Research project targets positive identity for girls

Stephanie Rukstuhl

ST. ANDREWS – An applied research project at the St. Andrews Campus of New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) is improving the positive identity of adolescent girls in Charlotte County, while providing Practical Nursing students with a hands-on learning experience.

Together We Can is a three-year applied research collaboration between NBCC and St. Francis Xavier University with the goal of increasing pro-social skills and positive identity in adolescent girls. Funding for the research project was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) in the amount of $236,470.

“As an instructor, I noticed that girls were not coming into college with good self-esteem,” said Stephanie Ruckstuhl, who led the research project. “That was reflected in national research that indicates only 48 per cent of girls in Grade 7 have good self-esteem, and by Grade 12, the number goes down to 18 per cent.”

In Charlotte County, where the isolation of island life can contribute to negative self-worth, only 46 per cent of girls in Grade 7 reported positive identity. But as the result of the three-year research project, 60 per cent of girls participating showed a significant improvement and are no longer considered vulnerable.

“We developed a suite of activities that explored self-worth, identity, rights, sexualization and relationships,” said Ruckstuhl. “The student facilitators were so in tune with them. The program that we have fine-tuned takes into account the great work others have done before us and looks at the current school curriculum, focusing on strategies and activities aimed at empowering young girls.”

Practical Nursing students at NBCC St. Andrews met with the girls to lead discussions and act as peer mentors to enhance positive identity. They encouraged conversations and dialogue on a variety of topics related to developmental assets – positive identity, social competence, positive values, commitment to learning support, and constructive use of time. The adolescent girls who completed the program showed a significant increase in the measurement areas.

NBCC is the first college in Atlantic Canada to receive SSHRCC funding, which allowed Ruckstuhl and her counterpart at St. Francis Xavier University to develop a manual. The manual will help schools, integrated service teams, counsellors and others to easily implement and deliver the Together We Can program to girls in other areas of the country. The research is also highlighted on a new website,

“The impact of Together We Can is one more example of the important impact of applied research taking place at Canadian colleges,” said Marilyn Luscombe, President and CEO of NBCC. “In addition to helping businesses and community organizations address challenges, improve productivity and transfer technology, applied research activities at NBCC help to improve the capacity and sustainability of our social infrastructure and thus have a lasting impact on our provincial economy.”

With over 90 programs and six campuses across New Brunswick, NBCC is a provincially recognized post-secondary institution known for producing skilled, knowledgeable college graduates. NBCC offers students full-time concentrated study periods in one- and two-year certificate and diploma programs. For more information, visit:

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