Fellowship Program - Samuel Centre For Social Connectedness — Samuel Centre For Social Connectedness
Fellowship Program

Summer 2022

Each year, as part of the Social Connectedness Fellowship Program, the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness (SCSC) selects a number of students and recent graduates to carry out innovative research with the goal of creating action to build community and belonging, locally and globally.

This summer, SCSC is proud to welcome fifteen new fellows as part of the 2022 cohort. The fellows will engage in research projects with partner organizations to address diverse issues relating to social isolation and belonging.

View the list of 2022 fellows below and click on a fellow to learn more about their background, their research partner organization and their research topic.
SCSC extends its deepest gratitude to the Samuel Family Foundation for their unwavering support and collaboration for the Fellowship Program.

Aida Mohajeri


Aida (she/her) will spend the summer working with Special Olympics International (SOI). The “Special Olympics: Supporting families of Special Olympics athletes during COVID-19” project will carry out inclusive research, in partnership with a Special Olympics Athlete Leader with intellectual disabilities. This research will assess how Special Olympics can support families of athletes during COVID-19, and what the expectations of the families are from the organization. This research will fill a critical need for Special Olympics in updating the Family Engagement Strategy.

Aida holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Arab and Islamic Studies from Villanova University and a Masters in International Education Policy from Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE). She is a former U.S. Fulbright Research Fellow and HGSE Equity and Inclusion Fellow. Aida is an experienced (dis)ability researcher and advocate, with lived experiences and niche knowledge of policies in the United Arab Emirates, Iran, United States, and Canada. She is passionate about establishing equity for all through policies, programming, and intersectional research.


Ariana Seferiades Prece


Ariana (she/her) will work with Fora: Network for Change on their “Ensuring a Young Feminist Recovery” project. Young women (ages 18-24) have been disproportionately affected by the economic and social impacts of COVID-19. Young women made up 59% of the total job losses when the pandemic began, and as of March 2021, young women were suffering employment losses three times worse than the average. Ensuring a “Young Feminist Recovery” will address the unique needs and impacts of COVID-19 on young women with an equity lens, and tackle structural inequities to set young women up to participate equally and effectively in economies and public life of the future.

Ariana is passionate about gender equality and social justice. As a social anthropologist, she seeks to generate meaningful research and tell stories that build community towards having a positive social impact. Prior to becoming a Fellow, as a longtime feminist activist she collaborated with women’s organizations in every country she has lived in: Argentina (her home country), Mexico and Canada. In parallel, she worked at Google for almost five years, until she decided to go back to graduate school to further her education and pursue a career in research.

Ashli Au


Ashli (she/her/elle) will spend the summer working with Arts Research Internship Awards (ARIA) at McGill University. With the support of Dr. Claudia Mitchell, a professor within the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill, her research will focus on 2SLGBTQ+ youth and youth services adaptability over the COVID-19 pandemic. Her research aims to explore tangible steps taken by individuals and groups that work with and for queer youth to foster community amidst COVID-19.

Ashli (she/her/elle) is a second-year law student at McGill University based in Montreal, Canada. She is an active member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community having worked with Capital Pride Ottawa, EGALE, and McGill’s Subcommittee on Queer People amongst other organizations.

Dara Wawatie-Chabot


Dara (they/them) is working with Indigenous Climate Action, an Indigenous-led organization guided by a diverse group of Indigenous knowledge keepers, water protectors and land defenders from communities and regions across the country. Dara will support their research, decolonizing work and bring their own perspective to the work of social connectedness.

Dara is an Algonquin Anishinabe parent of a two-and-a-half-year-old and a seven-month-old. They teach within their own communities about culture and reclaiming identity and spirituality, and also teach non-Indigenous people about their culture, respect, and the importance of positive relationship building. Dara loves working with children especially, believing that they are the leaders of today and tomorrow, central to the overall health of society. They also do research, activism, advocacy and outreach in many areas of interest, including climate justice. They are currently working towards finishing their Bachelor’s degree at the University of Ottawa in political science and hopes to continue working in the not-for-profit industry after graduating.

Diana Mairose

Diana (she/her) is partnered with the Harvard Project on Disability and Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong. Her work will focus on disability rights and will draw from her own lived experience as an advocate.

Diana is a valued member of the Advocacy Support Team with Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services where she has been employed as an advocate since 2008. Diana is a long-time, active, well-connected advocate for people with disabilities.  She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, but has a heart for people all over the nation, evidenced by her widely sought-after services as a speaker. Diana is known for her voting education in Cincinnati. She also works to educate people about their voting rights and how to vote.


Emily Mullins


Emily Mullins (she/her), in partnership with HelpAge Canada, will explore best practices in relation to digital literacy programs targeted at older adults. HelpAge Canada is a national charitable organization that funds community-based initiatives that help older adults age with dignity.

Emily is a graduate from the Master of Public Health program at Queen’s University. Emily also studied psychology at Trent University where she became interested in the field of gerontology. She is passionate about advancing the health and well-being of older adults through research and advocacy. In her future career, Emily aspires to apply her research skills to the community sector to improve social inclusion and belonging in the aging population.

Esther Kim


Esther (she/her) is partnered with Human Rights Watch, Disability Rights Division, to advance research and advocacy on climate change and these populations, with a particular focus on the mental health impact of climate change. She will specifically look at how climate change impacts older people, people with disabilities and the disabled community.

Esther holds a BA in English Literature and minors in Education and in Disability Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, as well as an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Oxford, where she conducted research on the lived experience and social identity of people with disabilities in Uganda. From her lived experience, Esther has developed a passion for using storytelling as a way of not only sharing the often hidden realities of people with disabilities but also drawing attention to and garnering support for people with disabilities in a manner that is person-first and led by those with disabilities themselves. Esther is currently pursuing a career in research with a focus on people with disabilities, especially in the Global South.


Fairuz Karim


Fairuz (she/her) will spend the summer researching the intersection between mental health and food insecurity with Meal Exchange Canada. Meal Exchange Canada is a nationally registered charity that has inspired and empowered students across the country to create healthy, just, and sustainable food systems for over 25 years.

Fairuz is an MHSc Translational Research graduate student at the University of Toronto. Fairuz immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh and grew up near Toronto, Ontario. Growing up as an immigrant and settler in Canada, she is passionate about the intersecting inequalities that newcomer communities face. She passionately advocates for health equity, mental health, and sustainability.

Laura Murphy


Laura (she/her) is conducting research with Data-Driven Envirolab, an interdisciplinary research group that seeks to create solutions to environmental challenges using cutting edge data analytics. Her project explores urban sustainability at the intersection of social inclusion and climate action, specifically looking to enhance the “Urban Environment and Social Inclusion Index (UESI)”. Her work centers on sustainable and resilient cities.

Laura graduated from SUNY New Paltz’s School of Science and Engineering with a Masters in Computer Science and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from SUNY Purchase. She is passionate about the intersection of data science, mental health and well-being, and sustainability. She aspires to work using data analytics in the nonprofit sector.


Muhammad Bilal Raza


Muhammad (he/him) will work in partnership with Tamarack to support their ongoing “Cities Deepening Community” work, which centres, asset-based community development, loneliness, and community resilience. Specifically, he will investigate the impacts of COVID-19 on social connectedness, the role community development plays in belonging and how asset-based community development can deepen communities.

Muhammad is a final year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto. He is majoring in Economics and Public Policy with a focus on data analytics. He is passionate about intersectional and representative policy change that is rooted in equity, fairness and sustainability. His interests include South Asian poetry, Sufi music and hiking. In the future he hopes to work in the field of policy change.

Paarth Alekshender Mittal


Paarth (they/he) will spend the summer working with Books, Arts, Music (BAM) Collective to address the gaps between Indigenous Peoples and Newcomers/Refugees, and foster conversations around Indigenous cultures, lives, and histories. BAM Collective is Ontario’s first youth-led collective that empowers equity-seeking young people through art and community engagement

Parth will specifically look at BAM’s 2022 project called “Building Community between Newcomers to Canada and Indigenous Peoples.” As a settler and immigrant currently located on the unceded lands of the W̱SÁNEĆ, Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations (Victoria, BC), Parth has always been curious about how we can decolonize our thoughts and power structures, and how we can honour Indigenous relations (to land, water, human and non-human living beings) in the actions that we undertake.

Raha Mahmoudi


Raha (she/her) is partnered with SeeChange. The SeeChange Initiative supports vulnerable communities to build their resiliency and autonomy in order to respond effectively to health crises in their communities. She will develop a community-based measurement and evaluation system to help better articulate community-led initiatives strengths and success stories.

Raha seeks to collaboratively advance community-driven initiatives and amplify community voices to transform conditions and systems in ways that realize equity and justice for structurally marginalized people. Raha holds a Masters in Public Health from the University of Waterloo, a Bachelor of Public Health from Waterloo University, and a Bachelor of Science, with specific focus on biomedical science from McMaster University.

Tony Phillips


Tony (he/him) is partnered with the Harvard Project on Disability and Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong. His work will focus on disability rights and will draw from his own lived experience as an advocate.

Tony is the current president of the Self-Advocacy Association Board of Directors, elected by his peers and representing people with I/DD (Intellectual Developmental Disabilities) in self-advocacy groups across New York State. He is also an activist with the National Action Network, based in Harlem. Tony currently works for OPWDD (Office for People with Developmental Disabilities), lives in his own apartment, and has done work as a Gospel Music concert promoter.


Unathi Mabena


Unathi (she/her) is working with Motheo Training Institute Trust. Motheo Training Institute Trust is a South African based public benefit trust that operates as a multi-training centre, offering quality early childhood developmental services and other developmental studies throughout South Africa. Her work will look at the complex link between social connectedness and intergenerational trauma.

Unathi is a recent graduate from North-West University with an Honours degree in Psychology. Growing up in Pretoria, South Africa, and working as a life coach for learners at her high school, ignited her love for psychology, and particularly, working with children and adolescents. It takes a village to raise a child and Unathi believes in working collaboratively to build healthy environments where children can flourish and thrive. She then became activated to empower and support such communities in an effort to make mental health services accessible resources which can contribute towards holistic health and wellbeing. Unathi is passionate about psychology and the development of children and aspires to pursue a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology.

Waghma Ahmadzay


Waghma (she/her) will spend the summer conducting research in support of Human Rights Watch’s #WelcomeToCanada campaign, which is calling on Canadian authorities to stop incarcerating immigration detainees in provincial jails – a practice that is a violation of Canada’s international human rights obligations. She will support ongoing research, connect with community stakeholders and investigate community-based management programs and systems as an alternative to incarceration.

Waghma is passionate about human rights and refugee policy. She is interested in finding more ways to include newcomers in all aspects of social discourse. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto.