Oct. 29, 2018

PURE award ignites Social Work student's research passion

Kendal David's disability research provides unique student perspective
Social Work student Kendal David discovered a passion for research with her summer Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) award. David studied the experience of disabled students in social work education.

Social Work student Kendal David discovered a passion for research with her PURE award.

Kloie Picot, Faculty of Social Work

If you asked her a year ago, Kendal David might have said she wasn’t qualified to do research. Following a summer of research, she can’t help but exude enthusiasm as she talks about it. David is a fourth-year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) student at the University of Calgary. She recently completed her 16-week independent summer research project, an opportunity made available to her through the Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) awards. 

For David, it was a hugely insightful opportunity. She says it served as a catalyst for her to dip her toes into research and has strongly influenced her post-graduation plans. It’s also informed a lot of decisions for her, including what she wants to study and where she wants to pursue a thesis-based Master of Social Work (MSW).

“I think prior to doing this project I would have used the MSW as a career stepping stone in the sense that it would be nice to take an extra year of courses and learn some more, and be in a different pay grade,” says David. “It’s interesting because I’m now way more excited about doing a thesis or doing research in a master’s program than I am about the coursework.”

The PURE awards provide UCalgary undergraduate students with funding so they can conduct independent summer research projects. With support from a supervisor, students learn how to develop and carry out a project, and are given the opportunity to choose their area of focus. 

Focus on disability discourse within social work education

David has previous experience working in the disability community, as well as a personal connection. This led her to focusing on disability discourse within social work education. 

Her topic resonated with social work professor Dr. Yahya El-Lahib, RSW, PhD, who supervised David’s project. El-Lahib says as a disability activist, he’s really bothered that disability issues are dismissed in social work spaces. He points out that addressing ableism tangentially doesn’t work.

“If you want to tackle racism, you have to designate a specific course to racism,” says El-Lahib, who says David’s project provided a unique student perspective. “If you want to tackle ableism, you have to designate courses to tackle ableism.”

Embracing the research process

David interviewed five students from universities in Alberta and British Columbia that offer both BSW and MSW degrees, to discuss disability discourse in their programs. While she initially thought she’d focus on the type of disability content covered within social work education, she soon found her focus shifting after conducting the interviews 

“You’re never going to go into a project where you’re interviewing people and end up with the data that you think you’re going to end up with,” says David, already sounding like a seasoned researcher. She adds that while those she interviewed didn’t have much to say about disability, they had a lot to say about social work education.

El-Lahib says he thinks this is where the learning happens. “It's not about proving your point right or wrong, it's about really embracing whatever comes your way throughout the research process, and then making sense of it as you go.”

A different side of learning 

David read almost 30 books for her project and says she enjoyed sitting on a different side of knowledge production and critically challenging the information she was engaging with. She plans to submit her work for publication and her supervisor says he expects at least one conference and a manuscript from her. 

“For me, this is really about locating talent,” says El-Lahib, “then trying to mentor that talent into the next phase of their social work career.”

David was one of two BSW students to receive a PURE award this year. Although she hadn’t done any formal research before the project and says she never would have considered it before finding out about the PURE award, she’s discovered just how much she enjoys it. 

“I know what I want to write for my thesis proposal now, too, and if I get into a thesis-based MSW program, I know I’m ready. I know what I want to do.”