Polytechnics are strengthening communities through applied research and innovation

Our economy’s ability to recover from the pandemic, and our potential to rebuild with confidence, hinges on the well-being of local industry and community partners working together. In particular, they must innovate, problem-solve and take bold risks to thrive in a volatile economic landscape.

Applied research is a powerful tool that keeps post-secondary institutions attuned to the ever-changing needs of industry and community. Polytechnic education combines academic and hands-on learning with the impact of that critical research on real-world problems.

Polytechnics provide expertise, cutting-edge equipment and research space to explore new ideas technologies. Never has this value been more apparent.

Despite the pandemic, research activity boomed at Canadian polytechnic institutions in 2020-21. External funding increased, and the number of overall projects went up.

Notably, the number of students hired or involved in curriculum-based research also rose significantly. When traditional work-integrated learning opportunities were in jeopardy, applied research provided new opportunities to engage students in meaningful projects that benefited the learner, our industry partners and the community we serve.

What does applied research look like in practice?

With COVID-19 continuing to dominate our day-to-day lives, Sheridan’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies lent research expertise to the prototype of AVA, a virtual avatar which provides secure, touchless COVID-19 self-screening.

Our Centre for Elder Research supported older adults with Putting Food on the Table, a project that delivered food, masks and custom music videos to isolated adults in Halton Region. The project recognized that the needs of seniors during the pandemic went beyond physical health.

Other research projects are helping combat the spread of online misinformation about the pandemic and vaccine hesitancy. Professors Nathaniel Barr and Michael McNamara are designing, testing and disseminating creative interventions. They are also creating an evidence-based resource hub to shift perceptions and behaviours around COVID-19 vaccination.

Applied research has also played a role in supporting local partners from under-represented communities, providing access to expertise and resources to help grow new businesses.

At Sheridan, we’ve pledged to create opportunities for under-represented members of our community through the Black North Initiative. A collaborative research project with the Afro-Caribbean Business Network, the initiative is identifying the needs of Black entrepreneurs and helping build business capacity. The findings will inform the development of a best practices guide for business owners, the creation of training curriculum and a mentorship program.

These examples demonstrate how polytechnics are uniquely positioned to offer agile solutions to community needs.

In an increasingly complex world, we are also nurturing graduates who approach uncertainty and change with confidence, and who will enter the workforce with invaluable hands-on experience and the drive to make a difference.

As our community and industry partners navigate the real-world challenges of pandemic recovery, they can rely on the leadership, expertise and creativity available through applied research at polytechnic institutions to develop innovative, sustainable and inclusive solutions.

About the Author

Dr. Janet Morrison, President and Vice Chancellor, Sheridan

Dr. Janet Morrison was named Sheridan’s eighth President and Vice Chancellor in June 2018. She had previously held the role of Provost and Vice President, Academic at Sheridan. Prior to her appointment, Dr. Morrison spent 17 years at York University, working in various roles focused on learning, discovery and engagement, most recently serving as Vice-Provost, Students. Before joining York, she held leadership positions in student affairs and taught at the University of Guelph, Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio and George Brown College. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in history and education. Having worked in the post-secondary sector for more than 20 years, Dr. Morrison remains passionate about student success and community engagement. She served as a staff representative on York’s Board of Governors and in 2010 was awarded York University’s President’s Leadership Award. An active volunteer, Dr. Morrison is the former Chair of the Board of Trustees at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and previously chaired the Board of Directors for the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.