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Creating more inclusive STEM education: Meet 2024 Outstanding Alumni Award winner Poh Tan

March 13, 2024

SFU is thrilled to honour Dr. Poh Tan with an Outstanding Alumni Award in the Rising Star category for her dynamic and impactful work to develop true cultural inclusivity in teaching science.

Poh is an award-winning entrepreneur, stem cell biologist and educator. As founder of STEMedge Inc, she has advised on educational outreach for many prominent local organizations including BC Hydro’s Power Smart for School’s program. She is also a two-time TEDx speaker, a long-term volunteer at Vancouver’s Science World and a researcher at Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association.

Poh’s enduring relationship with SFU began as an undergraduate, receiving a BSc in Animal Physiology in 2002. Following a doctorate in Experimental Medicine at UBC, she returned to SFU to pursue a PhD in Educational Theory and Practice, focusing her research on developing scientific literacy through diverse perspectives, including Indigenous Hawaiian epistemology.

She successfully completed her second PhD in 2024 and is also giving back to the university by mentoring students across SFU faculties.

What stands out as a major highlight of your career?

Moving into a career that I love and that I’m passionate about.

I think my biggest accomplishment was switching streams after the first PhD. It was scary because some people expected me to fail, asking why I was wasting my first degree or even saying that I would be financially poor for the rest of my life. It is not a waste, in fact, having both PhDs in virtually opposite disciplines has become a strength and unique identifier of my abilities and skills.  

The pivotal moment was when my children were born and I decided that I wanted to use my skills to leave the world a better place for my kids and other students.

I'm quite proud that I stood up to the naysayers to follow my values and my heart.

What is a piece of advice you would like to pass along to current students?

Be open to different learning opportunities. Even if you are studying a science, try taking a course on archaeology or poetry because you never know if you’ll like it or not.

Take the time to explore and don't be afraid to talk to administrators or professors. They are there to help you and want to see you succeed.

Take advantage of the co-op program. It’s where I discovered so much value in establishing my network and finding mentors. I also tell my students that it is a place where it is okay to make “mistakes,” learn from them and grow. The co-op coordinator or the company might also see your potential and offer you a job when you graduate.

What does success mean to you?

Success means being loved by those who share my values, and who are there to pick me up at my lowest moments so I can continue forward in my journey. Success also means living a healthy and fulfilled life, and being surrounded by community who have become your family.

We are thrilled to present the 2024 Outstanding Alumni Awards at an in-person event on Burnaby Campus April 24, 2024.

Save the date and join the excitement—all alumni and community members are welcome! Early bird tickets will be made available through the Outstanding Alumni Awards website.