Setting the Standard

May 29, 2003, vol. 27, no. 3

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SFU Celebrates Academic Performance

Margaret Johnson: Rob Klassen:
Jordan Tesluk:
Carlene Van Tongeren:

Margaret Johnson: Governor General's Gold Medal
By Howard Fluxgold

Margaret Johnson's chance meeting with Nobel prize winner Kurt Wuthrich has led to postdoctoral studies with the Nobel prize-winning chemist at his San Diego laboratory.

Johnson graduates in June from the department of molecular biology and biochemistry with a doctorate in biochemistry recording the highest grade point average in the school of graduate studies, 3.97 out of 4.00, earning her the Governor General's gold medal.

Her nominator's letter says Johnson “is the most talented graduate student that I have supervised in my career of 19 years.”

Johnson will take up her work with Wuthrich, who shared the 2002 Nobel prize in chemistry with two other scientists, at the Scripps Research Institute in August, supported by an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship.

She met Wuthrich last fall after he spoke at SFU and subsequently he invited her to continue her research at his San Diego laboratory. “Wuthrich gives you the freedom to work on your own ideas,” says the Burnaby South high school alumna.

Johnson says she likes the interdisciplinary approach to scientific research that she employed while working with her thesis supervisor, chemistry professor Mario Pinto. “I was able to bring my understanding of biology and chemistry to bear on research into vaccines and drugs for diabetes and cancer,” she explains.

Johnson has already published 10 articles in scientific journals and is preparing three more for submissions.

Rob Klassen: Governor General's Gold Medal
By Carol Thorbes

A perfect cumulative grade point average (4.0 out of 4.0 in graduate studies) was just one of the academic feats that earned Rob Klassen a Governor General's gold medal this spring.

The flurry of praise generated by the White Rock resident's doctoral thesis in educational psychology also made judges take notice.

Klassen's thesis demonstrated that cultural and developmental factors may play a much greater role in how youths view their self-efficacy (beliefs about capacity to succeed in a particular subject) than previously thought.

“Most research in education and psychology makes the tacit assumption that principles and theories on self-efficacy are universally applicable, regardless of cultural and developmental factors,” notes Klassen.

His work as a school psychologist during the last 10 years in Surrey and England made him curious about how cultural background impacts perceptions of individualism, collectivism and motivational beliefs, such as self-efficacy.

While still working full time, Klassen researched the individual and collective self-efficacy in mathematics of 300 Grade 7 students from Indo-Canadian and Anglo-Canadian backgrounds.

He found that perceived parental expectations and fear of failure weighed more heavily in the Indo-Canadian group's perception of self-efficacy than the other group's.

Klassen, a Burnaby central secondary school graduate, is currently examining the learning disability-related beliefs and practices of schoolteachers and psychologists in Western Australia.
He has published four articles on his research.

Jordan Tesluk: Governor General's Silver Medal
By Stuart Colcleugh

When most of us ponder crime we think of car thieves, burglars, drug offenders and other common felons.

But Jordan Tesluk is more interested in corporate criminals - the ones who directly or indirectly cause as much death, devastation and financial ruin as all other criminals combined, according to some estimates.

“I'm particularly interested in workplace transgressions that aren't always prosecuted as seriously as other crimes,” says this year's Governor General's silver medal winner, who is graduating with a BA in criminology and a 4.22 cumulative GPA, just shy of the 4.33 maximum.

That includes employee crimes like inventory theft and injury insurance fraud, says the Victoria native and Oak Bay high school graduate who begins his masters in criminology at SFU next fall. But the most damaging - and least punished - violations are typically executive-level crimes, he says, like embezzlement, stock manipulation, pollution and occupational health and safety violations.

Tesluk's interest in corporate criminology was reinforced during his highly praised three-month practicum with the West Coast Environmental Law agency. But he says his nine-year work history with tree-planting contractor Zanzibar Holdings has also played a role. He was instrumental in developing Zanzibar's health and safety program, of which he is the director, and the company's employee dispute resolution program.

SFU criminology undergraduate director, Gail Anderson, describes Tesluk as an “excellent speaker and a conscientious, creative young scholar.” Citing his 23 A+ grades spanning a variety of disciplines, she says, “We rarely see superlative academic accomplishments in our field and related fields, where A+ grades are a rarity.”

That's high praise for someone who began his academic career with a criminal justice diploma from Langara College, thinking that would be it. “I didn't really think I'd make much of a student,” says Tesluk, who plans to eventually complete his PhD in criminology.

Carlene Van tongeren: Gordon Shrum gold Medal
By Marianne Meadahl

On the track, they are SFU's fastest couple.

But running aside, Carlene and Chad Van Tongeren are setting their own pace, with a time out to celebrate two firsts - completion of the first leg of their academic journeys, and their first wedding anniversary.

There is icing on the cake too. Carlene, who graduates this spring, is receiving one of SFU's highest student honours, the prestigious Gordon Shrum gold medal, given to the best all-round student. The award acknowledges her high academic achievement and her devotion to both SFU and the community.

“I don't set out to achieve awards,” admits the middle-distance runner, who last year received the prestigious National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes (NAIA) A.O. Duer award for athletic and academic achievement and community service. The recipient is chosen from more than 300 North American universities. “I just try to live my life a certain way. They just seem to follow.”

Carlene's positive and determined approach spawns success both on and off the track. Captain of SFU's track and field team for the past three years, she is a four-time NAIA All American and B.C. Athletics junior cross country athlete of the year.

Her academic track record is equally impressive, with a grade point average just shy of 4.0 and honour roll status for three years running. The psychology major plans to move her focus at the graduate level from sport psychology to relationship counselling.

Her professors note her winning personality. Adds psychology professor Dennis Krebs: “What is impressive is that she has achieved academic honours while making a full commitment to a sport in which she has also achieved top honours.”

Beyond sport and studies, Carlene has found time for other contributions. She and best friend Brita Main approached SFU's dean of student services with an idea to create an outreach workshop for Grade 12 students coming to SFU, which is now in practice. She also speaks to youth groups on the role of women in sport. She continues to pursue her other loves of acting, dancing and singing and originally came to Vancouver from Oak Bay to audition for roles.

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