Alum of the Month: Dr. Serene Kerpan | News | Vancouver Island University

as dr When Serene Kerpan returned to Vancouver Island University this fall to teach and research in the kinesiology program, she joined professors who had mentored her years earlier as a student at VIU. Kerpan graduated from VIU in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with dual majors in History and Sports, Health and Physical Education (SHAPE, now the Kinesiology program).

After graduating, Kerpan earned her PhD in Kinesiology, completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Community Health and Epidemiology, and then accepted her first academic position at Ontario Tech University, where she also started a major research project focused on prenatal opioid exposure in First Nations communities ontario. In 2014, she received the VIU’s Distinguished Alumni Award for Early Achievement. As such, she is excited to be back at the institution that originally nurtured her love of learning, and what she hopes to achieve in the coming months.

Why did you decide to study at the VIU?

I grew up in a small rural community in the Kootenays called Fruitvale. In high school, I had a friend who attended VIU and I heard wonderful things about the professors, the courses, and the campus. I came to visit, fell in love with the island and signed up afterwards.

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What are some highlights from your time here?

I played basketball for the Mariners which was an excellent experience. There was and is a vibrant and supportive sports community here. I’ve made lifelong friendships on the court and in the classroom that have stood the test of time. It’s a gift VIU has given us, it has brought like-minded students together in an intimate educational setting, and it has allowed us to form bonds that have helped us all navigate life’s challenges in early adulthood. I also had excellent relationships with my professors – they knew me and cared about me as a person. That’s something wonderfully unique about the VIU. They were talented educators in every respect.

What have you been doing since graduating from VIU?

I received my PhD in Kinesiology and completed my Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan. During that time, I worked with First Nations partners to conduct research that supported the educational experiences and mental health of Indigenous children. It was an incredibly rewarding experience and a time of great learning and growth.

I then accepted my first academic position at Ontario Tech University in the Faculty of Health Sciences, where I was able to research and teach in both public health and kinesiology, the two fields that are close to my heart. During my time at Ontario Tech, I conducted a major research project focused on prenatal opioid exposure in First Nations communities in Ontario. I worked with a wonderful team of researchers and First Nations partners to use existing medical record data to determine the prevalence of prenatal opioid exposure in the participating communities. We also collected community-specific effects of prenatal opioid exposure and the strengths and strategies that could be used to address the issues. We are now moving to the next phase of this research, where we are working with communities to use their data to mobilize strategies that support children, mothers and families impacted by prenatal opioid exposure. I have also had the privilege of supervising several PhD students; It was great to give back to young scientists by providing research mentors.

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What is it like to return to your first alma mater as a professor?

Coming full circle to the place that has nurtured my love for learning has been a wonderful experience. It’s great to become colleagues with the people who mentored me and were my cheerleaders (and reference writers) as I navigated life as a budding academic. I’m also excited to be back on a campus with a Culinary Arts program that bakes fresh croissants every morning.

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What would you like to achieve at the VIU in the coming months?

I am very interested in putting into practice some long-held teaching ideas related to experiential learning and meaningful assessment in my courses. I will be working to move my research program to the island and look forward to building collaborations across campus and within the larger community.

What advice would you give to a student hoping to follow in your footsteps?

If a door is open, stands over opportunity, or even a small hint of it, go through it. If you are able, consider attending another graduate or technical college institution. Moving away can be difficult, but the myriad of experiences and variety of education I received at different universities made all the difference in my career. Invest in yourself early. That means doing the hard stuff and making an extra effort now.

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