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Exceptional faculty members celebrated as 2024's Researchers of the Year

A collage photo of Drs. Adam Ford, Lesley Lutes and Dr. Wendy Wong.

Drs. Adam Ford, Lesley Lutes and Wendy Wong have been named UBCO's researchers of the year.

UBC Okanagan is celebrating three inspiring faculty members whose research is making a difference on some of the most pressing issues in society.

The prestigious Researcher of the Year awards recognize individuals who are making the world a better place through excellence in research and scholarly activity.

Three outstanding faculty members have been honoured: Dr. Adam Ford for natural sciences and engineering research, Dr. Lesley Lutes for health research and Dr. Wendy Wong for her research in the fields of social sciences and humanities.

Dr. Adam Ford

Dr. Ford is an Associate Professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, and studies how humans affect predators and prey, as well as the interactions between the two. His Wildlife Restoration Ecology (WiRE) Lab often supports Indigenous-led conservation and restoration and works with communities and governments to directly affect wildlife in the field.

Dr. Ford's study on chronic wasting disease--a fatal disease that affects the brain, spinal cord and other tissues of deer, elk and moose--identified areas where the disease could cross borders and infect BC's deer populations. As a result, the BC government changed its areas of mandatory testing. When chronic wasting disease was first detected in the province in early 2024, it was in one of the very hot spots Dr. Ford's lab had identified.

Being named Researcher of the Year is an honour, he says, that is due to years of hard work from not just him, but everyone in the WiRE Lab.

"This recognition is a testament to the hard work of my students and staff, and the trust our partners have put in us. We're tackling problems that matter to people, and we're making a difference."

Dr. Lesley Lutes

A Registered Psychologist and Professor of Psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Dr. Lutes has become an advocate for increased public access to evidence-based mental health care in BC.

Her work includes the creation of the first-ever public walk-in mental health clinic on a BC university campus at UBC Okanagan, and the expansion of psychological services into the school's student health clinic.

Currently, Dr. Lutes is working with the provincial government in hopes of completing a proof of concept for integrating psychologists into primary care practices to treat physical and mental health together, a model that's shown significant success in improving health outcomes.

"This award is a reminder of the power that science can have in advancing meaningful change," says Dr. Lutes. "The research is clear that giving people access to effective mental and behavioural health services for things such as anxiety, depression and obesity saves time, money and lives. My hope is that by continuing to put the science of mental and behavioural health front and centre, that policy change and appropriate financial investments will follow."

Dr. Wendy Wong

In an increasingly digital world where data and artificial intelligence (AI) seem to progress by leaps and bounds every week, Dr. Wong calls for extending human rights into the digital sphere.

A Professor of Political Science in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, she notes this major technological disruption can have significant effects on people's lives and wants to help people better understand the implications of AI, including its inherent human biases. She advocates for government and technology creators to be aware of, and responsive to, the potential harms of AI and increasing digital data.

"I'm hoping that the more I talk about data and human rights, the more people will start thinking about technology differently. These AI technologies have been created by people who haven't been forced to think about the social and political ramifications of their inventions. Now we have to do that."

This year marks the 19th annual Researcher of the Year award at UBC Okanagan and Dr. Phil Barker, Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation, says he is continually impressed by the research taking place at UBCO.

"Every year I am inspired by the incredible researchers working at our campus," says Dr. Barker. "This year's Researcher of the Year recipients are addressing critical challenges in our society, from biodiversity to mental health to artificial intelligence. Their research leadership and innovative approaches to complicated problems are advancing their fields and are having important impacts locally and globally.

The post Exceptional faculty members celebrated as 2024's Researchers of the Year appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

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