Emma Elliott-Groves works to make a difference—while staying connected to others and to community

When Emma Elliott-Groves was working toward her Ph.D. in Education, Learning Sciences and Human Development at the College of Education, the support she received from the Marv Harshman Fellowship helped her bring a broader, more interdisciplinary approach to her work studying an increase in suicidal behavior in her own Cowichan First Nations’ community on Vancouver Island.

“My theoretical framework was political colonial theory, which is something that wasn’t offered at the College of Education,” Elliott explained. “I spent the money on books that gave me the opportunity to dive deeper into things I was interested in and my community was pointing me toward. That extra support really opened up the door in terms of branching out and taking a more interdisciplinary approach to the work that is at once political, historical, social, and engaged in social work.”

Elliott said her decision to make the crisis that had risen in her own community the focus of her doctoral research was deeply influenced by the community-centered, collaborative approach to research championed by her professors and mentors at the College of Education.

“Mentors like Drs. Megan Bang and Phil Bell and others at the College of Education really prioritize the importance of working with communities in an ethically appropriate way,” Elliott-Groves said. “They value collaborating with communities and designing with communities—even the research questions themselves are driven by what are the needs of the community. In my case, it wasn’t an inherent interest in suicide, but a response to what my community was going through at the time.”

Elliott-Groves explained that embarking on the work, and the community interactions she experienced during her research, inspired her to add a Master of Social Work degree to her credentials. “I discovered that there was a need for me as a researcher to understand how to engage with people in their moments of trauma,” she said.

Today, Elliott-Groves serves as assistant research professor at the Seattle office of Partnerships for Native Health, which is part of Washington State University’s Initiative for Research and Education to Advance Community Health. Her work there is focused on implementing culturally appropriate interventions in four tribal communities across the U.S. who are experiencing crises similar to the one her Cowichan tribe faced.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the supportive community that surrounds me and the supportive community that holds me up,” Elliott-Groves said. “The relations that supported me in the doctoral program, including the Marv Harshman Fellowship, including my mentors, professors, and other support systems I’ve received along the way—the underlying message is the importance of relationships, and the responsibility we have to each other and to the natural world. Our work and our presence will help make a difference—even if that difference isn’t felt in our lifetime—that will help move humanity forward in a good way.”

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