Dilkinas form medal-winning sisterhood

May 27, 2004, vol. 30, no. 3
By Trina Ricketts

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When Katia Dilkina applied for the International Shrum scholarship to attend Simon Fraser University in 2000, she had doubts about receiving the award.

Her sister Bistra had come to SFU the year before on the same scholarship which is given to international students who have shown exceptional academic achievement.

“I was stunned when they gave me the scholarship after having accepted not simply another person from my country, or another person from the same college, but also another person from my family just the year before,” says the native of Bulgaria.

Based on their grades and drive, it comes as no surprise that Katia and Bistra were chosen to receive this highly competitive scholarship. Both sisters attribute much of their success to their parents' support and excellent example. Their father is a software engineer and their mother is a mathematics instructor at a well-reputed high school in Bulgaria.

“We were raised to have a strong work ethic and to perform at our best - whatever that happened to be,” says Katia of her parents. “They are very happy with and proud of our achievements. But it's a reciprocal relationship - we are also very happy and proud of them for their work and achievements.”

Katia and Bistra have achieved incredible academic success. On June 3, both sisters will graduate with two of the most prestigious undergraduate awards offered at SFU. Katia will receive the dean of arts convocation medal with a first class honours bachelor of arts degree in cognitive science.

And Bistra will receive the dean of applied sciences convocation medal with a first class honours degree in computing science and a cooperative education diploma.

These remarkable sisters have also both earned places on the dean's honour roll list every semester at SFU. Both have worked as research assistants and had their works published.

Bistra says of her work with Bill Havens at the Intelligent Systems Lab, “This was the most motivational experience of my undergraduate education.”

Katia's academic interests have spread her research work over three different departments - linguistics, psychology, and computing science. Both sisters come highly recommended by their professors and colleagues.

“I think we have both thrived on and were inspired by the dedication and successes of the other in her respective field,” says Bistra. “It is so much easier to work hard when you have such a hard working academic as Katia by your side. Her emotional support has also been critical.”

The sisters have led similar academic lives until now. But the future sees a parting of ways. In September Katia will begin her graduate studies in psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Although Bistra will remain in Vancouver for another year to continue working as a senior research scientist at the Actenum Corporation, she plans to make Ithaca, New York her home as a PhD student at Cornell University in the fall of 2005.

However, they are determined not to let physical distance weaken their strong bond.

Katia is philosophical about her own success. “There is always much more to one person's achievements than him- or herself,” she says. “There are the people who inspire.”

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