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Eye on the prize

Master’s student to represent Memorial in national competition

Student Life

By Jeff Green

For Josh Smee, it’s the chance of a lifetime to shine the spotlight on his research.

The master’s student will represent Memorial in a national graduate student competition after winning third place – and a coveted People’s Choice Award – during the Three Minute Thesis Eastern Regional Competition, which was held at Memorial on April 27. He’s one of only 11 finalists who’ll now vie for the national honour.

“My presentation focused in on the key insight from my research,” said Mr. Smee, who is completing his political science degree under the supervision of Dr. Scott Matthews. “Namely that designing neighbourhoods for walkability leads to stronger social and civic engagement in the people who live there.”

In the video clip below, Mr. Smee talks about his research.

“It isn’t just a matter of community-minded people picking walkable neighbourhoods to live in, either; my St. John’s data suggests that happens a lot less than I would have thought,” added Mr. Smee.

Online voting

Beginning May 9, videos featuring the 11 finalists will go live on the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies website; people can vote for their favourite while a panel of judges will pick the top two presentations. The winners will be announced in June.

Research that matters

Originally from Ontario, Mr. Smee has been living in the province since 2006. He followed his partner Lauren – a violinist and alumna of the School of Music – to St. John’s and quickly fell for the close-knit community. After working and volunteering with a number of non-profit groups including Happy City St. John’s, he decided to pursue his master’s degree.

“We realized that we had some research that we really wanted to do that needed to be done to an academic standard and I was lucky to find a really supportive supervisor to help make that happen,” he noted during an interview with the Gazette.

“The focus of my work is on how – if at all – the design of the built environment around our neighbourhoods, things like buildings, streets and structures, impacts the strength of our social and political connections with other people,” Mr. Smee explained.

“I focused on St. John’s. I surveyed people from all over the city to measure how civically/socially engaged they were and plugged each person’s postal code into Google Maps so I could match responses with data about the built environment where they lived.”

‘Rare chance’ to ‘nerd out’ about research

After competing in – and winning – Memorial’s own 3MT competition last fall, Mr. Smee won the right to take part in the Eastern Regional competition on the St. John’s campus where he competed against grad students from Quebec and eastern Canada. Ana Maria Medina Ramirez from Concordia University placed first while Ubong Peters from Dalhousie University nabbed second place.

Mr. Smee says taking part in such competitions allows him to improve his own communication and presentation skills. He calls it a “rare chance” and a “pleasure” to “nerd out with people about their projects.”

He says he gave it all during his presentation on April 27. Organizers videotaped competitors at the various regional competitions so he’s hoping his passion for his research shines through for the judges.

“In this case, the regional competition is the national one – they taped us presenting at Memorial and those are the videos that the national judges will be looking at,” he said. “Going through a couple of rounds definitely helped me refine my points.”

Now the waiting game begins.

Crossing Convocation stage

Regardless of the results, Mr. Smee is quick to point out he’s proud to make it so far in the competition.

Right now, he says he’s just focusing on his immediate future – crossing the stage at Convocation and continuing his career.

“I’m a project associate at the Community Sector Council NL, which serves as a backbone organization supporting the many other community groups all over the province,” he noted.

“I also chair two community organization boards – the advocacy group Happy City St. John’s (which generated my MA research) and the St. John’s Farmers’ Market Cooperative so things are busy!”

More information about the School of Graduate Studies and its program offerings is available online.

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