Robert W. Woolner Undergraduate Summer Research Studentship in One Health

The Woolner studentship is awarded to a University of Guelph faculty member conducting One Health research. It is used to support undergraduate student summer research on this One Health project. The faculty member is responsible for selecting the University of Guelph undergraduate student. There are two studentships available annually.

*The 2021 Woolner Student Application Process is Now Closed*

The Robert W. Woolner Undergraduate Summer Research Studentship is designed to offer an experiential learning opportunity in research to two University of Guelph undergraduate students interested in One Health. The Studentship will support an opportunity for these undergraduate students to engage in a semi-independent research project or participate in a larger, ongoing research project during the summer of 2021. By engaging in this research opportunity, the student will begin to develop One Health skills and competencies that will enable them to work at the forefront of these complex health challenges, cross disciplinary boundaries, conduct multidisciplinary research, mobilize knowledge, and inform policy.

The Woolner Studentship is valued at $8,000 for 14 weeks (35 hours per week). Successful student applicants must be:

1. a full-time University of Guelph student in good standing who is registered in Phase 1 or 2 of the DVM program, or after 2nd or 3rd year of a related University of Guelph undergraduate program and returning in the fall.

2. available to work on the research project for 14 weeks full-time (i.e. 35 hours/week) between May 1 and August 31, 2021

3. be able to participate in the summer CORE program if no such program is available in the college in which the student is registered

4. complete a survey evaluating the research experience and the mentor’s performance

5. participate in the CPHAZ One Health Poster Day in the fall semester of 2021

Application Details

Students interested in working on a specific summer research project will apply directly to faculty members to discuss possible involvement with the project.

Applicants must submit their academic record (transcripts provided by student), and a one-page letter demonstrating their interest in One Health and the summer research project to the faculty member.

The Woolner Summer Research Projects

Project 1

Assessing spillover of SARS-COV-2 in peri-domestic wildlife species

Project Details:

SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, has infected millions of people around the globe. This virus is believed to have jumped from a wildlife host and evolved to be efficiently transmitted from human to human. Instances of the virus being further transmitted between humans and animals (e.g., cats) have been documented since the beginning of the pandemic and this risk has been further illustrated by the rapid transmission and subsequent viral mutations within mink populations. Many wildlife species, including abundant peri-domestic species like deer mice, have been identified as potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 based on the affinity of the ACE2 receptor to bind to the virus. That being said, minimal research has been conducted to examine the potential spillover of SARS-CoV-2 in peri-domestic species. If spillover is detected, it is critical to determine if specific environmental conditions facilitate this process.

The objectives of this summer research studentship are to: 1) identify potential spillover events of SARS-CoV-2 from humans into peri-domestic wildlife species from the global literature, and 2) contribute to field sampling of peri-domestic wildlife across southern Ontario.

The student will be involved with reviewing the literature (remote work) and field sampling of wildlife (across southern Ontario). They will gain skills in knowledge synthesis, project management, time management, study design, wildlife sampling and data collection and analyses. They will be part of a large, transdisciplinary team, including researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, Sunnybrook Research Institute, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, National Microbiology Laboratory, University of Saskatchewan and McMaster University.

This project is funded through a targeted investment from the Canadian Safety and Security Program. The successful student will be required to get a rabies vaccination (at no cost to them) (or provide proof of a protective titre).

Proposed start date: May 10, 2021

Advisor Name: Katie Clow (Population Medicine) in collaboration with Jane Parmley (Population Medicine) and Claire Jardine (Pathobiology) and Samira Mubareka (Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre)

Contact Information for Student Applications:

Name: Katie Clow


Deadline for Applications: March 24, 2021 (end of day)

Project 2

Effects of environmental modification and early-life stress on wildlife physiology and biodiversity

Project Details:

Our work is multidisciplinary and informed by the “One Health” philosophy that human, animal and environmental systems are intrinsically connected. Evaluating and testing the effects of modified environments on wildlife ecophysiology is a critical dimension of understanding the long-term impacts of environmental change. Urbanization is one profound driver of environmental modification and organisms inhabiting these environments are subject to a suite of novel stressors and selective pressures. Understanding how an individual’s physiological stress axis mediates the interactions among extrinsic challenges and intrinsic impacts is critical for unravelling the mechanisms by which animals react to these human modified environments.

This NSERC Discovery Grant funded research project would pair an undergraduate student with a graduate student researcher to examine the impacts of urbanization on wildlife by comparing a population of marked grey squirrels in a human altered environment (U of G campus) to a population in a natural environment at the rare Charitable Nature Reserve in Cambridge.  The student team would investigate the physiological responses to urbanization during the breeding season (measured via parent and offspring physiological stress responses, hormones & oxidative stress metrics measured from blood, feces and hair, and by quantifying impacts on brain development).  The Woolner student would be a key part of this research team, spending long days outside trapping and handling grey squirrels and collecting blood and tissue samples.  In addition to these fieldwork experiences, the Woolner student would also learn and assist with laboratory analysis to measure hormones in the collected tissues. 

Occasionally, when not conducting field work on grey squirrels, the Woolner student would have the opportunity assist another researcher studying the impacts of agricultural stress and landscape restoration on avian biodiversity on ALUS farms in Norfolk County.  ALUS Canada (originally an acronym for “Alternative Land Use Services”) is a national program that supports farmers and ranchers in using some of their land in an alternative way to produce ecosystem services that benefit Canadians. The student team would spend early mornings and long days in the field to investigate biodiversity on ALUS farms and compare this to conventional farms, as well as assess early-life physiological responses to agricultural chemical exposure during the breeding season by collecting samples from nestling birds hatched in these two landscapes. Birding experience (ID species by sight and sound) is an asset, though not necessary.

Proposed start date: May 3, 2021

Advisor Name: Dr. Amy Newman (Integrative Biology)

Contact Information for Student Applications:

Name: Dr. Amy Newman


Deadline for Applications: April 2, 2021

Summer 2020 Faculty & Student Recipients

Headshot of Fiona James.

Dr. Fiona James

“Comparing canine and human epileptic syndromes”

Fiona James earned a Master’s degree in Neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario before completing her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree at the Ontario Veterinary College. After an internship in Michigan, she returned to the OVC for both a residency in Neurology and a Doctor of Veterinary Science degree. From 2009 to 2011, she was an adjunct faculty member at OVC and a veterinary neurology specialist working at several private practices in Ontario and the U.S. She joined the OVC Neurology Service in 2011. Her research interests include comparative epilepsy, electroencephalography, translational genetics of neurologic disease, and neuroimaging. Currently, she directs the Comparative Epilepsy Program with active projects examining details of canine electroencephalography and epilepsy syndromes.

Headshot of Rachael Vella.

Rachael Vella

University of Guelph | Undergraduate Studies
Bio-Medical Science

My name is Rachael, and I am thankful that the Woolner Studentship has provided me the opportunity to work with Dr. James on this One Health Project. The project I will be working on examines epileptic seizure patterns in humans and canines. 

I see the one health approach as very advantageous for tackling complicated problems.  This approach facilitates integration and collaboration across many different fields of expertise.

I am entering my fourth year of undergrad at the University of Guelph as a Biomedical Science major, with a  Neuroscience minor. My  academic interest involves brain abnormalities and mental health.  In my spare time I enjoy knitting, sewing, or reading a book.

Headshot of Travis Steffens.

Dr. Travis Steffens

“Investigating the potential transmission of intestinal pathogens among people, lemurs, and domestic animals in Madagascar”

Travis Steffens has a BSc in Primatology, an MA in Anthropology from the University of Calgary, and a PhD in Evolutionary Anthropology from the University of Toronto. Travis specializes in primate conservation biogeography and applied conservation. Travis has been involved in primate research since 2002 and has conducted many research projects on endangered primates in both Belize, Central America, and Madagascar. In 2015, Travis founded Planet Madagascar to work towards building sustainable forest communities in Madagascar. He combines his research with practical conservation measures to protect lemurs and their habitat and improve the livelihoods of people who live in connection to lemurs. Steffens also serves on the Board of Directors. 

Headshot of Kiana Gibson.

Kiana Gibson

University of Guelph | Undergraduate Studies
Nutrition & Nutraceutical Sciences | International Development
MealCare Guelph Co-President

Kiana Gibson is a third year undergraduate student at the University of Guelph, completing a Bachelor of Arts & Science. Her specializations are in Nutrition and Nutraceutical Sciences as well as International Development, offering a unique lens through which she has studied global health issues. Kiana is eager to participate in Dr. Steffens One Health project, as it provides her the incredible opportunity to explore connections between lemur endangerment, human livelihood, and climate change impacts in Madagascar.

Beyond her education, Kiana recognizes the importance of a One Health approach within her community. She co-founded MealCare Guelph, an organization dedicated to reducing food waste and tackling food insecurity. Kiana’s leadership through MealCare has resulted in the redistribution of over 10,000 pounds of leftover food from campus dining halls to the Student Food Bank and community partners. She has learned that food security is complex, and that a multi-disciplinary, One Health approach is key to addressing food-related issues both at the local and global levels.

Through the Robert W. Woolner Studentship, Kiana hopes to combine her passions in development and nutrition, gaining a greater understanding of how One Health research can promote health outcomes for people, animals, and the environment alike.