Laura Gutierrez Funderburk (L) and Anne Peirce (R)


Education as empowerment: students turn to education for healing

September 24, 2019

By Karin Pokrishevsky

Undergraduate students Laura Gutierrez Funderburk and Anne Peirce harnessed their SFU education to find healing while extending support to others in need. Their resilience and dedication to the SFU community have earned them SFU’s 2019 Terry Fox Gold Medal Award.

Gutierrez Funderburk and Peirce will be awarded a $5,000 prize, a gold medal and a plaque at this year’s Terry Fox Run/Walk on Sept. 27 at the Burnaby campus. The Terry Fox Gold Medal is awarded for demonstrating the qualities of courage in adversity and dedication to society which have been exemplified by Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope.

Gutierrez Funderburk, who is in the last year of her undergraduate studies toward a BSc in mathematics, has spent the past 13 years in counselling, learning to deal with challenges resulting from a traumatic childhood. But it was at SFU that she discovered a healing passion for research in mathematics and health sciences.

“As a student at SFU I have been profoundly fortunate to find supportive mentors and people with whom I’ve been able to give back to the community,” says Gutierrez Funderburk. She devotes considerable time to extracurricular activities on and off campus, including outreach work with First Nations peoples and work supporting cancer research at SFU.

“I look forward to contributing knowledge toward the intersection of human health, mathematics, programming and social justice.”

Peirce, who fled her abusive family home and spent three years living in foster homes, also turned to education as a source of healing and support.

While studying toward a BA in psychology with a minor in counselling and human development, Peirce was sexually assaulted. She later discovered that she had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When the PTSD became unmanageable, she withdrew from classes for several semesters.

Eventually, she took refuge at Covenant House in Vancouver, a homeless shelter for youth, where she found external help to tackle her PTSD. In 2016, she returned to SFU stronger and ready to make a difference. Her goal: to help others in similar situations.

Today, Peirce works in two research labs on campus that promote social justice and individual well-being, and volunteers in programs that support vulnerable youth and survivors of violence. She graduates this year and hopes to pursue a career in counselling psychology.

Says Peirce, “Inspired by heroes like Terry Fox, part of my coping is to connect with community and participate in collective action that can effect change bigger than I, alone, am capable of.”

Learn more about SFU’s Terry Fox Gold Medal Award.