Science and Technology graduates take on the world
High-level research leads to post-graduate opportunities
Undergraduate students from Mount Royal’s Faculty of Science and Technology are standing out ― across the world. Recent alumni have been accepted into prestigious graduate programs in increasing numbers at a diverse range of institutions ― everywhere from Calgary to Montreal, Paris, Oulu and the Commonwealth of Dominica.
While Mount Royal may not offer graduate programs, physiology professor Trevor Day, PhD, says that one of the most important roles professors can play is to set students up for success after their undergraduate degree is complete. “Working with undergrads in high-impact, experiential learning contexts and including them in research and scholarship provides them with opportunities that are unique and novel that they likely would not get at larger institutions.”
Jonathan Withey, DPhil and dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, agrees. “Almost all of the students who have taken that next step into graduate programs have had an early research opportunity as an undergraduate student, and that mentorship from faculty and engagement in research has had a profound impact.” Withey also notes it’s impressive for a young university still building its reputation to be graduating students of this calibre.
Some of Mount Royal’s most ambitious young graduates from the Faculty of Science and Technology include:
Currently enrolled in: Master of Science — Protein Science and Biotechnology, University of Oulu, Finland
Evans Eshriew has been crisscrossing the globe in pursuit of his passion in structural biology. Born in Ghana, West Africa, Eshriew attended elementary school in the capital of Accra, then high school in central Ghana before enrolling at the University of Ghana where he studied agricultural science for two and a half years. He then moved to Calgary where he obtained his undergraduate degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology at MRU. Eshriew has now packed up and moved again ― this time to Oulu, a city of close to 200,000 inhabitants in northern Finland. It’s considered one of Europe’s “living labs,” where it’s common for residents to experiment with new technology on a community-wide scale. It seems an ideal place for Eshriew, whose goal is to complete a PhD in structural biology.
During his two-year master’s program, Eshriew hopes to learn the basics of protein science, explore Europe, complete his degree with good grades and collaborate with research groups and work on interesting research. During his undergraduate degree at MRU, Eshriew had the opportunity to conduct independent research, looking at antibiotic resistance under the supervision of Ana Colina, PhD and Robin Owen, PhD. Through his experience, Eshriew became interested in how microorganisms altered their protein target and how understanding from a structural point of view can be used to develop efficient and effective antibiotics. Colina says that Eshriew was independent, courteous and disciplined, and really enjoyed the research process, which confirmed his interest in pursuing post-graduate studies.
Colina assisted Eshriew in researching graduate programs that would align with his personal preferences. He ended up applying to three different European universities and was accepted into all of them. He ultimately chose the University of Oulu because of the quality of the program and because it was a smaller university, just like Mount Royal, which he preferred for the one-on-one interaction with peers and faculty.
Colina says that Eshriew is the first person in his family to attend university, which is a huge achievement. “I don’t have any doubt that Evans will be successful, based on his resilience and discipline,” says Colina. “He is someone who is inspired by science and is trying to participate in research and make a difference.”
Currently enrolled in: Doctor of Medicine, Ross University School of Medicine, Commonwealth of Dominica
Avery Cox has traded in the snow and cold of Calgary for the warm, sunny beaches of Dominica. Cox has begun medical school on the tiny island at the Ross University School of Medicine, one of the oldest and most accomplished medical schools in the Caribbean. After completing her Bachelor of Science ― Health Science at MRU, the 23-year-old was looking for a change of pace … and climate. After two years on the island, she will transfer to the University of Saskatchewan, the province where she was born, to finish her medical degree. Then she will look for a residency program in Canada and would love to work in her adopted hometown of Calgary, where she misses snowboarding and hiking in the mountains.
Cox recently finished her first semester at Ross and found she was ahead of the class, thanks to the courses she took at MRU. Biology professor Carol Armstrong, PhD, taught Cox a number of core courses including Human Anatomy, Histology and Womb-to-Tomb: Embryology, Development and Aging, which Armstrong says are content-heavy, challenging courses.
“In our first semester at Ross, we learned the basics of those topics and a lot of students were freaking out,” says Cox. “It’s tough if you’ve never seen it before, but I felt Carol set us up really well. I ended up emailing Carol to thank her and told her I really appreciated how she taught these courses and helped me to be so well-prepared for medical school, with so much background knowledge.”
Armstrong says it’s wonderful to hear that Cox is thriving at Ross University. “It’s amazing how many students will write to their MRU professors after graduating and thank them for setting the bar high and encouraging them to push themselves, as they recognize now that we were more concerned with their total education than just an easy A.”
When Cox graduates, she has her heart set on becoming a dermatologist, as she is very interested in skin and it’s what led her into medicine.
Currently enrolled in: Veterinary Medical Sciences, University of Calgary School of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM)
Jory Oberg has always been interested in animals. As a child, one of his earliest experiences dealing with the fragility of animal life was attempting to rescue a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. As he grew older, he became interested in conservation initiatives and animal welfare, but didn’t consider veterinary medicine because he thought the education process might be too long and difficult. Yet, after years of being unsure of his calling, 28-year-old Oberg decided to take a leap and apply to the four-year doctorate program in Veterinary Sciences at the University of Calgary to start a vocation that would be “challenging, rewarding and always interesting.”
Oberg applied to this competitive program when he had three courses left to complete his undergraduate degree at MRU … and was accepted. Oberg’s MRU biology professor, Dorothy Hill, PhD, says that doesn’t surprise her. “They put applicants through a rigorous interview process, including an on-site essay on a topic that is not disclosed to the students prior to the interview. Certainly Jory's adaptability and great written communication skills would have been an asset for that process.”
Hill says that Oberg was a student who could find creative solutions to problems and quickly adapt to new situations, which she says is essential in any health care profession, but especially in veterinary medicine since your patients can't tell you where they hurt and may behave in unexpected ways. Oberg plans to learn as much as possible during his graduate degree in order to be the best veterinarian he can, which matches the focus of UCVM ― lifelong learning to produce veterinarians that will serve both the animal and the human community as best as possible. Oberg says he is open to the many options that are available upon his graduation in 2021, as veterinarians can do internships, residencies, research and follow countless other paths. He would also like to encourage other students to remind themselves that “there is a purpose to what you are studying, and if the purpose will develop into a passion that will make you happy, then it’s worth whatever it takes.”
Currently enrolled in: Cardiovascular & Respiratory Science, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary
Although Alex Rimke is currently focused on sleep medicine, he’s very energetic about his future. Rimke is working on a graduate degree in Cardiovascular and Respiratory Science at the U of C, yet, before attending MRU for his undergraduate degree, the 23-year-old wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He liked science but bounced between a “million different ideas” like medicine, dentistry, optometry and teaching. It wasn’t until his second year of university that he found out “research was fun.”
Rimke took advanced physiology courses with Trevor Day, PhD, and expressed an interest in sleep medicine. Luckily, Day had many contacts in the field, and has taken students on Nepal expeditions where he conducts research on low-oxygen environments. Day went again in the summer of 2017, and Rimke went along. While there, Rimke had the opportunity to use portable sleep apnea units on participants and lead data collection in the field. When they returned home, Rimke worked on data analysis and along with Day, and wrote a paper on their experience that they intend to submit to a peer-reviewed journal where Rimke will be listed as first author. In the meantime, Rimke applied to his master’s program at the U of C, where he will work with sleep expert Pat Hanly, PhD, who had been looking for a graduate student for his lab for a long time. Since Rimke had experience in sleep medicine that no other undergraduate had, he was selected.
Day is also helping Rimke prepare a talk about the expedition for a symposium in front of psychologists, physiologists and physicians in the field ― all this before Rimke’s first month of grad school. Day says these are exactly the kinds of experiences that will open doors for Rimke, as he works towards becoming a medical doctor that conducts research.
“You don't just get into medical school with straight As, it’s not enough anymore. Alex will have letters of reference from people at the medical school, he’ll have publications, he’ll have a master’s degree, he’ll have research experience and contacts, and of course he will have to continue to shine and create opportunities by saying ‘yes.’”
Currently enrolled in: International Master’s program in Stem Cell Biology at Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC), Paris
Stephanie Rothwell is a student who has undergone an incredible amount of personal challenge. Just out of high school, her father was diagnosed with cancer. He underwent treatment and is now cancer-free. Yet, shortly before her father was declared to be in remission, her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away while Rothwell was attending MRU. Chemistry professor Brett McCollum, PhD, describes 25-year-old Rothwell as a very dedicated student, who even after her mother passed contacted her instructors and didn’t ask for delayed exams or extensions, but simply said, “I’m having trouble, what do you suggest?” And her instructors collectively told her to take some time for herself. Rothwell says the kindness and understanding that her professors showed her during that difficult time will never be forgotten and that they set a golden example for how she wants to be as a person.
McCollum says Rothwell already shows a huge amount of compassion for others, which is why he sought her out as a peer leader in organic chemistry, where McCollum says she was a listener, just as much as a facilitator. In addition to working as a peer leader and completing her studies at MRU, Rothwell assisted David Bird, PhD, in his research and racked up a lot of hours in the lab. Because of this, when she applied to UPMC (ranked the number one university in France), she was told that based on her letters of reference, research and teaching experience, she was qualified enough to directly join the second year of the master’s program. Rothwell says she firmly believes that her advanced cellular and molecular biology courses, as well as her research and peer leadership experience, helped her get where she is today. In addition, she was accepted for a lab position researching hematopoietic (blood) stem cells at the university’s associated Pasteur Institute, as her parents’ illnesses have inspired her into studying the underlying mechanisms of how biology works. During her year in Paris, she hopes to network and gain a mentor, as well as learn French fluently, travel and expand her horizons. After the program, she plans to pursue a PhD.
Currently enrolled in: Master of Science ― Experimental Medicine, McGill University, Montreal
Brandon Shokoples was born and raised in Drayton Valley, a town of about 7,000 people an hour and a half west of Edmonton. During his Grade 12 biology class, he developed an interest in how the body works, which led him to apply to the Health Science program at MRU. When he was accepted, he moved to Calgary not knowing a single person. Shokoples says MRU’s slogan “You belong here” really fits the school, because as soon he moved into residence and started attending classes, he felt like he was part of the community.
Shokoples was a dedicated student who repeatedly made the Dean’s Honour Roll. He approached Brett McCollum about becoming a peer leader in organic chemistry, and also joined McCollum’s undergraduate research team. Shokoples spent the final year of his degree engaged in a research project looking at the use of inter-institutional online collaborative learning assignments in organic chemistry to support both chemistry language and professional skill development. Shokoples then worked with McCollum to collect data on the student experience during the project to better understand the impact of this type of teaching and learning assignment. Based on McCollum’s contributions, Shokoples was invited to attend several conferences in North America. In June 2017, he gave an oral presentation regarding the pair’s chemical education research at the Canadian Society for Chemistry Conference as one of only two undergraduate students to present. McCollum says that Shokoples is an excellent leader and throughout the project displayed the level of ownership to a research project that you would expect of a graduate student. Shokoples was accepted into two different competitive neuroscience programs at McGill University and the University of Calgary. He chose to take the two-year Master’s of Science ― Experimental Medicine in Montreal, where he hopes to learn as much as possible about lab techniques and ways of disseminating his research, as well as build a large network of colleagues and become at least semi-fluent in French. Upon completion of his degree, he plans on entering the medical field, whether through continuing medical research or pursuing medical school.
Sept. 13, 2017 ― Felicia Zuniga