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We are thankful to work with a team of talented and inspiring students.

Read more about them below.  

Rob Linkedin.jpeg

Robert Colonna

4th year PhD Candidate

Robert is a final-year Ph.D. Candidate in the field of Health Promotion at Western University under the mentorship of Dr. Alvarez. He is the coordinator for the national #DontDriveHigh project, which establishes youths' risk profiles for cannabis-impaired driving across Canada, and the #ImGonnaDoIt project, which explores user-generated social media discourse around cannabis and driving. 

Robert's research investigates using digital interventions to reduce risky cannabis use and impaired driving among Canadian youth. He is involved in many research and leadership initiatives within the road safety community. He is on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals and is the current Chair of their Young Professionals' Committee. He also works as a Research Assistant at the Public Health Agency of Canada.


Funding: Ontario Graduate Scholarship

April Vander Veen

3rd year PhD student

April Vander Veen began her doctoral studies under the supervision of Dr Liliana Alvarez in 2020. April completed her MSc in Occupational Therapy at Western University and has been practicing as an Occupational Therapist since 2011. Clinically, April has worked on the Integrated Stroke Unit at Grand River Hospital since 2013. In this time, she co-developed the Practice Resource for Driving After Stroke (PReDAS), a resource to support the clinical reasoning and practice of health professionals for addressing driving in acute stroke care. April’s research interests include stroke and return to driving, with a focus on fitness to drive practice among occupational therapists, and understanding the client perspective of driving after stroke, particularly among women less than 55 years of age.

Funding: Ontario Graduate Scholarship


Shabnam Medhizadah

2nd year PhD student

Shabnam Medhizadah is a 2nd year PhD student in the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences program in the field of occupational science, under the mentorship of Dr. Alvarez. She completed her Master of Science in the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences program at Western University in 2016. Shabnam is currently a fellow and member of the core editorial team of OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health.

Shabnam's emerging scholarly work has focused on examining the fitness to drive of medically at-risk drivers and providing evidence-informed screening tools, assessments and/or interventions. Her research interests also include the social determinants of community mobility, and the influence of transportation policies on the participation of vulnerable populations.

Funding: Ontario Graduate Scholarship

Melissa Knott

Final year PhD Candidate

Melissa is a final year PhD Candidate in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, in the Occupational Science field at Western University. She previously completed her Masters in Occupational Therapy at Western University and has practiced as an Occupational Therapist and a Canadian Certified Life Care Planner for the past 12 years. She completed her BSc in Kinesiology with the Neurobehavioural Assessment Option, at the University of Waterloo. Melissa is currently the Assistant Editor for OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health, and she served a term as an elected Graduate Student Senator at Western University. She is a Mentor with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of London and Area and serves on the Board of Directors with L’Arche London.


Melissa’s current research focuses on driving performance of shift workers experiencing insufficient sleep and interventions to address the impacts of driving-related anxiety. Melissa is supervised by Dr. Sherrilene Classen (University of Florida), and is mentored on-site by Dr. Alvarez.


Funding: Ontario Graduate Scholarship

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