St. Clair's R&D Efforts: COVID, Electric Cars, Literacy

In conjunction with the local United Way, St. Clair researchers are studying children's literacy in the region.

Editor’s Note: Following up on the recent story about the 2010-20 Research and Development report that was presented to the college’s Board of Governors on January 26 ( … 

… A day following that session, the R&D Department issued its January newsletter, providing some additional updates about is current projects. 

Issued by Director Peter Wawrow, here is the content of that newsletter: 

Understandably, 2020 was a challenging year for everyone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effects on the R&D department was no exception. While most of our projects were put on hold, we had researchers respond to the pandemic by addressing community needs. 


We worked with local manufacturers to assist them with the development of respiratory devices, with Wendy Foote, Connie Sivyer, James Linton, and Jim Durocher (Respiratory Therapy and Biomedical Engineering) contributing their design and testing expertise. 

Elaine Chatwood and her Fashion Design Technician students developed instructional videos on standardizing mask sewing for a community organization. 

John Ulakovich and his Data Analytics students developed a dashboard to track COVID cases in the region. 

Finally, Linda MacDougall (Nursing) participated in a study to assess the psychological impacts of COVID on healthcare workers in Windsor-Essex. 

These are examples of how R&D at St. Clair College has become integrated within the community and is able to respond to community needs.  


As the COVID restrictions eased, the R&D department resumed project activities, administered by R&D Program Manager John Lopez. 

Our digital twin project is continuing, virtually simulating physical manufacturing processes. 

Data Analytics researchers are digitizing a data collection tool and reporting dashboard to monitor healthcare services. 

We are currently working with a greenhouse to automate their pepper packing. 

A new project exploring literacy concerns in Grade 3 students has begun (see below). 

The college has been awarded two grants through our local health institute, WE SPARK, to work on health-related projects. 

Finally, the Windsor-Essex region has been diversifying into the mobility space of connected, autonomous, cybersecure and electric vehicles, and the R&D department is working closely with the region to develop that strategy. These projects display the broadening of our research efforts into various disciplines. 


For the first time, St. Clair College has made the list of Top 50 Research Colleges in the country; and we have also cracked the Top 10 for “most improved” research colleges, based on funding received. 


A new grant opportunity became available to colleges last year, called the College and Community Social Innovation Fund. The objective of the grant is to foster community innovation by connecting the talent, facilities, and capabilities of the college with research needs of local community organizations. 

We were successful in obtaining a grant for $120,000 annually for three years to work with our community partner, the regional United Way, to address literacy concerns in Windsor-Essex through its “Cradle to Career” initiative. The Cradle to Career approach encompasses developing interventions, based on data, to remove neighbourhood-specific barriers to children achieving key developmental milestones. 

The focus of our research project will support United Way Windsor-Essex in removing barriers to early literacy success, which is one of six identified developmental milestones. 

The research lead for this project is Beckie Berlasty, who is a part-time instructor and support staffer in the School of Community Studies. Her research team consists of full-time ECE faculty members Dr. Kathryn Markham-Petro and Danielle Koresky, part-time instructor Alexandra Frabotta, and several ECE students. 

The researchers have begun assessing barriers to community literacy, and challenges specifically faced by families and children in low socio-economic target neighbourhoods in Windsor-Essex County. 

Through a literature review, the research team found that one in six (15 percent) of Ontarians aged 16 to 65 score at or below Literacy Level 1, which is the literacy level required to read basic text. Furthermore, Literacy Levels 1 and 2 are associated with decreased participation in society. Individuals who score at these levels are less likely to vote, volunteer, work, engage in community programs, or attend postsecondary education. 

In Windsor-Essex, the percentage of children considered “at risk" or vulnerable was lower than the province average, with the exception of the Language and Cognitive Development domain. This was based on the Early Development Instrument, which was designed in 2000 by The Offord Centre for Child Studies in Canada. Understanding why this phenomenon exists is critical to the long-term success of children in Windsor-Essex. 

The research team will be utilizing Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Systems theory as the theoretical framework to explore this issue. This theory emphasizes the importance of examining individuals' relationships within their communities and how these relationships influence development: in our case, literacy development. 

In order to understand these neighbourhoods more fully, the research team has just completed a series of “windshield surveys”. This hands-on experience will greatly add to the research, as well as to our student researchers’ practical learning. A comparative analysis of other community literacy approaches will begin in the coming weeks, orchestrated by student researchers, as well as a gap analysis exploring local literacy assets and areas for intervention. 

As we move into the next stages of the project, the research team is looking forward to opportunities for collaboration with many other St. Clair College programs, faculty, and students.