The road less taken to earning a degree

May 29, 2003, vol. 27, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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When Jagdeep Poonian (left) encapsulates his years of student life for his convocation address, the result will bear some nontraditional features of the typical road to an SFU degree.

Instead of making that daily climb up the hill, for example, many of his classmates will recall their early morning rides to class on Skytrain. Poonian is one of 46 students who will be the first graduating class of the university's new Surrey campus. He is also one of six students who will speak at SFU's spring convocation ceremonies June 4-6.

With that in mind, Poonian's reflections on achieving a degree will be coloured with “the unique experiences” they shared in Surrey. “We've learned how to be adaptable and flexible,” says Poonian, of the transition students faced after SFU opened the campus, formerly the Technical University of B.C. “In some ways we were tested by this process, but we are stronger because of it,” he says. Poonian, who delivers his address on Thursday afternoon, will receive a bachelor of science degree in information technology and is continuing on with graduate studies in the field of bioinformatics and RNA secondary structure prediction, under SFU Surrey faculty member Kay C. Wiese.

Like Poonian, each of the student convocation speakers is carrying on with academia. Kim vander Woerd, the first of the speakers with her June 4 morning address, will receive her master of arts degree in psychology, but her PhD research is already well under way. Vander Woerd's ongoing and extensive study of the health and well-being of aboriginal high school dropouts in Alert Bay has earned her several research grants. They include a four-year scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, a B.C. Health Research Foundation studentship as well as doctoral scholarships from the Canadian Institute for Health Research.

Vander Woerd, who is a member of the Namgis band, plans to speak to her graduating class about the core values that encapsulate empowerment, from an aboriginal perspective.

Krysta Ryz may have majored in business, but her next stop is expected to be medical school. Ryz, who will speak at Friday morning's ceremony, minored in molecular biology and biochemistry while pursuing her bachelor of business administration degree. “I have always been interested in medicine, but when I came to university I wanted to explore other areas,” says Ryz, noting that she has “come full circle” through her studies. She is now waiting for word from two top medical schools.

Now that Amber Louie has completed a bachelor's degree in arts, majoring in economics, she is eyeing the interdisciplinary master's program at UBC. Louie, who will speak at Thursday morning's ceremony, hopes to study the impact of labour market change and psychosocial working conditions on health in B.C.'s health care sector. “It won't end there,” she says of her academic pursuits. Louie will aim for doctoral studies and sees an ongoing role for herself in the academic world. “Not everyone is heading for graduate school, but we're all pursuing something,” she says, noting that her address will be “definitely future minded.”

Meanwhile, she will continue to work as a research assistant in the community partnerships health research program at the centre for clinical epidemiology and evaluation.

Amber Dean defended her master's thesis in women's studies last fall and has been teaching since then at North Island college in Courtenay. She returned to Vancouver to take a job with West Coast LEAF (legal education and action fund) where she is coordinating a sexual assault peer education program for grades 7-12 students, and will continue to teach at Capilano College in September. She is currently working on a research project involving the experiences of young women in conflict with the law. Dean will talk about the importance of contributing to social change when she delivers her address on Wednesday afternoon.

Roy Wilds will follow his academic love for applied mathematics all the way to McGill University, now that he has earned a bachelor of science degree, with honours in mathematical physics. Wilds recently placed 10th out of 104 competitors in Canada in the 2003 Canadian Association of Physicists physics competition. Currently completing a co-op work term with the ministry of defence in Ottawa, he'll return to campus to deliver the final address to science graduands on Friday afternoon, targeting the role of science and the impact of discoveries on society.

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