Top 40: Sarah Dow-Fleisner
Kirk Penton - Jun 26, 2020 - People in Business

Photo: Contributed

Okanagan Edge and the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce are partnering to showcase some of the region’s most exciting entrepreneurs through the “Top 40 Under 40” program.

Sponsored by BDO, the “Top 40 Under 40” recognizes high-achieving professionals in our community and showcases their accomplishments. This marks the sixth year the chamber has conducted a “Top 40” showcase. Honourees will be featured throughout the year on Okanagan Edge.


Sarah Dow-Fleisner’s research career began in 2007 as a clinical research co-ordinator in the Massachusetts General Hospital, Center for Addiction Medicine where she worked with adolescents in outpatient addiction treatment and was part of a research project examining pathways to recovery for youth.

Dow-Fleisner then began her graduate education at Tufts University, which included working with the Massachusetts Healthy Families Evaluation study, a mixed methods research project focused on coping among at-risk young mothers. These experiences led her to pursue her doctoral degree, which culminated in her dissertation examining resilience among children experiencing maternal depression.

Dow-Fleisner is currently an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at UBCO, where her research explores positive adaptation in the context of adversity, and the interplay of risk and protective factors. In the Central Okanagan, she is working on a number of projects, including co-leading a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant with Dr. Susan Wells that is focused on the organizational climate, approach to practice and outcomes for youth involved with delegated Indigenous child welfare agencies.

Additionally, Dow-Fleisner is co-leading a Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant that is partnering with a local school district to better understand how programs and polices can reduce vaping among youth. These projects are aimed at providing actionable evidence that can be used to improve efforts that support effective practice supporting youth.

Dow-Fleisner currently co-leads a major SSHRC and CIHR grant, under which she provides mentorship to multiple undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to this, Dow-Fleisner co-supervises three graduate students on various projects and is involved on two additional thesis committees. As an assistant professor, Dow-Fleisner has had the privilege of teaching two master of social work graduate courses at UBCO, where she led two cohorts of 30 students to better understand the importance of research and evidence-based practice.

“Prof Dow–Fleisner is an excellent teacher and a passionate researcher,” one student said. “Her high expectations were refreshing and motivating. I learned so much (by doing, rather than observing) in this course. This allowed me to generate work I can feel proud of, and to feel more confident in my ability to read and apply research to my future practice.”

As a leader in the classroom, Dow-Fleisner’s goal is to provide a foundation from which students can take ownership of their learning and strive to become autonomous, life-long learners.

Dow-Fleisner currently sits on the Canadian Underage Substance Use Prevention Trial Local Advisory Group, which provides feedback for a CIHR funded study to prevent adolescent risk behaviours that can lead to drug and alcohol misuse. She is also part of the UBCO Centre for the Study of Services to Children and Families, which is a Canada Foundation for Innovation-funded centre that is dedicated to identifying the differential effectiveness of child welfare interventions for diverse Canadian populations and supporting the implementation of these services.

As part of the UBCO School of Social Work, Dow-Fleisner volunteers for a number of community projects, including a yard revitalization for a local recovery centre in Kelowna. Along with students, staff and other faculty, they reach out to a local centre and help to refinish a patio deck, plant new trees and provide landscaping.

Dow-Fleisner holds a PhD in social work from Boston College, a master of arts in child development with a focus on clinical developmental psychology from Tufts University, and a bachelor of science in child development and a bachelor of arts in psychology from Colby-Sawyer College.

Q&A with Sarah Dow-Fleisner (conducted May 20)

How are you currently approaching the current situation?  

As a social work researcher, I’ve turned to the evidence to manage the current situation. While our knowledge of COVID-19 is constantly emerging, the research on positive adaptation, or resilience, in the context of disaster has a lot to offer. Maintaining social connections, establishing routines and engaging in positive health behaviours like hiking or baking are important for ongoing health and well-being. This means I spend quite a bit of time video conferencing with family and friends, eating a lot of homemade baked goods and enjoying the Kelowna hiking trails.

What is your favourite quote?  

One of my favourite quotes relates to my working examining adaptation in the context of adversity, but also fits well given the impact of the pandemic.

“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.” — Viktor Frankl

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