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OISE researcher receives COVID-19 grant to investigate how universities can manage mental wellness needs during pandemic

May 8, 2020

By Vesna Bajic


Unanticipated crisis events like the COVID-19 pandemic can put pressure on higher education systems and have profound impact on the mental health of students.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers, including Valerie Damasco, a postdoctoral researcher at OISE, received a grant for $60,600 from the Toronto COVID-19 Action Initiative to research how interdisciplinary approaches can help universities respond to the mental wellness needs of students and communities more generally. The title of the initiative is 'Managing Coping Strategies and Anxiety During the COVID-19 Pandemic: From Epidemiology to Psychology and Education.'

OISE's department of leadership, higher and adult education sat down with Damasco to talk about her involvement as a co-investigator on the project. 

About the project

This project is a collaboration between diverse scholars and practitioners who share a concern for mental health issues that affect university students and workers in various employment sectors across Canada. The project aims to identify the strategies that people employ while coping with crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the ways in which institutions and communities respond.

The project has two phases. During the first phase, we look at the strategies people employ to cope with the pandemic. Managing anxiety in the face of challenges is crucial for people to feel in control of their lives.

In the second phase, we investigate how information on social media and people’s response toward public health campaigns and interventions on COVID-19 could potentially mitigate risk, and minimize anxiety.

Helping universities deal with health crises

The initial findings of our study will provide practical guidelines for how we assist students at the University of Toronto to deal with health crises. Unanticipated health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, require unique health communication and outreach, as well as education and learning strategies relayed to students.

Our goal is to provide direction, support, and assist in developing student-oriented educational programs in collaboration with services, departments, and stakeholders on campus. Additionally, we seek to develop partnerships with the external community to initiate programming that fosters resilience both now and in the future.

We hope that our research will help institutions like the University of Toronto enact strategic supports that foster individual and community resilience.

Research intersections

My research interests include adult learning and equity; access to education; inclusive teaching and learning; how community development practices contribute to social policies in education, healthcare, and employment; and equality and equity in work and labour policies and practices. Currently, I teach graduate courses in community development; gender, race, and labour; and research methods at OISE.

In this project, I will be developing collaborations with stakeholders at the University of Toronto and consulting public health officials in Toronto to plan and design supports and programs that further strengthens individual and organizational capacity building.

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