Just weeks into his position as vice-president (Research and International) at the University of Manitoba, B. Mario Pinto has a bold, ambitious vision for the institution’s future.
“I was attracted to the University of Manitoba because I want to work on global issues,” says Dr. Pinto, who brings a wealth of experience in academia and government to his new role. He references the university’s highly respected work in areas like maternal and child health and hopes to “deal with issues such as food insecurity, climate change and Indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights.”
Under Dr. Pinto’s leadership, researchers in a range of fields will work together under the rubric of social justice to advance the university’s four strategic priorities: health as a human right, climate action, advancing Indigenous achievement and reconciliation, and transforming the student learning experience.
Interdisciplinary approach to health and wellness
“With COVID, issues have come forward that are often connected to health disparities and social determinants of health, like domestic, sexual and youth violence, eating disorders and dealing generally with the mental health effects of isolation,” says Dr. Pinto. “These – and mental health and wellness in general – can be informed by research in the social sciences. The university has experts who are highly qualified in addressing these topics and others such as effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and incarceration of mothers on family units,” he adds.
Social sciences aren’t the only wells of academic expertise Dr. Pinto hopes to draw on. “I view a system where you have a confluence of the arts and sciences working together,” he says. “And that extends all the way to creative and performing arts. For example, I recognize the role of music and dance in Indigenous health – and health in general.”
With its Institute for Global Public Health, the University of Manitoba has already firmly established a reputation as leader in the field. “I hope that we will take that track record and expand it even further,” Dr. Pinto says. “Data acquisition and sharing are powerful tools.
“Findings can be applied to devising more effective tools for improving outcomes in both the developing world and at home,” he notes. “We hope to work together with Indigenous communities to deal with the lack of access to potable water and environmental contamination.
“Social scientists will play a pivotal part in changing behaviour,” says Dr. Pinto. “For example, a novel technology will only work if people actually use it, and social scientists have the expertise to determine whether intended users are likely to accept such tools.”
Another of the university’s longstanding strengths is its Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, which Dr. Pinto foresees as developing new and better methods for sustainable farming, protecting soil health and preventing the transmission of diseases from animals to humans. “We will develop smart agriculture, bringing together engineering, robotics and good agricultural practices with a view to improving health,” he explains. “On the Prairies, our backyard is an experimental lab where we can delve into some of these intervention strategies.”
Innovations with global impact
“Meaningful advances can be made on issues that affect all of us now – and for generations to come – by applying cutting-edge research and techniques,” he says. “There are technological developments that are incredibly powerful.”
Taking action on adapting to global heating and also mitigating its impact, Dr. Pinto envisions “big data mining, data engineering and artificial intelligence coming together to make innovations for water management, design of resilient cities and more robust systems for rural populations, given the drastic weather events the world is experiencing.”
Sharing the truth
One of Dr. Pinto’s goals is to work in partnership with Indigenous communities and weave Indigenous ways of knowing and doing into the fabric of the university, its research and curricula. “How do we make this part of the way we go about our business and not just an add-on agenda item?” he says. “The challenge is to listen to Indigenous voices and not just hear them.”
An area that has seen significant strides towards achieving reconciliation is addressing racism in health care in the province.”Very few people want to talk about it, but the University of Manitoba is actually doing something to address it,” says Dr. Pinto.
This involves not just alerting medical and health services students to racism’s existence but also “educating them about how one deals with racism and how one deals with unconscious bias,” he explains. “These are important tools for both students and faculty.”
The University of Manitoba is home to one of Canada’s longest-established departments of Indigenous studies and host to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. However, Dr. Pinto emphasizes, “I don’t take for granted that people know the history of colonization, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop or the Indian Act. I think the onus is on us to educate students and faculty.”
Dr. Pinto proposes to extend this climate of openness and respect “to diverse perspectives in general.
“We have to realize that if we’re going to solve some of these global issues, we have to listen to diverse voices across the entire spectrum,” he says. “It’s easy to talk about pluralism but difficult to give up singularity of thought.”
B. Mario Pinto Vice-President (Research and International) at the University of Manitoba
" In today’s world of extreme geopolitical events, it’s particularly important that students have an understanding of history, economics, political science, and different ideologies and cultures. For example, the history of NATO and the Warsaw Pact is key to understanding the Russia-Ukraine war. We want to train ethically literate students, and ethically literate global citizens.