Viola Cohen



“I’M NOW DOING EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED TO DO when I was 18 years old,” says Dr. Jessica Lougheed.

Back in her undergraduate degree, Dr. Lougheed combined her psychology major with a love for literature to explore her favourite genre: coming-of-age stories. This fascination with the idea of transformation—particularly the massive changes in the transition from child to adult throughout the teenage years—led naturally to her research in adolescent development and emotions.

“I think adolescence is one of the most poignant times in our lives as humans,” adds Dr. Lougheed, now an Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

The research in her Emotion Dynamics Lab explores emotional development in many areas, including within important family relationships. In one study, teenagers and their parents use an app to record their daily experiences, moods and interactions with each other. By stepping outside of the traditional lab setting, Dr. Lougheed hopes to learn more nuanced information about what parents and teenagers cope with daily in order to help inform educational family programs about healthy communication.

Her other work involves more fundamental questions about emotions and how people manage or respond to them. “Emotions are notoriously complicated,” says Dr. Lougheed. “There’s just so much variation between individuals.”

To study this variation, she’s measuring three different components: how humans subjectively experience emotion, their facial expressions and the physiological reactions in their bodies, like heart rate or sweating.

Jessica Lougheed submerging herself in Lake Okanagan

Since coming to UBCO in 2020, Dr. Lougheed enjoys jumping into Okanagan Lake 12 months of the year. She even submerged herself in chilly October for a fundraiser for The Bridge Youth & Family Services.

In the lab, participants sit in comfortable chairs with wearable sensors. Researchers measure their heart rates and the sweatiness of their hands, while new software automatically detects their facial expressions.

Dr. Lougheed notes that some people might have a rapid heartbeat and increased sweating, yet fail to show emotion on their faces. Others can feel incredibly nervous and stressed, but the sensors won’t pick up on any extreme changes for them. She hopes to connect what she learns about how humans experience emotion moment by moment to mental health and other areas.

Not only is Dr. Lougheed interested in emotions intellectually, but she’s also passionate about how better knowledge about emotions can help others.

“Some of us are more aware of our emotions than others and some of us have more colourful emotional worlds than other people, but we all experience emotions,” Dr. Lougheed says. “Through research and teaching, I love to help people understand that more so that we can all better navigate our day-to-day lives.”

Often this real-world impact occurs through teaching, as she walks students through the research-based best practices for supporting people dealing with emotional events. However, Dr. Lougheed has also been reaching out to the community through fundraising for Etcetera, a 2SLGBTQIA+ youth group through The Bridge Youth & Family Services in Kelowna.

As a bisexual woman herself, Dr. Lougheed says this organization’s work has a strong personal connection. “Everything that the Etcetera youth group does is exactly the kind of thing that I wish I could have had access to as a teenager.”

After working at several major American universities, Dr. Lougheed feels more at home at UBC Okanagan, where she appreciates the combination of a world-class institution with a more intimate setting. In particular, she loves seeing the Pride staircase outside the University Centre every morning as she comes to work.

“Being at UBCO has allowed me to blossom and continue that meaningful work in bringing 2SLGBTQIA+ issues into my research and teaching,” says Dr. Lougheed.

“I was very quickly able to feel like I can bring my whole self to work here.”

The post Dr. Jessica Lougheed wants to better understand our emotions appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

In the first part of this series, James shared his upbringing amidst violence and civil war in South Sudan. Next, learn how James used education to break free from years living in a refugee camp. We have respectfully borrowed the title of this story from James’ in-progress book, The Boy Who Carried Books.


“I’M ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO LOOKS FOR OPPORTUNITIES IN THE DARKEST MOMENTS,” says undergraduate student James Magok Achuli, a refugee and former child soldier from South Sudan. “I think in the middle of adversity you have to surround yourself with positivity. It could be surrounding yourself with the right people, and if you’re like me—someone who went through the horrors of war—then you have to be hopeful. But also like me, you have to endlessly fight for your goals, because it’s really important.”

Growing up, one of Achuli’s most steadfast goals was to get an education. From the time his father told him that if he “learned how to use the book and the pen, he would one day fly a helicopter in the air,” Achuli understood the power of education to change lives. During the three years he lived in a Ugandan refugee camp, Achuli was known as the boy who carried books, and was an advocate for those around him; he educated his peers in the camp about gender-based violence, HIV and AIDS, and the importance of peace and education. Knowing seven languages, he also acted as an English and Arabic interpreter.

“Back home, women would be sexually assaulted and beaten—beating women is on a different level there—and because people aren’t educated they don’t have the courage to speak up,” explains Achuli. “I couldn’t just watch someone harass a girl in a refugee camp and keep quiet about it. That’s one thing that education has helped me with; speaking up and thinking more critically about things. As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.’”

To achieve his dream of a formal education, every day Achuli ran kilometres from the refugee camp to an internet café, where he searched for scholarships online. Then one day, he came across an article from the UN Refugee Agency about South Sudanese high school students who received scholarships to study around the world through United World Colleges (UWC). Achuli was mesmerized by the opportunity and spent a week learning about these colleges that had a shared mission of making education a force to unite people for a peaceful and sustainable future. When he applied and was invited for an interview in Uganda’s capital of Kampala, Achuli’s reaction “was crazy.”

A close-up of James Achuli

James Achuli.

“I was punching the air and screaming; I was really excited. I went for the interview and two days later I got a call from the head of the national committee, and he said, ‘Congratulations James, you’re going to Armenia on a full-ride scholarship for their baccalaureate program.’

“I couldn’t stop crying. I cried and cried and cried. It was a huge relief. From the articles I read, I knew my life was going to change forever. But I was also crying because I was going to leave a lot of people behind. The pain will not go away because I always think of them.”

In addition to leaving behind the friends he made in the refugee camp, Achuli was further separated from his parents, who did not have access to letters or emails in South Sudan. The last time Achuli physically saw his mother was in 2014; his father was sadly killed in 2015 by unknown armed men. To this day, he struggles with the hurdles of speaking with his mother from abroad; “I’ve been able to Zoom with my mother once in over five years. It’s been very hard.”

But Achuli gained a sense of family when he arrived at UWC Dilijan, his new school in Armenia  and more than 200 students and staff lined up from the entrance gate to the kitchen to greet him. “They were clapping and said, ‘Welcome James!’ and I said, ‘How do you know my name?!?’ I felt like this was home; everyone was so happy to welcome me and were giving me hugs, which are new to me but were good. The cooks were waiting with cakes and muffins—something I never had in South Sudan or Uganda.”

James Achuli running with the Heat cross-country team

Achuli is now a member of the Heat cross-country team.

Achuli flourished at school, and when it was time to explore post-secondary options, UBC was his first choice. His school nominated him for UBC’s Karen McKellin International Leader of Tomorrow Award, a full scholarship covering all program and living costs for undergraduates demonstrating superior academic achievement, leadership skills, involvement in student affairs and community service. Achuli competed against more than 1,500 students from across the globe before receiving the award and an acceptance letter to UBC Okanagan.

“It’s incredible. I love Canada, and UBC is one of the top universities in the world. I knew from my geography studies that BC is an incredibly beautiful province,” he says. “Coming to the Okanagan, it’s a smaller campus than Vancouver and it’s still growing, so maybe we will grow together. It’s such a close-knit community where you get to know people quicker.”

Since joining UBCO, Achuli has immersed himself in the university experience. In addition to joining the Afro-Caribbean Club and the Students’ Union, he is also a member of the Heat Cross Country Team, under the guidance of Olympian Malindi Elmore. “I’m a long-distance runner. From my life in the refugee camp, I was always running to search for scholarships online. I’m so thankful to my Heat teammates and coaches, who have been so kind and supportive.”

Currently a student in the International Relations program, Achuli hopes to one day work with children to help them realize their goals and needs. “No one should go through what I went through,” he says. “I can’t predict the future but through my education I want to help people displaced by war, whether they are refugees, immigrants or asylum seekers. These people aren’t criminals or villains, and they’re much more than victims. They are human beings just trying to survive.

“Helping them survive is very important to me.”

The post The Boy Who Carried Books: Part II appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

*We have respectfully borrowed the title of James’ book in progress, The Boy Who Carried Books.

WHEN ASKED ABOUT HIS EARLY LIFE, UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT JAMES MAGOK ACHULI has a response that most of his peers have thankfully never endured.

“My childhood was stolen away from me. The future has always been very unpredictable,” explains Achuli, who was born and raised in South Sudan. Ethnic violence and a civil war marred the newly formed country between 2013 and 2020, meaning Achuli spent his formative years as an internally displaced person—the term for citizens who have not crossed a border to safety and are instead on the run in their home country.

When Achuli was a child, a typical day was spent without food in a refugee camp alongside his family, friends, and thousands of other citizens fleeing the war and violence. “We were lucky if we had a meal a day, and there were some days I didn’t eat at all.”

While education also wasn’t a reality in the camp, that didn’t deter the young Achuli, who cherished a small collection of books he kept protected in his waterproof UNICEF backpack. “There was this helicopter that would bring us food in the village,” he recounts. “I was always curious how it flew, and my father told me, ‘If you learn how to use the book and the pen, you will fly that metal in the air.’ It was always in my mind to go to school, and my books were like my education. They were a symbol of hope for me and the future.”

But before he could realize his dream of a formal education, Achuli was displaced by war and separated from his family. At the age of 12, he won a scholarship to a school that neighboured military barracks; when a second civil war broke out, the school he attended was eventually targeted and children were forcibly conscripted into the army.

“One night I was studying with my friend Deng—he was studying chemistry and I was reviewing geography. Suddenly there was a loud explosion and shooting, and kids ran and jumped through windows. Deng was shot in the stomach and was bleeding to death. In the middle of the night, I told him I was going to run away, and he said the soldiers would kill me. So, I took Deng’s blood and spread it on me, and we pretended to be dead people. We hid under a huge table all night long, and in the morning Deng died. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced.”

Achuli was eventually found alive by the government forces and conscripted into the army, where he was trained to become a child soldier. He quickly became an asset to the unit’s commander, who used Achuli’s expertise in math and geography to help him with terrain. After three months of working alongside the commander, Achuli escaped with his waterproof backpack and books. He jumped into the river, swam across and then walked four hours to a neighbouring town, where he was able to take shelter with others in a church. The group was planning to walk to a refugee camp in Uganda, more than 500 kilometres away.

“One of the toughest questions I had to ask myself was whether to go with this group. I didn’t know where we were going, to be honest. But from what people told me, we were going to find food, safety and education, so when I heard those words, I was really hopeful and excited. I joined them without any close family or relatives to help me.”

James Achuli as a young child

One of the few photos James Achuli has of himself as a young child.

The route to Uganda was difficult and treacherous for the group of over 100 refugees: “I had to rely on mud, leaves, snails… anything to fill my stomach since there was no food. I had to beg from people who had food for their own children,” explains Achuli. Group members, including a close adult friend who watched over young Achuli during the trek, were killed by snakes, hyenas and crocodiles.

But perhaps the most harrowing experience for Achuli took place along the riverbank during his trek to the refugee camp. Groups were being ambushed along the route and killed based on their names and what tribe it was thought these people belonged to. Achuli was mistaken as a member of South Sudan’s largest tribe, and soon he was tied up and a black cloth was placed over his head. He pleaded he was from the Mundari tribe, the smallest tribe in the country, and told his attackers to look at his books for proof.

“A woman there actually listened to me and looked at my books, which described where I was born, my mother and my village. Those little stories I wrote and those books saved my life because if I didn’t have those books, they would have killed me like they killed other people.”

When Achuli arrived in Uganda, he was taken in as part of UNICEF’s Orphan and Vulnerable Children Program. While there was food and education in this camp, Achuli’s mind was constantly full of memories and worries.

“The violence disappeared, but not in our brains. We always had those memories in the camp. Although it was safer and we had access to UNICEF-funded schools, I was honestly worried about my future. People are born and raised in these refugee camps and die there, especially in Africa. Refugees don’t have access to higher learning. I was really, really worried; I was constantly thinking about my education because I knew that was my hope.”

In the next story in this series, learn how James was able to use education to break free from years of living in a refugee camp, and ultimately attend UBCO on a full scholarship.

The post The Boy Who Carried Books: Part I appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Hoky Hsu leading a seminar

THROUGHOUT HIS TIME AT UBC OKANAGAN, psychology student Hoky Hsu sometimes felt “left out” of his course content.

“I’ve always enjoyed learning about psychological topics like family processes and socioemotional development,” Hsu mentions. “However, as a psychology major, I grew to realize that the majority of psychological research and teaching at large are still often oriented around a western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic cis-heterosexual male perspective. What about the perspectives of other races and people of different sexual orientations?”

Armed with this knowledge and the passion to make a difference, Hsu applied for UBC Okanagan’s Student Directed Seminar (SDS). The program, offered in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, empowers students to propose, coordinate and lead their own three-credit seminar on a topic of their choosing that has been identified as a gap in the current curriculum.

Hsu proposed a class exploring the psychological experiences of the LGBTQ2SIAA+ community from an intersectional lens. Intersectionality refers to the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, class and other forms of discrimination intersect to create unique dynamics and effects.

According to Dr. Jessica Lougheed—an Assistant Professor in UBCO’s Department of Psychology and Hsu’s SDS faculty sponsor—courses in the social sciences, and especially psychology, tend to assign topics related to diversity to “a single week or a single chapter, where they get relegated to the sidelines of the course material. As an instructor, I’m always trying to include these topics in all my lectures while also looking to adequately represent various issues from queer perspectives.”

Hoky Hsu talking with Dr. Jessica Lougheed

Dr. Jessica Lougheed meets with psychology student Hoky Hsu to help develop his student directed seminar, which explores the psychological experiences of the LGBTQ2SIAA+ community from an intersectional lens.

Dr. Lougheed points to the vast cultural differences that exist not only in diverse geographies, but also in terms of different identity groups in the same region. “The environment shapes all these things so we very much need to explore topics related to diversity. But, unfortunately, our department doesn’t have any courses specifically focused on queer identities and the psychology of that.

“Hoky identified this gap and pitched his idea. When I saw his application, I was 110 per cent on board because this seminar will expose students to really important areas of psychology that we don’t currently have as part of our offerings,” Dr. Lougheed explains.

Through the SDS, Hsu and students explored relevant theories like minority stress and resilience, as well as how similar or different LGBTQ2SIAA+ community members experience their everyday lives as compared to non-LGBTQ2SIAA+ community members. To develop the course Hsu worked alongside Dr. Lougheed, regularly meeting to discuss his proposed syllabus and plan assignments. He was also offered the opportunity to enrol in the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s (CTL) Instructional Skills Workshop. Typically only offered to new faculty and graduate students, the course offered a hands-on experience to develop learning outcomes, lesson design, receiving and giving effective feedback, as well as other instructional strategies.

“The SDS is a wonderful personal development opportunity for students looking to teach for the first time,” says Dr. Lougheed. “It provides them with a whole host of opportunities that could meaningfully translate into skills that are useful after graduation—whether that’s pursuing graduate studies, or entering teaching or another professional field.”

Students discussing topics in a seminar, with Hoky at the front of the classroom

Students in Hsu’s seminar discuss the topics at hand in an open and understanding environment.

For Hsu, he points to another benefit of an SDS: learning through discussion with peers. “Our current educational structure often has a teacher talking to students while they hastily write their notes, and students are meant to absorb everything from that person. But I feel like there’s another way to learn things; I feel like student-to-student learning works because we’re peers. There’s less stress from students, combined with the fact that a seminar is about discussion rather than lecturing.”

Hsu encourages anyone who feels there’s a need for courses with different perspectives to apply for the SDS. “The support you’ll receive from your sponsor, the SDS staff and CTL will be incredible, because that’s how it was for me. They offered me a lot of ideas and recommendations to ensure this seminar was a success.”

Dr. Lougheed agrees. “It’s not often at large, research-intensive universities that students get opportunities for teaching-related programs that give them such close contact with mentors and faculty sponsors. I think this is a special and important aspect that sets UBCO apart from other universities.

“This program not only gives students the chance to participate as facilitators in developing the SDS, but they also have the opportunity to participate as enrolled students. It’s a unique opportunity for intellectual development on all sides of the equation.”

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SEGUN DAVID FATUDIMU SAYS THAT EVEN AS A YOUNG CHILD in Nigeria who had no idea where to begin, all he wanted to do was help change people’s lives.

Now an international doctoral fellow pursuing Global Studies in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies program at UBC Okanagan, Fatudimu is building off an impressive career dedicated to helping others.

Fatudimu started his career as a dentist but soon found the work had limited scope for change. To make dental practice more affordable and accessible, he and a friend began their own mobile dental clinic, which has since grown to two clinics. Building off this success and his resulting speaking work, Fatudimu organized the Securing Africa’s Future through Education conference, empowering teenagers to become leaders before they turn 18.

It was when this work grew and garnered interest from foreign organizations that Fatudimu started questioning the power dynamics in international aid. He noticed foreign donors were often interested in altering organizations’ mission or programming for their own needs, as opposed to listening to and supporting local approaches and community development organizations on the ground.

Fatudimu has probed this issue of power dynamics ever since. A Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders gave him the opportunity for additional training and networking in Washington, DC, where he was first introduced to the larger world of international development. When Fatudimu returned to Nigeria, he taught other non-profit organizations the same skills he’d acquired.

“As I grow, I lift others,” says Fatudimu. “As I’m learning, I’m thinking about how I can maximize this knowledge, both by disseminating it to people who would never have the opportunity or by determining how I can do something more practical than theory.”

In 2019, Fatudimu was selected as a prestigious Obama Foundation Scholar to study international development and public policy at the University of Chicago.

Segun David Fatudimu sitting on a set with the host of Voice of America, a radio program

Segun David Fatudimu (right) at the broadcasting studios of Voice of America.

There he founded Impact Toolbox, a digital incubation platform that gives young leaders the education, connections and resources to transform their ideas for social change into viable projects. One of the ventures they nurtured was U-recycle Initiative Africa, an award-winning non-profit organization founded by then 17-year-old Oluwaseyi Moejoh that now has projects across 11 countries in Africa.

Fatudimu was ultimately inspired to pursue doctoral studies by his current advisor at UBCO, Dr. Helen Yanacopulos and her work on the intersection of theoretical and practical, on-the-ground perspectives on international development. In the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies program, he has the flexibility he craved in his master’s degree to tailor the coursework to his interests and needs. Fatudimu also appreciates the diverse perspectives within class discussions, since student backgrounds range from politics to nursing to global development.

“It’s bringing fresh air into the academic space where people who have real-life experiences and professional experiences can participate in academic discourse based on that practical perspective.”

While Fatudimu spends his weekends listening to social change pitches from young people in countries from Uganda to the Philippines, he’s also looking to give back to his new community. Recently, Impact Toolbox taught Kelowna Secondary School the digital skills needed to make a website for their non-profit thrift store, benefitting local charities.

“Kelowna is emerging,” says Fatudimu. “There are a lot of opportunities for people who are entrepreneurial-minded like me. I’m always curious about where I can help, what I can do and how can I plug in. Kelowna provides immense opportunity to be able to do that.”

In Fatudimu’s doctoral research, he draws on his practical experience in social development. Often, organizations are celebrated for their input and output, or how much money they donate and how many people that money affects. Fatudimu’s research seeks to develop better impact measurements that include the outcomes for those affected people and the impact on the larger community.

“I’m for chasing an ideal world where we don’t celebrate success based on mere input or output but based on concrete, proven socioeconomic results that actually change the lives of local people.”

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LIKE MANY STUDENTS APPROACHING GRADUATION, geography major Sierra Kasper-Momer was unsure of what she wanted to do after her program finished. “I wasn’t sure if I was ready to jump into my master’s degree just yet, so I started exploring different careers and opportunities as an arts student.”

Then Kasper-Momer came across UBC Okanagan’s Arts Career Apprenticeship Program (ACAP), which connects soon-to-be arts, humanities and social sciences graduates with Okanagan-based employers for one-year, paid early career opportunities. Students take part in a competitive application and interview process to gain professional experience and mentorship, while also contributing to the growth and development of a local business.

“I signed up because ACAP is a great opportunity to see what kind of work is out there,” Kasper-Momer explains. “I received support with important skills like resume writing and interviewing, which are critical to hone as a new graduate.”

Sierra Kasper-Momer wearing a graduation cap

Sierra Kasper-Momer.

Once accepted into the program, Kasper-Momer set up sessions with other students and a faculty member to learn how to focus her job application on relevant skills employers look for. With nearly a dozen unique positions available through ACAP, ranging from digital marketing to health care, Kasper-Momer had her pick of opportunities. She ultimately interviewed for and was hired by her current employer, Urban Systems. Through ACAP, Kasper-Momer was given a one-year contract, which evolved into a permanent role.

“I’m so thankful for ACAP because it got me to where I am today,” Kasper-Momer says. “The biggest benefit of the program was connecting with an employer I wouldn’t have otherwise. Also, as a new graduate, I didn’t have any work experience in the industry, so it was a huge help to get a leg up through ACAP and connect with Urban Systems, which had a position geared to more recent graduates.”

Kasper-Momer points out that many of the skills from her BA have benefitted her in her new role. “Throughout my degree, I did a lot of report writing and qualitative research, and these writing and research skills, along with collaboration and critical thinking, have proved to be extremely valuable.”

With this sense of knowledge and empowerment, Kasper-Momer has returned to UBC Okanagan to share her experience with other students. “I was excited to return to campus and connect with students because not that long ago, I was in their shoes trying to figure out what to do after graduation. I want to share a bit about my journey as someone without a formal background in communications who now works in the industry, because my education and experience at UBCO helped get me to where I am today.”

As for her advice to students unsure of their future path, Kasper-Momer keeps it simple.

“Follow your passions and chase after what excites you. As an arts student, there are so many paths to follow that it’s challenging to decide which direction you want to go after graduation. I followed my interests and what I was passionate about, and it led me to a career full of exciting opportunities. Don’t let the fear of the unknown scare you.”

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