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The 2021 BSA Awards winners, from students to our Exceptional Online Delivery Award recipient

Updated: Mar 27, 2022

In our third year of offering recognition awards at the University of Calgary Biology Students’ Association, we reflected on whether there were areas students did remarkable work in we were not celebrating. This led to the creation of an additional award open to all Biological Sciences undergraduate students, the BSA Advocacy Award. We also realized we were in times of uncertainty and much adjustments and wanted to recognize professors' dedication to rewarding lectures despite online schooling. We hence created the Exceptional Online Delivery Award which worked differently than our usual BSA Awards, receiving student nominations to select a winner instead of applications. We highlight below the individuals who won our awards this year, including the two mentioned above we introduced this time around! Read on for the achievements of our fellow Biological Sciences students and the profile of an amazing professor that earned them our recognition!

Advocacy Award: Kandace Peroramas

Kandace is a fifth-year Biological Sciences student with an embedded certificate in Mental Wellbeing and Resilience. As a dedicated mental health advocate, she shared her personal experience with major depressive disorder and is involved in initiatives that seek to spread awareness and engage underrepresented communities. Kandace is a Canadian Mental Health Association peer mentor who has provided over 50 Calgarians with a safe space to talk and work toward recovery. As VP Outreach for the Student Mental Health Pros, she facilitated initiatives including a Black mental health panel. She founded the photo journal “Hold Space YYC”, spending over 50 hours engaging the Asian community and communicating their mental health stories. This initiative has allowed her to gain insight into Asian perspectives of mental health and tackle mental health stigma. Kandace was also involved in planning Outrun the Stigma 2020, which raised $14,000 for local mental health resources. To Kandace, advocacy means being educated on what you are passionate about, being a listener and ally to those you support, and using both your actions and your voice. Her favourite part about what she does is seeing her peers go on their recovery journeys, which she finds very admirable and inspiring. She has received messages from around the world saying that she has inspired and encouraged others to talk about mental health and their own recoveries.

Community Involvement Award: Brooklynn Fernandes

Brooklynn is going into her fourth year in the Biological Sciences program. As she has a close relationship with her grandparents, Brooklynn has a keen interest in the elderly community. Her working grandfather needed help with the move to an online platform and this inspired her to co-found the non-profit organization What the Tech Calgary LTD in 2018. Their mission is to increase the digital literacy of the senior community by hosting free seminars that teach technology tips and tricks. In their three years of establishment, they have already impacted hundreds of Calgarians. She continues to impact the community by volunteering in the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) where she helps seniors battling delirium and comforts dementia patients. Her community involvement extends beyond volunteerism as she brings awareness to the senior healthcare system through academia. Brooklynn authored a scientific paper on dementia within primary care and is currently co-president of the University of Calgary Journal Club. Through her efforts, she is bringing to light new research and getting others involved. She later became a student representative for the Alberta Association of Gerontology (AAG) where she was able to network with other individuals passionate about improving the lives of the elderly population. In addition to this, she works in the dementia unit of the Comfort Care Aid where she helps residents access meals and runs activities. Brooklynn hopes to pursue a career in medicine where she can continue her passion in gerontology.

Innovation Award: Naureen Othi

Naureen is a fourth-year student completing a combined degree in honours Cellular, Molecular and Microbial Biology and History. She is the winner of our innovation award for her work as part of the UCalgary club ENOVA. A huge problem in the oil and gas industry is the release of many greenhouse gases from methane leaks through various processes. Naureen worked to play a role in Canada’s mission to reduce those emissions as leader of ENOVA’s Methanolite project. Methanolite innovatively took the system of methanotrophy some microorganisms have, where they use methane as their source of carbon and energy, and applied it to this inquiry. That is the Methanolite team worked to simulate the methane monooxygenase enzyme that allows methanotrophs to metabolize methane; they created a copper zeolite catalyst that would fulfill its same function. The really neat thing is that in breaking down methane through this enzyme, or Methanolite’s simulation of it, methanol is produced, a product that can then be used in the production of many of our daily items. The Methanolite innovation was a finalist in the 2020 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge which earned it a $500 Biomimicry Institute Grant for prototyping. We applaud the creative approach to this pressing issue and the various hats Naureen put on for the success of her team.

Leadership Award: Bethany Chan

Bethany was a fourth year Cellular, Molecular and Microbial Biology student with a minor in Visual Arts. She has demonstrated extensive leadership through her involvement in several STEM-related initiatives on campus. As the VP of Events for the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) club, she represented WISE during outreach meetings and got corporations such as ENMAX and Accenture involved with events. She was responsible for quickly organizing WISE events to adapt to the online setting. Bethany also created original events for WISE, coming up with Career Spotlight Nights as a way of introducing STEM students to different career paths and opportunities. She also spearheaded the founding of Diversity and Inclusion Night to promote these values in academia and industry. Bethany is a co-founder of SciFUN U of C, allowing for students to perform science demonstrations to elementary school students. This year she successfully paired 44 volunteers with 23 classrooms in the Calgary area. Bethany believes that the best types of leaders are those who are willing to put in the work to help others succeed and set a good example for the team, while still being approachable and treating others as equal. She feels her work is rewarding because of the stories she leaves with and the connections she makes within the community that make her more understanding and aware of the community’s needs.

Resiliency Award: Karen Cobos Rodriguez

Karen has faced incredible hardship with grace and perseverance throughout her undergraduate career. She is a Zoology major entering her fourth and final undergraduate year this fall. Karen immigrated from Mexico, where she had to teach herself English and is a single mother of two young daughters (11 and 8 years old). Karen’s life tells the story of a woman who is bravely defying the expectations people set out for her. People doubted her ability to attend university, let alone succeed; saying that her dreams were unachievable. She showed unbelievable resilience as her GPA struggled in her first year because she was juggling a full university course load and a tough court battle for custody of her children. Karen was her own lawyer during those troubling times and had to spend time learning all the court procedures. Despite the disheartening academic outcomes of her first year, she gathered strength and changed her perspective where the focus was now on believing in herself. Karen saw how her life, goals, and happiness improved with this new mindset and it was positively impacting her academics as well. In the Fall 2020 semester, she achieved an impressive 3.74 GPA, something she used to think was unattainable. Karen dreams of going to medical school or pursuing a masters in neuroscience after she graduates. Alongside her two supportive “cheerleader” daughters, Karen is well on her way to fulfilling her dreams despite her difficult start.

Undergraduate Research Award: Brooklyn McDougall

Brooklyn was completing her Biological Sciences degree this past year. It is for her five-year span of research on stroke and pre-dementia that she is the winner of our undergraduate research award. The first two summers of her undergraduate degree, she dedicated herself to acute ischemic stroke research, working on determining better ways to characterize brain blood clots to facilitate optimized treatments for them. This led to Brooklyn being published for the first time in an academic paper, the American Journal of Neuroradiology, in 2019. In her pre-dementia research, she contributed to an investigation into the neurological biomarkers of transient ischemic attack patients along the five years after their attack. The goal of this inquiry was to better predict cognitive decline. Advancements from this research could allow for the development of treatments that slow or even reverse the impacts of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Brooklyn specifically was looking into whether iron acts as a biomarker for brain cell death. She played a hugely significant role in the project: processing patient MRI scans, extracting regional iron values from the scans, obtaining relevant statistics from each of the 350 patients and comparing the iron data of the TIA and control groups. This work resulted in Brooklyn then working on writing a paper as first author and presenting at an international neurology conference.

Exceptional Online Delivery Award: Dr. Chris Neufeld

Dr. Chris Neufeld
Photo by Goya Ngan

In the nominations we received for Dr. Neufeld, a recurring note was the high level of enthusiasm his lectures were delivered with. Students also highlighted that he often provided connections to their content in real-life, making lectures captivating and illuminating to them the worth of the various subjects they covered. Dr. Neufeld maximized his use of the online platforms, using their various features to enhance his students’ learning, this included finding ways to draw out concepts so they are better understood. In this period of continuous adjustment, Dr. Neufeld’s understanding and how he showcased it with flexibility, extending deadlines that were weighing on students, was invaluable to them. More than ever, we were also immensely grateful for our instructors being there for us, doing all they can to support us. It was clear that Dr. Neufeld was; opening up extra office hours, promptly answering emails and making time for and ensuring to answer all of students’ questions. We relayed to Dr. Neufeld a huge thank you from Winter 2021 BIOL 243 students for the amazing experience that were his lectures in the class. He is now an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia and the lead of the Kelp RESCUE (Resilient Coastal Underwater Ecosystems) Project at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre aimed at making advances to inform innovative approaches to kelp forest restoration. We rejoice in knowing that academic communities will continue to be positively impacted by Dr. Neufeld.

We were glad to celebrate highly dedicated students yet another year and to have got to recognize the outstanding efforts of a professor as well this year. May their stories also inspire and empower us to our best selves!

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