Alum of the Month: Dr. Serene Kerpan

Serene Kerpan head and shoulders with greenery behind her

September 24, 2022 - 9:30am

When Dr. Serene Kerpan returned to Vancouver Island University this fall to teach and conduct research in the Kinesiology program, she was joining professors who had mentored her when she was a student at VIU years ago. Kerpan graduated from VIU in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double majoring in History and Sport, Health and Physical Education (SHAPE, now the Kinesiology program).

Since graduating, Kerpan received her PhD in Kinesiology, did a post-doctoral fellowship in Community Health and Epidemiology, and then took her first academic appointment at Ontario Tech University, where she also launched a large research project focused on prenatal opioid exposure in First Nations communities in Ontario. She was awarded VIU’s Distinguished Alumni Award for Early Achievement in 2014. Here’s why she’s excited to be back at the institution that first nurtured her love of learning, and what she hopes to accomplish in the coming months.

Why did you choose VIU for your education?

I grew up in a small rural community in the Kootenays called Fruitvale. In high school, I had a friend who attended VIU and I heard wonderful things about the professors, the courses and the campus. I came for a visit, fell in love with the Island and registered after that.

What are some highlights from your time here?

I played basketball for the Mariners, which was an excellent experience. It was and still is a vibrant and supportive sport community here. I made lifelong friendships on the court and in the classroom that have stood the test of time. That is a gift that VIU provided us, it brought like-minded students together in an intimate educational setting and allowed us to build bonds that helped us all weather the challenges of life in early adulthood. I also had excellent relationships with my professors – they knew me and cared about me as a person. That is something wonderfully unique about VIU. They were gifted educators in all aspects.

What have you been up to since graduating from VIU?

I received my Doctorate in Kinesiology and did my Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan. During that time, I worked with First Nations partners to conduct research that supported the educational experiences and mental health of Indigenous children. It was an incredibly rewarding experience and a time of great learning and growth.

After that, I took my first academic appointment at Ontario Tech University in the Faculty of Health Sciences, where I was able to conduct research and teach in both Public Health and Kinesiology, the two areas I am passionate about. During my time at Ontario Tech, I undertook a large research project focused on prenatal opioid exposure in First Nations communities in Ontario. I worked with a wonderful team of researchers and First Nations partners to use existing health records data to determine the prevalence of prenatal opioid exposure in the participating communities. We also gathered community-specific impacts of prenatal opioid exposure and the strengths and strategies that could be leveraged to address the issues. We are now moving into the next phase of this research where we are working with communities to use their data to mobilize strategies that will support children, mothers and families impacted by prenatal opioid exposure. I also had the privilege of supervising multiple graduate students; it was great to give back to young scholars through the provision of research mentorship.

What is it like coming back to your first alma mater, this time as a professor?

It has been a wonderful experience to come full circle to the place that nurtured my love of learning. Becoming colleagues with the people who mentored me and were my cheerleaders (and reference writers) as I navigated life as a budding academic is great. I am also pleased to be back on a campus with a Culinary Arts program that bakes fresh croissants each morning.

What do you hope to achieve in the coming months at VIU?

I am keen to put some long-brewing teaching ideas that pertain to experiential learning and meaningful assessment into practice in my courses. I will be working to transition my program of research to the Island, and with that, I look forward to building collaborations across campus and within the greater community.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a student hoping to follow in your footsteps?

If there is a door open that says opportunity above it, or even slightly hints of opportunity, go through it. If you are able, consider going to another institution for graduate or professional school. It can be hard to move away, but the myriad of experiences and diversity of training I received at different universities has made all the difference in my career. Invest in yourself early. That means doing the hard stuff and putting in the extra effort now.


Tags: Kinesiology | Research | Our Alumni

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