Grad student brings words to life for others

Special to Western News

Epidemiology and Biostatistics graduate trainee Harpreet Singh Chahal has dedicated himself to literacy education in the community.

Growing up, Harpreet Singh Chahal supported his parents, who emigrated from India, when they faced the challenges and barriers of reading, writing and speaking English. Today, he has turned his efforts toward younger learners in the community.

A current Epidemiology and Biostatistics graduate trainee, Chahal has always understood the importance of literacy and its ability to help people achieve their goals, develop their knowledge and potential and participate fully in their community.

Chahal, BMSc’13, moved to London in 2009, excited to become part of the rich community the city boasts. During his time at Western and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, he has explored what the community has to offer.

In 2011, he began volunteering experiences as a tutor in an after-school homework club, where he created a fun and supportive atmosphere to assist learners with their school work. Activities ranged from taking turns reading picture books, to engaging workshops and oral presentations. Chahal related to many of the learners, as they were predominately new Canadians and children of new Canadians.

“On-site, we tried to remove the unhelpful dichotomy inherent to labels like ‘literate’ vs. ‘illiterate.’ Instead, we captured literacy as a life-long journey to improve in ways that are important to you,” Chahal said. “I can think of my mom in that regard – someone who watches grammar videos on YouTube to this day.”

In 2013, Chahal worked with Frontier College, a Canada-wide, not-for-profit literacy organization which partners with local organizations to help develop literacy programs and support them with tutors and materials. During this time, he brought literacy and learning into the lives of others by recruiting, screening and training volunteers.

“It was always rewarding to connect new tutors to learning programs that matched their interests and curiosities. Throughout the year, it was especially heart-warming to see our volunteers be inspired to grow both professionally and personally,” Chahal said.

Most recently, Chahal volunteered at a program for children run by the London Intercommunity Health Centre called SHAC – short for Snacks, Homework, Activities and Crafts.

Chahal’s current academic focus is working on heart arrhythmia research. For a number of years, he’s undertaken a study called MOVE-IT. Based out of the London Health Sciences Centre, the study looks to shed light on the role of exercise in fatal arrhythmia.

He recently received a Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) from the Canadian Institutues of Health Research (CIHR) that will fund his travel abroad to the epidemiology department at the Harvard School of Public Health. The Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement Program is a national competition open to holders of the Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS award.

Chahal is thankful for the opportunity to attend Schulich and work with co-supervisors, Drs. Lorne Gula and Mark Speechley, on an enlightening research project. He is proud to give back to the community by providing others with the chance to enhance their learning, develop their potential and achieve their own educational goals.