Lakehead University Alumni Magazine

Faculty Profile: A Strong Start

Tracey Skehan
Published February 09, 2014
Above: Students at McKellar Park School in Thunder Bay
Ed Rawana
Professor Ed Rawana

Ed Rawana believes that youngsters can conquer challenges at home or at school, if they have faith in themselves.

Rawana is a psychology professor and director of the Centre for Education and Research on Positive Youth Development. His insight was the genesis of the Strengths Assessment Inventory (SAI) – a questionnaire pinpointing competencies valued by both the individual and society. Competencies range from having a sense of humour to being good at basketball.

The SAI is used provincially and nationally by teachers, mental health professionals, social workers, substance abuse counselors, and parents to identify the strengths of 10 to 18-year-olds. "We find that kids are embracing it because it gives them hope," Rawana says.

Rawana collaborated with the Centre's research director and Lakehead social work professor Keith Brownlee to develop this 124-item inventory pinpointing assets in family life, school, friendships, recreational activities, and other areas.

"We find that kids are embracing it because it gives them hope."
- Ed Rawana, Strengths Assessment
Inventory Creator

Since 2010, the SAI has been used across Ontario, as well as nationally, by teachers, mental health professionals, social workers, substance-abuse counselors, and parents.

Barb Eccles and Bruce Holm with Lakehead's Economic Development and Innovation Office (EDIO) were instrumental in getting the two researchers to this stage.

Young student in a green jersey rotating a basket ball in the air with the fingers of her right hand
This youngster knows her strengths on and off the court

"Ed and Keith initially came to us for assistance securing grant money to assess the SAI's validity," says Eccles. In addition, the EDIO helped them draft their business plan, protect their intellectual property, incorporate the company, and set up the SAI Assessment Services website where people can purchase the test online.

The SAI is not only transforming the lives of children, it is poised to enhance Northwestern Ontario's economic well-being. "They are quite unique," Eccles says, "because it's a start-up company that already has revenue."

The company will soon require full-time professionals to market, administer, and interpret the SAI. Growth is also on the horizon as SAI Assessment Services gets ready to launch new versions of the inventory for postsecondary students and younger children.

Brownlee and Rawana have also been working closely with local schools for several years to promote a pro-social environment and reduce bullying. In June 2013, they made news when they became the first Lakehead University researchers to win a Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The $197,000 grant, backed by three regional school boards, will allow the professors to explore how culturally diverse schools incorporate strengths-based approaches.

A JK teacher, Rawana recalls, asked her students to imagine a strength as a light in a house, so the more lights there are, the brighter the house. "One boy came up to me beaming and said, 'Dr. Rawana do you know what my light is?'"

Barb Eccles is delighted with the SAI's success and wants to help other researchers shine their light. Any Lakehead faculty thinking about commercializing an invention can draw on the EDIO's resources. "We're here to travel the road with them – sometimes we drive the car and sometimes we sit in the back seat."

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