Aayush Sharma (left) and Inaara Ismail (right).

Two new FHS alumni highlight the rewards of getting involved

October 27, 2022

By: Geron Malbas

On October 6th, we excitedly welcomed the FHS class of 2022 to the alumni family. Two of these new alumni, Aayush Sharma and Inaara Ismail, tell us about their journeys through their undergraduate experiences.

Aayush Sharma

Bachelor of Science alumnus Aayush Sharma strived to positively impact his community by combining his curious personality with his academic passions. Considering himself to be an analytical person, he joined the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) to use his deductive skills to solve problems relating to health.

His goal to solve health-related problems did not come with ease, as he found himself challenged by the move to a university course load and increased difficulty from high school.

“I found that the level of dedication and difficulty of coursework was much higher than I was used to. The courses were challenging, starting from my first-year courses at the Surrey campus, and I spent long hours studying and preparing for exams,” he explains. “It was difficult because I had not yet figured out my studying strategies. As I took more courses, I figured out strategies that worked for me. In addition, I found the material more interesting as I became more acquainted with health sciences.”

Sharma makes a point to highlight the health science courses that invigorated his excitement in health sciences: HSCI 130 with Dr. Rochelle Tucker. He ultimately did a Directed Studies course with her which proved to be invaluable practice for his Master of Science work exploring intriguing research topics.

“We got an assignment where a hypothetical pathogen was released in the class, and our job was to calculate measures and figure out what was causing people to be more susceptible. This experience in HSCI 130 was unique, and increased my interest in Health Science courses,” he explains. “After doing a senior seminar with Dr. Tucker in my fourth year, I discussed doing a Directed Studies course with her. I wrote a literature review about the effect of gender and the built environment on childhood obesity. This gave me experience working one-on-one with a supervisor and putting in work to improve my understanding.”

Currently, in the FHS Master of Science program, Sharma is working under FHS professor Meghan Winters and her CHATR Lab studying 15-minute neighbourhoods and their applicability in the Canadian context. Reflecting on his time in the undergraduate program, he advises current and future students to determine their study strategies, and explore their interests.

“As someone who struggled at the start of university, it gets easier over time as you become used to the amount of dedication and commitment required for your school work with a solid study strategy,” he says. “Taking your time and finding courses that interest you, which will help you eventually find your way to something that genuinely interests you. SFU has many opportunities for students to excel, so take advantage!”

Inaara Ismail

From a young age, Bachelor of Sciences alumnus Inaara Ismail was drawn to improving the health and well-being of people. Inspired by a documentary on Florence Nightingale, she was pulled to her kindness, compassion, and innovative mind while working as a nurse during the Crimean War to improve the conditions of hospitals and improve the quality of care of patients.

“I was  inspired by her commitment to improving the health and well-being of others, and seeking to create change on a systemic level, while also combating societal prejudices towards women that were prevalent at the time,” she explains. “I initially pursued medical school due to my passion for improving the quality of life of all people. However, I discovered many other areas in health sciences to explore, like public health, health promotion, epidemiology, policy, ethics, and more.”

Inspired to help others, Ismail found herself interested in understanding social inequities and world issues, including climate change, poverty, and more. From this, she decided to complete two certificates: a Certificate in Sustainable Community Development, and a Certificate in Social Justice.

“I was captivated by a sociology course learning about new perspectives, as well as learning about social challenges/inequities and how to create and be a positive social change, so I completed the Certificate in Social Justice to expand my critical thinking skills and learn about the multiple contexts/factors that shape epidemics,” she explains. ”For the Certificate in Sustainable Community Development, I wanted to enhance my understanding of current world events/problems/inequities, such as climate change, poverty, unequal burdens of disease, and irresponsible consumption. Ultimately, the two certificates help me engage in initiatives and work that improve the quality of life of people.”

Ismail also completed an Honours project with Dr. Rochelle Tucker where she explored how gender is addressed within mental health resources that are provided by post-secondary institutions, and how it connects to students’ willingness to seek help.

“Exploring and paying attention to gender in a non-binary manner is incredibly important, as students that fall outside of the gender binary - such as non-binary, trans, genderfluid, genderqueer people - tend to be overlooked, despite experiencing a disproportionately higher level of mental health problems,” she explains. “Conducting focus groups helped me hear student perspectives on what they believe services for mental health at post-secondary schools should look like. For example, with virtual mental health resources, we saw challenges in lack of continuity, not having a safe space, as well as the struggle to express themselves. This helped me realize what research areas I’m passionate about and look forward to potentially exploring further in my graduate studies or career.”

With her undergraduate degree, Ismail plans to work with a health organization providing health and social care. She notes she is still engaged in community service and volunteer leadership roles and would like to gain more exposure to broader community service. As for advice for students, she encourages taking advantage of opportunities, services, and programs that are offered to them.

“Try to join student organizations and clubs, and participate in volunteer opportunities, it can feel so fulfilling to give back to your community, and is an amazing way to meet people whilst gaining new skills and experiences.”