May 16, 2018

For researcher, creative engagement with the community is both art and science

How the renewed Academic and Research Plans shape our workplace at University of Calgary
Tanvir Turin Chowdhury leads the Immigrant and Refugee Health Interest Group for researchers. Photo by
Tanvir Turin Chowdhury leads the Immigrant and Refugee Health Interest Group for researchers. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

When Tanvir Chowdhury Turin steps onto the stage in a community production, he brings what he loves about his work as a University of Calgary researcher to add punch to his performance.

“Whether I’m singing or acting with others, it’s about engagement, accommodating needs and working as a team,” says Turin, PhD, a public health researcher at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) who is leading an ongoing study into the hurdles immigrants face when they need access to health care. “I love to perform and it keeps me going, just like my work.”

When the assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine led a town hall meeting that drew 150 of Calgary’s Bangladeshi-Canadian community members in March, he was bridging his work as a teacher with his research in the broader community, enabling participants to help create meaningful solutions.

“At the meeting, an immigrant came to me and said while there are gaps in the health system, he really appreciated that he and the community were being recognized,” says Turin, who is himself an immigrant. “I was able to help him and others understand that they need to be active members of problem solving. They understood. He was learning and we were learning. His enthusiasm made me even more motivated.”

Community is part of UCalgary research and education fabric

When the people who attended the meeting were asked to rank the health-care barriers, resources and health-care costs topped the list.

Turin continues to analyze the meeting data as he works with the community to help overcome the barriers they acknowledged, which is the second phase of his study. The first phase identified the barriers in a collaborative project with the Immigrant and Refugee Health Interest Group of the Department of Family Medicine at CSM and the Bangladesh Association of Canada.

His research and teaching connect with the renewed Academic and Research plans, falling within the Human Dynamics in a Changing World research theme, and they are aligned with the provincial focus of Engaged Individuals and Communities for a Healthy Alberta.

The knowledge he creates with the community improves quality of life and solves important problems while enhancing student experience. His work is integrating the university with the community, as it encourages community service learning approaches.

“It has really become a win-win scenario,” says Turin. “The university students at the town hall were learning about engagement while getting credit for it, so they were becoming even more interested and engaged, just like the community members who participated. There is a tangible element to the learning for everyone. They see how the community is part of the university’s research and education fabric.”

Turin believes his work is pushing the boundaries of community engagement with unconventional approaches that will get results.

Community engagement takes unconventional approach

“We’re redefining approaches, promoting continuous engagement while understanding that listening with a clean slate is key,” he says. “We must let every baby step define the next in an organic manner toward a common goal. It’s a mix of art and science that needs continuous nurturing.”

The next step as he interprets the study data will be to continue community engagement that is integrated with groundbreaking research. “We are working towards innovation in primary health care, identifying innovative ways of engagement and health promotion that will lead to better health in the community.”

So, the next time you see Turin on a stage, whether he’s singing or acting, know that he’s trying to engage you and the rest of the audience in a way that will inspire and make a difference.

Read more about the energized Eyes High Strategy or watch videos about its origins.

About the Academic and Research Plans

Students, faculty, staff, and postdoctoral scholars at the University of Calgary move us forward every day in the work they do supporting our Eyes High Strategy 2017-2022People in the Plans, a series appearing in UToday, will explore how our people drive the success of the renewed Academic and Research Plans — the road maps to Eyes High.

The refreshed Academic and Research Plans are based on an integrated model, one that acknowledges the connection between teaching, learning and research. Each plan has three priorities with identified major goals and strategies. Both plans are connected through the value propositions of student experience and impact, and share a common priority of driving innovation. The five priorities included in the Academic and Research Plans will drive human, capital and financial resource allocations over the next five years at the university.

Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, PhD, is an assistant professor and researcher with the departments of Family Medicine and Community Health Sciences and member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta at the Cumming School of Medicine. His primary research interest is improving access to primary care by vulnerable populations, including new immigrants and refugees.