University of Saskatchewan doctoral student and Moose Jaw resident Lindsey Boechler has been named as a 2022 Vanier Scholar. Other recipients this year include Gilbert Adum, Cody Koloski, and Pezhman Zolfaghari Didani.

The prestigious annual Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships recognize academic excellence, research potential, and leadership skills in scholarly work.

Each of the students will be awarded a scholarship valued at $150,000 over three years to help fund their doctoral research programs.

Boechler was part of the Doctorate of Educational Leadership Program but after receiving the Vanier Award, she decided to transfer over to PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in January. She's also working from home in Moose Jaw with Saskatchewan Polytechnic through the Centre for Health Research, Innovation and Scholarship.

"We're working with rural remote Indigenous communities to try to create a virtual platform that supports mental well-being," she stated.

"As we know in Saskatchewan, when you're rural remote, actually anywhere across Canada, sometimes it's really hard to access care or resources that are more easily accessible in urban centres. What we're looking to do is build a virtual reality platform that you can completely immerse yourself in. Technology to access those resources to different degrees. We don't underestimate or undervalue the importance of face-to-face or personal relationships but just trying to establish those and then build on those virtually."

Boechler will work alongside College of Education associate professors Dr. Vicki Squires (PhD) and Dr. Michael Cottrell (PhD). 

"The virtual platform will include things like workshops that you can attend from your own community," she noted.

"Educational pieces, stuff you're curious about but kind of scared to ask about or things that could greatly impact you. We're looking at creating a social platform, so once the youth from different communities meet each other, they can continue to meet virtually and build their relationships. The founding framework of the platform is to be able to offer couselling and clinical access to care through it in a safe and secure manner that they'll be able to access that care that they might not otherwise be able to access."

They've been working on getting a really good understanding from the youth of what they want and what they would benefit from. 

"Building the relationships and getting that feedback from the students but then we've also started creating virtual reality segments together. We'll still be seeking funding to build a secure platform to house everything once it's complete but right now we are actually using specialized cameras and the students and I will capture different cultural teachings or parts of their environment that they really appreciate."

Boechler is hoping to secure funding to build the platform by next year. To date, they've been funded through SHRF (Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation) and through community initiative funding through NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada).

Listen to Cory Knutt's full interview with Lindsey Boechler: