From the beginning of her academic career in Recreation and Leisure Studies (RLS), Lindsay Kalbfleisch (BA '15, MA '17) had a great interest in marginalized groups and their well-being. She was highly motivated to participate in applied research that could have social justice implications and lead to improved quality of life.
So when she started her career at Greo Evidence Insights, a non-profit knowledge translation and exchange organization with a long history of preventing and addressing gambling harms internationally, she brought that mindset and her recreation background to explore gambling and its impact on society.
At Greo, Kalbfleisch's starting position as knowledge broker opened opportunities for her to understand what gambling harm is, how it impacts populations, communities and vulnerable groups, and how those impacts could be prevented and addressed.
“I know that what people choose to do in their free time can impact their lives,” she says.
Gambling harm can negatively affect even those who do not have gambling addictions. “The research shows gambling at any level can be harmful – socially, financially – and can lead to relationship breakdown,” explains Kalbfleisch. “There is also a strong connection between gambling harm and suicide.”
Having been a part of the Greo team for six years now, Kalbfleisch has undertaken several roles leading to her current position as director of stakeholder engagement, where she supports various stakeholders, clients and partners to make evidence-based improvements to their policies, programs and practices across gambling and other related issues.
“I love that I am working in a space that supports the movement of academic research into practice,” she says.
The impact of leisure on our well-being
During her master’s research, Kalbfleisch, alongside supervisor Dr. Steven Mock, explored the experiences of 2SLGBTQ+ individuals and how they engage with the community and in leisure. Specifically, she sought to understand the relationships between sexuality, gender and sport participation patterns.
“At the time, statistics on sexual orientation weren’t publicly available, but she went above and beyond to get clearance to access the data she needed on gay and lesbian adults’ participation in sports,” Mock says. “I’ve always admired her creativity and motivation to bridge the gaps between academic and theoretical work and the real world.”
He adds that working with Greo is a perfect fit for her. “In RLS, we seek out research opportunities with community partners and do work that is informed by their needs. Gambling harm is a leisure phenomenon that has an impact on peoples’ well-being.”
Worthwhile work experiences
During her undergraduate studies, Kalbfleisch had inspiring co-op experiences at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto and St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, followed by a position as research assistant working with Dr. Margo Hilbrecht and Dr. Bryan Smale at the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) that extended from undergrad into her graduate studies.
“This was one of the first times I took a course on social determinants of health, looking at how factors like income, education, sexual orientation and ethnocultural background can all contribute to your experience of belonging and well-being,” she explains.
As a graduate student, Kalbfleisch also took on a research assistant role as part of a longstanding project that explored women’s experiences re-entering the community after being in prison. She worked with Dr. Heather Mair to evaluate the Stride program, which links trained volunteers with women who are incarcerated to provide practical and social support throughout their reintegration.
“Lindsay looked at the stigmatization associated with re-entering the community and what could be done to enhance these women’s experiences,” says Mock. “She has a running theme of doing meaningful, impactful work.”
Kalbfleisch was heavily involved with data collection and analysis and connected with women still in prison and those who were already living in the community to better understand their needs and experiences.
“Facets of my current role bump into what I learned there – program evaluation, implementation and design,” says Kalbfleisch. “Skills I developed during my co-op placements – presenting at conferences, facilitating focus groups, interpreting and reporting on data – they set me up for what I do now.”
The value of networking
Kalbfleisch also prepared for her career by building and maintaining relationships with her supervisors, professors, colleagues and other students at Waterloo. She says it’s one of the most valuable things she left with.
After graduating and starting a family, Kalbfleisch contacted Hilbrecht, her former supervisor and mentor at CIW, who had moved to Greo. Hillbrecht urged Kalbfleisch to apply.
“There are multiple connections in the RLS department that have supported my work,” says Kalbfleisch. “Having these people as mentors, teachers and resources has been amazing and a crucial influence in my career.”
Kalbfleisch also kept a strong relationship with Mock, who added gambling to his research portfolio after bridging his interests in older adult leisure with his connection at Greo. He began a secondary analysis on the impact of gambling on mid- versus later-life and found that problem gambling had more severe consequences on those in their middle stages of life than those in retirement.
“Steve and I still work together and look for opportunities to overlap our work. He’s an important person and mentor to me, still.”