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2018 Pursuit Awards
2018 Pursuit Award: Meet our finalists!

The 2018 Pursuit Award competition is right around the corner!

This exciting event – hosted by Holland Bloorview’s research institute – recognizes and celebrates the work of PhD students and alumni from across the globe for their outstanding contributions to childhood disability research. Three exceptional finalists have been chosen in the fierce competition, and will present their work and compete on Tuesday, May 15 at the annual ceremony.

Below is a sneak peek into the work and background of this year’s competitors. Don’t forget to RSVP to reserve your spot to the Pursuit Award Ceremony by emailing!

Also check out the 2018 Pursuit Award Program

Meet the 2018 Pursuit Award finalists

Dr. Caroline Buzanko, University of Calgary, School and Applied Child Psychology

Dr. Caroline Buzanko, a recent graduate of the School and Applied Child Psychology at the University of Calgary has a long-standing commitment to children with disabilities, with over 20 years of experience working with kids with disabilities. Her extensive clinical experience interested her to engage in practice-derived research to support families of children with disabilities – culminating in practical programs and tools to support kids and their families.

Caroline continues her clinical practice as a director of Koru Family Psychology in Calgary. She is also an adjunct faculty member with the University of Calgary where she conducts her research practice focusing on the needs of families with children with disabilities, and advocates for the implementation of necessary supports to optimize their well-being and quality of life.

“Dr. Buzanko epitomizes the scientist-practitioner, drawing on clinical experience and then translating clinically informed scientific work back into clinical practice to benefit the lives of children with disabilities and their families.” – Michael Lee Zwiers, assistant professor, director of internships and practica, University of Calgary

Caroline will present her thesis entitled ‘Parents’ lived experiences of the assessment process that resulted in their child’s diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder’.

Martina Franchini, University of Geneva, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Science

Martina is a clinical-developmental psychologist with a background in the development of children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Martina completed her PhD in psychology at the Developmental Imaging and Psychopathology Lab (DIP-Lab) at the University of Geneva. Her research focused on eye-tracking paradigms for social orienting as well as joint attention behaviors and their importance in the early development of children with ASD. At the same time, she continued to expand her clinical experience in the Early Intervention Center for ASD at the Office Médico-Pédagogique in Geneva.

Currently, Martina is a postdoctoral fellow in the autism research centre in the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, where she is exploring the emergence of early signs of autism in high-risk infant siblings – a part of a large Canadian infant siblings study.

“(Martina) is an outstanding and very sensitive clinician, who has been trained in both assessments and early interventions for individuals with ASD. Such a combination of solid clinical and research knowledge is rare, and it is an essential asset for becoming a top-tier clinical researcher.” – Dr. Marie Schaer, SNSF professor, University of Geneva

Martina will present her thesis entitled ‘Toward a better understanding of the heterogeneity of early development in children with autism spectrum disorders’.

Michelle Phoenix, McMaster University, School of Rehabilitation Science

Michelle Phoenix is a paediatric speech-language pathologist who began working at KidsAbility, a children’s treatment centre in Kitchener, Ontario, following graduation from the speech-language pathology program at the University of Toronto. As a mother of three children, Michelle brings a unique family-focused lens to her work.

Michelle completed her PhD at the School of Rehabilitation at McMaster University, and CanChild. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow at Holland Bloorview’s research institute (with Dr. Gillian King, senior scientist) and CanChild (with Dr. Jan Willem Gorter).

Michelle hopes that her work will lead to clinical and policy changes affecting the way rehabilitation services are offered to children and families, such that clinicians are better able to recognize barriers to care and respond in ways that are empathetic and supportive – thus improving accessibility of services and promoting engagement with children and families.

“(Michelle’s) research is driven by clinical issues and she is passionate about transforming the lives of children with disabilities and their families. In particular, Michelle has been dedicated to and continues to improve family-centredness of services to children with disabilities and their families – an approach that positions parents as partners in their child’s services.” – Dr. Jan Willem Gorter, professor, department of pediatrics and the school of rehabilitation science, McMaster University

Michelle will present her thesis entitled ‘Parents' Attendance, Participation and Engagement in Children's Rehabilitation Services: The Journey to Child Health and Happiness’.