Fashion modelling, scholarships pay for science degree

May 26, 2005, vol. 33, no. 3
By Carol Thorbes



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At first, it is difficult to see past Sonia Stastny's uncommon beauty. The Simon Fraser University graduand's stylish appearance, cultured manner and sophisticated carriage are more characteristic of a model than a scientist.

Stastny has graced the pages of glamorous fashion catalogues, magazine photo essays and catchy billboards promoting Christmas shopping at Oakridge Mall.

“I've had a few strangers come up to me and say: ‘You're the Oakridge girl,' says Stastny, who immigrated to Canada from Slovakia with her geologist parents a decade ago.

Since the age of 18, she has financed yearly trips to Europe, with lengthy stays in her favourite city, Paris, by modelling in Vancouver, Taiwan and Japan. But Stastny is more than a pretty face.

She came to SFU in 1998 on a $12,000 dean of science scholarship from SFU, after graduating from New Westminster secondary school with a Governor General's bronze medal for academic achievement.

Her sharp intellect - her cumulative grade point average is 3.97 - and passion for scientific discovery have kept the scholarships flowing at SFU. As a result, she is graduating with a bachelor of science degree in molecular and cell biology, debt-free.

Stastny has collaborated with high rollers in science at SFU. Canada Research Chair in molecular immunity Jamie Scott selected Stastny to work in her lab on HIV research.

One of two research projects Stastny did for biologist Margo Moore involved pioneering the development of a molecule that could prevent a potentially deadly fungus from surviving in human plasma.

The other project resulted in Stastny and Moore examining how microbial degradation threatens the conservation of valuable and ancient artifacts, archival material and stone monuments.

A true Renaissance woman, Stastny is fluent in French, has taught English as a second language in Paris, and is an accomplished painter learning to play the piano on top of her scientific career.

Stastny sometimes surprises people she meets. Customers at the Orange Room, a funky New Westminster restaurant where she works, tell her she could be a model.

“When I mention I am a molecular biologist,” laughs Stastny, “you can see their jaw drop. And then I talk about modelling and living in Paris and they're completely blown away.”

Noting that Vancouver's modelling scene is quite conservative - preferring long-haired models - Stastny, who recently cut loose her luxurious tresses, reflects, “I think modelling has served its purpose.”

The young Renaissance woman looks forward to expanding her horizons. She plans to take art courses and travel Europe again before tackling graduate studies in art restoration and molecular biology at a European or a U.S. university.

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