Setting the Standard

May 30, 2002, vol. 24, no. 3

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Ashley Monks: Governor General's Gold Medal

By Roberta Staley

Ashley Monks (right) is this year's golden boy of grad students.

The straight-A student is winner of the Governor General's gold medal in graduate studies. “I really didn't expect to receive it,” Monks says from Michigan State University in East Lansing, where he is a post-doctoral fellow in the neuroscience program. “It's a wonderful honour,” adds the Montreal native, who attended high school at Lower Canada College.

The award is one of many Monks received during his graduate career at SFU. Earlier this year, he earned a 2002 Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (NSERC) prize worth $5,000 for his research on how the nervous system in adults changes in response to hormones. That topped a $38,000 NSERC grant he received two years earlier at the start of his PhD work.

Monks partly credits the collegiality of SFU for his success, as well as a mentorship with neuroscientist and associate professor Neil Watson. “There was an atmosphere of collaboration. The freedom to pursue ideas was encouraged,” says Monks, who did an undergrad psychology degree at Montreal's McGill University.

A Canadian Institutes of Health Research postdoctoral fellowship netted Monks $125,500 over a three-year period for postdoctoral work at MSU. Monks' exploratory research has branched off. He is now looking at the effect of hormones on nervous system development during pregnancy and after birth, as well as investigating potential methods of rescuing neurons from dying.

Monks expects to return to Canada to take up a permanent research position.

Dawn Mackey: Governor General's Silver Medal

By Julie Ovenell-Carter

Dawn Mackey (left) has been riding a wave of good news this semester. First, the 23-year-old kinesiology graduand received word that she'd won two prestigious - and lucrative - prizes: a Julie Payette/Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada scholarship, and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research masters trainee award.

A few weeks later, she learned her perfect grade point average had earned her SFU's top undergraduate award, the Governor General's silver medal.

The Nanaimo, B.C. native credits “the total support and encouragement of family, friends, and teachers” for her academic success. She also acknowledges SFU's “excellent co-op program” for steering her toward graduate school: “In particular, my third co-op placement, at the University of Queensland in Australia helped me realize how much I enjoyed research, and was an incredible growth experience for me personally.”

She urges other students to consider the benefits of a co-op degree, noting that “it might take a little longer, but the opportunity to discover what you like and don't like in a career and to build professional contacts is more than worth it.”

Mackey says she has “always worked to promote health and well-being,” and imagines a career where she can help shape public health policy. In the meantime, she will begin graduate studies at SFU this fall, focusing her research on fall prevention in the elderly. “I love the student lifestyle,” she laughs. “SFU is such a warm and welcoming environment. Where else can you be stuck on a hill with thousands of other people who share your passions and interests?”

Helen Augustin: Gordon Shrum Gold Medal

By Carol Thorbes

Helen Augustin (right), who lives in Kitislano, is a guardian angel to many impoverished children in Bahia, Brazil.

The Simon Fraser University graduand helps find Canadian foster parents for them through Street Angels, an international aid program. Foster parents contribute $35 a month so that Street Angels' children can escape child labour and finish elementary school.

Augustin's tireless dedication to this program, while earning high marks at SFU, has earned her this year's prestigious Shrum gold medal. The award, along with $500, is given to a student in any faculty who achieves academic excellence while demonstrating unselfish devotion to others.

Graduating with a joint major in communication and Latin American Studies, Augustin's grade point average (GPA) this semester was a perfect 4.33. Her cumulative GPA is 3.71.

Several events came together to steer Augustin towards voluntary international aid work.

Born into an immigrant family in Prince George, Augustin spoke primarily Slovenian before starting elementary school.

“I was laughed at by other kids and felt isolated as a child because my English was limited,” remembers Augustin. “I think I've always been sensitive to marginalized groups because of that experience.”

A love of languages, and trips to Cuba and Mexico sparked Augustin's interest in community-based development in Latin America. While working at Cominco Ltd., Augustin bought a plaster angel from a colleague.

Handpainted by young mothers and former street children in Street Angels, the ornaments inspired her to make a difference.

Augustin has spent $3,500 of her own money to travel to Brazil and work with the project's children. She also fosters one child. “I was lucky to be born in a country where basic education, clean water and health care are taken for granted,” says the graduate of Kelowna secondary school. “I feel a responsibility to in some way help people who, in many parts of the world, live without these things.”

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