeil and Hone Mandefro Belaye have little in common. Yet the doctoral students share one important distinction — they are the latest Concordians to receive Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

The Government of Canada program, launched in 2008, rewards leadership and academic excellence in a given field and aims to attract world-class PhD students to eligible institutions.

The program grants 166 scholarships annually to candidates in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, engineering and health.

Each scholarship comes with $50,000 per year for three years.

Sasha MacNeil Sasha MacNeil

Responses to early childhood adversity

MacNeil, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, is studying how adolescents who have experienced adverse childhood events such as trauma or abuse can have difficulty adjusting and integrating socially.

The aim is to pinpoint which adolescents are most at risk and find solutions to help them.

“In response to early adversity, adolescents may develop difficulty trusting others and come to expect negative social interactions,” she explains.

“Those who feel like they don’t belong or are a burden to their social network tend to experience more emotional pain. However, not all adolescents will develop poor social functioning.”

There can be actual physical symptoms related to the anxiety they experience, such as elevated heart rates.

Through a clinical study that will monitor teens over a six-month period, MacNeil plans to observe how emotional distress might affect them both emotionally and physically in order to better respond to their needs.

“These findings will help identify the most at-risk adolescents, develop therapeutic interventions to improve their social relationships and bolster resilience to early life adversity.”

Hone Mandefro Belaye | Photo by Daniella Barreto Hone Mandefro Belaye | Photo by Daniella Barreto

The effects of urban growth in Addis Ababa

Hone Mandefro Belaye is a PhD candidate in social and cultural anaylsis in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. He is examining developments in housing policy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The city is experiencing a rapid physical transformation as large-scale commercial, residential and infrastructure projects have proliferated there in the last two decades.

“The Ethiopian government’s Integrated Housing Development Program has been clearing slums and building high-rise condominiums in their place, totalling around 300,000 individual units in Addis Ababa alone,” he explains.

Belaye’s work explores how this construction boom and the changes that come with it are affecting neighbourhood relations and peoples’ living spaces.

Using a unique concept called “neighbouring,” he intends to determine how lifestyles — particularly neighbour relations — have been altered by the introduction of taller condominiums into areas that were largely made up of one-storey buildings.

He will be collecting qualitative data on-site in Addis Ababa through interviews, participant observation and focus group discussions.

With important demographic, economic and architectural changes currently under way in Ethiopia, how the country plans the future of its neighbourhoods is a pressing issue.

“Housing is a big topic right now in Ethiopia. More than 80 per cent of houses in Addis Ababa are substandard, and the government is trying to create jobs by supporting the construction of vertical condominium buildings. This will have all kinds of consequences on how we live and relate to each other in the future.”

Learn more about the 
Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

Find out more about Concordia’s School of Graduate Studies.


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