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Natural disaster researcher buoyed by Killam award

Faculty of Social Work's Julie Drolet says Killam Emerging Research Leader Award will open new doors
November 4, 2016
University of Calgary associate professor Julie Drolet was recognized for a research program that has the potential to impact all of Canada.

University of Calgary associate professor Julie Drolet was recognized for a research program that has the potential to impact all of Canada.

Drolet's research looks at community resiliency in the aftermath of disasters like the 2004 tsunamis and the 2013 Alberta floods. She also looks to support integration of immigrants in their new home countries.

Drolet's research looks at community resiliency in the aftermath of disasters like the 2004 tsunamis and the 2013 Alberta floods. She also looks to support integration of immigrants in their new home countries.

The Killam Trusts support top-ranked Canadian post-secondary students and professors who are making exceptional contributions to society. The pathfinding work of the nearly 7,000 Killam Laureates from Canada and around the world promote international understanding — fulfilling the Killam dream of a better world.

When everything is destroyed, like a number of communities in Tamil Nadu, India, after the tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004, there’s often only one resource left: the determination to carry on. This special kind of community strength or resilience has long fascinated Faculty of Social Work researcher Julie Drolet, PhD, who looks for sources of resilience in a community — trying to understand the best way to assist rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of natural disasters and other catastrophic events.

“It’s thinking about the broader social environment that plays a role in how people are able to respond to life adversity in many ways,” explains Drolet, who also studies the settlement and integration experiences of newcomers to Canada to better understand the social and economic integration of immigrants and refugees.

Increasingly important research

Drolet’s research is becoming increasingly vital as natural disasters become more frequent due to climate change, and immigration rates continue to rise. Her impactful research career was honoured Oct. 26 as she received one of Canada’s most prestigious academic honours, the Killam Emerging Research Leader Award. Presented at the university’s gala Killam reception, the award is given to investigators who have made “outstanding contributions to research” within 10 years of receiving their PhD.

“I was quite thrilled to hear the news,” says Drolet. “I think receiving an award like that is a real honour — to be recognized for some of the different research contributions that I've been working on, really over the past decade. I think to have this kind of recognition, is in some ways a testament to the importance in contribution that a social work researcher and faculty member can make.”

Research will impact all of Canada

While the award recognizes the impact that a researcher has already had, it also reflects the relative importance of an investigator’s research program going forward, and that, says the dean of the Faculty of Social Work, Jackie Sieppert, PhD, is what he’s looking forward to.

“Julie Drolet has built a research program that has the potential to really impact all of Canada, and the award is a recognition of that kind of potential,” says Sieppert. “The Killam award is, to me, just a reflection of how far she's come in her early years as a researcher, but also how far that this work may go for her and how much impact it may really have for the country.”

Long way in a short time

In a way, it seems a little odd to think of Drolet, who is based in the Faculty of Social Work’s Edmonton campus, as an “emerging” researcher. She’s done so much in such a short time, that you forget she only came to the Faculty of Social Work in 2013, quickly building a juggernaut of a research program at the local, national and international level, with more than $2.67 million in research funding as the principal investigator and another $4.2 million in funding as a co-investigator.

She has authored more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, over 100 refereed conference presentations, presented her research to the House of Commons and shared it with government officials and emergency responders in Australia and across Canada. She also leads the Alberta Resilient Communities (ARC) Project and is co-investigator in the Pathways to Prosperity Partnership.

Award reflects growing appreciation for applied research

Drolet says the recognition that an award like the Killam brings will likely help to open other doors in the future, allowing her to access research funding and the resources necessary to continue to grow her research program.

The award is the first time that a University of Calgary Social Work investigator has won a Killam research award, which Sieppert suggests reflects a growing awareness of the faculty’s impactful research. “We've had faculty members receive Killam Teaching Awards a number of times in this faculty,” says Sieppert, “but this is, in my memory, the first time that we've seen one of our researchers recognized for their outstanding work, so that's a pretty significant accomplishment. Our research is inherently applied. It's inherently connected to community and to professional practice. We’ve done this for a long time, but what is shifting is that the quality of the work is being recognized and people see the impact that we have on the community and that is being recognized.”

About the Killams

Established in 1965 by Izaak Walton Killam and his wife Dorothy J. Killam, the Killam trusts are one of the only private, philanthropic trusts for higher education in Canada. Larger than the Rhodes Trust with a value of close to $450 million, the prestigious awards support only five Canadian universities.