Through film, University of Toronto graduate aims to help STEM-educated immigrant women overcome barriers

As a master’s student in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, Elisabeth Kalbfleisch teamed up with a professor and an entrepreneur to help communicate their research through an animated short.

Kalbleisch remembers being irritated by the conclusions of a report by the teacher Nadia Caidi and Saadia Muzaffar, founder of TechGirls Canada, which focused on 74 STEM-educated immigrant women who were unable to find work in their field due to the barriers they face in the labor market – although they were actively recruited as highly skilled workers.

“The results have been so amazing to me,” says Kalbfleisch, who took Caidi’s Communities and Values ​​course in her first semester in the fall of 2020. The Immigrant Experience Challenge.

A grant from the Mitacs Accelerate program allowed Caidi and Muzaffar to hire Kalbfleisch to share their research story beyond traditional academic channels. Together, they decide to make an animated film.

“We thought if we could do something beautiful, it might catch people’s attention,” Kalbleisch says. “The film is meant to be a conversation starter, a way to get people talking about these issues. For many people, watching a five-minute video online is easier than reading an 80-page report.

Elizabeth Kalbfleisch and animator Dani Elizondo (bottom right) worked together online to create a scene for the film.

Aesthetics were hugely important to Kalbfleisch, who taught art history and worked in museums and culture. She also wanted the video to convey the message of the research in a nuanced way.

To find a host, she scoured her network, sending out requests to everyone she knew, and found Dani Elizondo last summer. “Dani connected to the issues of the film,” says Kalbfleisch, explaining that the two worked closely together to develop the collage look used in the film and to create Maia, its main character. Doing the animation took several months. “It was so laborious and time-consuming for Dani to do. The work she put into it was extraordinary,” says Kalbfleisch.

When Kalbfleisch presented the finished product, titled We were here from the start, to Caidi’s class in March, it inspired students to think about what’s called “arts-based knowledge translation” as another option in their information packages. It was also the first time that Caidi and Kalbfleisch had met in person despite having interacted virtually weekly for months.

The plan now is to use the film to raise awareness and complement other forms of research dissemination. Its target audience includes employers in STEM industries, immigrant settlement agencies who support newcomers, government officials and analysts who design immigration policy, and information professionals who work at the community and government level. General public.

In their study, Caidi and Muzaffar identified many intertwined issues that are sketched in the video. “Employers need to better understand their own hiring practices. Settlement workers are really well-meaning, but their goal is often to “find a job,” even if it’s not necessarily the right person,” says Kalbfleisch. “From an information point of view, something is broken in the transmission of information. This ignores the variety of contexts in which women operate.

While the film is rolling, Kalbfleisch is working on another project with Caidi, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, which examines COVID-19 vaccination and misinformation on digital platforms used by newcomers to Canada. .

With graduation fast approaching, Kalbfleisch is thrilled that her two daughters can watch her graduate. She is also looking forward to embarking on an exciting career. “Working on this project showed me that I could do more with these skills than working in an archive or a library,” she said. “I’m more open-minded about the type of opportunities I’m looking for than when I arrived.”