Swenson's efforts awarded

Jul 11, 2002, vol. 24, no. 6
By Stuart Colcleugh



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Sara Swenson is winner of the C.D. Nelson Memorial prize, given annually to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the SFU community outside the academic sphere.



It's 3:15 p.m. and Sara Swenson is more interested in her kids' after-school whereabouts than talking about her C.D. Nelson Memorial prize, given annually to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the SFU community outside the academic sphere.

“My daughter's checked in, but my two boys are still on the loose,” says the physicist and senior research grants facilitator at SFU's centre for systems science (CSS), just as one of the boys phones in. “Hi, where are you? 5:30? Okay … be there.”

It's clear this is a can-do woman who likes her ducks in a row. Both qualities have served her well during a 20-year career as an educator and administrator, motivating legions of students - particularly young women - to consider science and technology careers.

“She has had a consuming interest in (science) outreach,” says Bruce Clayman, VP-research, who nominated Swenson for the Nelson prize, named after the university's first head of biological sciences.

As a past president and active volunteer in the non-profit Society for Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST), she participates in virtually all of the group's programs.

“She has spent countless hours … doing demonstration shows, setting up open house events for both SFU and UBC, conducting teachers' workshops, doing hands-on activities for children, running summer camps, and promoting science in every possible venue,” says Clayman.

As a grants facilitator for the past five years, Swenson has also generated large increases in both the number and the monetary amount of research grants, often working well beyond normal business hours, says Clayman.
Swenson credits her mother, a retired biochemistry professor, for igniting her passion for science outreach. “She was a great role model,” says Swenson.

As for her $500 prize, to be spent on artwork - Swenson and her husband, SFU physicist Simon Watkins, are looking for a Native piece.
“It's a real treat,” she says. “I would never spend that kind of money on art otherwise.”

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