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CONVOCATION 2009



Jason Morrisseau

A long road

For a 27-year-old, Jason Morrisseau has already traveled some vast distances. An Ojibwa born on a First Nations reserve in north-western Ontario near the Manitoba border, in 2005 he worked at the Native Friendship Centre in St. John’s. He loved working with aboriginal youth, but when his daughter Kaya was born, he decided “to get serious” about his life and go back to school.

Considering that Jason didn’t complete Grade Eight, this decision was a brave one. After writing a letter to the special admission board at Memorial and due in part to glowing references from his work experience, he was admitted to the university on a probationary basis in September 2006.

Originally planning to do a degree in social work, Jason enrolled in a political science class as an elective. “That was it – I was captured,” he said. Half of the course was devoted to aboriginal issues. “I immediately thought, ‘boy, do these people [authors of textbooks] ever have it wrong.’”

An encounter with a fellow aboriginal student in his political science class resulted in Jason establishing the student-run Aboriginal Student Taskforce with four others.

“I thought it was time for us to address the specific issues that aboriginal students face and to start a dialogue,” said Jason. The way he sees it, Memorial’s relationship to aboriginal groups is “complicated” as Métis, Inuit and First Nations (which includes Innu and Mi’kmaq) are all represented on campus.
Jason’s talents aren’t confined to academia and activism. He has also competed with the Seahawks wrestling team, winning a gold medal in his weight class at the Atlantic Interuniversity Sport (AIS) trials in 2008 and he placed seventh at the CIS Nationals in the same year.

Now graduating with a BA (honours) in political science with a minor in aboriginal studies, Jason will attend the University of Victoria in the fall to begin a master’s in Human and Social Development with a specialization in indigenous governance.

His girlfriend, Amy Hudson, a Métis from Black Tickle, Labrador, is graduating with a BA in sociology and also will be attending a master’s program in Victoria. “It’s amazing to think that five years ago I was just scraping by – just shows much you can accomplish with some determination and perseverance,” he said.



MaryBeth Handrigan

SIFE for life

As president of SIFE Memorial, MaryBeth Handrigan has led the team to new heights, shattering Canadian records and bringing the SIFE World Cup to Canada for the first time ever. Outside of SIFE, MaryBeth has competed as part of the Memorial team in the Network of International Business Schools Case Competition, spent a semester at Memorial’s Harlow campus and maintained honours standing in the bachelor of commerce program.

“When I started at Memorial, I came to campus for classes and then went home again. I didn’t get involved with SIFE until my third year,” she explained, but added that getting involved on campus has been unforgettable.

“The last year-and-a-half has been amazing. It started with a semester in Harlow and the NIBS case competition, then I came back as president of SIFE and we ended up winning the World Cup and starting three new projects,” explained MaryBeth. “I’ve grown so much personally and professionally since coming to MUN. It’s not so often that you get to know your dean and the president of your university while you’re still a student.”

MaryBeth estimates she spends 80-100 hours per week on studying and MUN activities. “Being a student definitely comes first and I’ve learned to prioritize and really manage my time well,” she explained.

Ms. Handrigan will be putting these time management skills to use after graduation when she begins working towards her chartered accountant designation with Deloitte & Touche, but she’s not quite ready to graduate from SIFE Memorial.

She plans on establishing a SIFE Memorial alumni group to keep dedicated graduates in touch with the current SIFE Memorial team. “I have a feeling I won’t be able to stay away – SIFE is a bit of an addiction!”



Naureen Sheikh

International experience

Naureen Sheikh grew up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but in September 2004 at age 18 she headed to Memorial to pursue postsecondary education. She had a good reason to come to St. John’s – her oldest sister and brother-in-law, who has two degrees from Memorial, were living here, so she had a home.

Naureen knew she wanted to pursue a career in science, and was originally thinking of biochemistry. But as she learned about the role of clinical pharmacists in Canada, she realized that the scope of pharmacy practice in Canada is much different than it is in Bangladesh.

“Back home, those with university degrees in pharmacy mostly pursue research careers. The concept of clinical pharmacy interested me a lot.”
With excellent marks from her first year of studies, Naureen was accepted into the School of Pharmacy and thrived in the small school with its class of 40 students per year. “I really liked the class size and I found the faculty was very supportive. I never felt like I was an outsider,”

Although Bengali is her mother tongue, Naureen was schooled in English and there is no language barrier. She said although there is a big cultural gap between Bangladesh and Canada, the friendliness of the people here overcame any feelings of isolation. “Everyone speaks to you here and offers to help. Coming from Dhaka, a large city with a population of over nine million, you don’t really expect to be spoken to unless you know the other person.”

Naureen is now at the Labrador-Grenfell Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to complete her postgraduate internship. In July she will enter a one-year hospital residency program at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, Alberta. That will give her an extra accreditation on top of her BPharm as an accredited hospital pharmacy resident.

This convocation will be particularly special for Naureen and her sister Naushaba when their mother, Suraiya travels from Bangladesh to St. John’s to see her daughter receive her degree.



Kanani Penashue

Leading the way

The road to convocation has been long for Kanani Penashue. But that just makes the walk across the stage all the sweeter for the bachelor of education (native and northern program) graduate.

“I was a single mom with two children when I started in the spring semester of 1998,” said the Sheshatshiu resident. “I entered the ESL program first, then started MUN courses in the fall of ’98.”

While studying Innu linguistics, Kanani became proficient in the use of the recently standardized spelling system, and is now one of very few speakers in Labrador who can write her own language in a consistent way. She has written numerous books for Innu children to read in their own language, and has translated a number of documents into Innu, including a Family Law Guide.

Ms. Penashue said she has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. And one of the things that has kept her motivated is the idea that she would be giving back to her community.

“Since I was a little girl attending school at Peenamin McKenzie School, I was frustrated with the English language, so I thought if I became a teacher I would be able to teach Innu students in my own language. There were times when I just wanted to end it and give up, but my biggest driving force has always been my children. I wanted them to see their mother as a fighter, and not as a quitter.”

Today she is director of education for the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation – an appointment that contributes to her goal of building a better future for Innu children.



Lisa Barrett

Doctor doctor

Dr. Lisa Barrett can add another “Doctor” to her name at convocation when she receives her PhD in immunology. She is the first graduate of the joint MD/PhD program offered by the Faculty of Medicine.

Before entering medical school, this accomplished young woman did an honours thesis for her B.Sc. with Dr. Michael Grant, an immunology researcher in the Faculty of Medicine.

“I was really quite undecided between medical and graduate school,” she said. “I did decide to go to medical school but spent my summers during first and second year medicine working with Dr. Grant and laying the groundwork for a PhD project. I started the actual PhD between pre-clerkship and clerkship, after the second year of medical studies, and spent three years just in the lab while doing a little bit of clinical work on the side to maintain the few clinical skills I had gained. Then I went back to clerkship, completed my MD in 2005 and moved on to an internal medicine residency at Dalhousie, where I am just finishing up.”

The work Lisa did with Dr. Grant relates to how the immune system reacts to different viral infections. “In particular, I try to delineate why the immune system allows viruses like HIV and hepatitis C virus to persist.”

The decision to complete her PhD came when Lisa realized she wanted to contribute to great patient care, not just at the bedside but also in the generation of knowledge. “I thought I’d need further training to do that well, and Dr. Grant has great skills. My ideal position at the end of my training would be in a clinician scientist capacity where I do 80 per cent research and 20 per cent clinical work.”

For anyone embarking on the rigorous MD/PhD program, Dr. Barrett’s advice is to know what you want and stick with it. “Think long and hard about your reasons for doing an MD/PhD before starting because if you don’t really love it, life will not be fun. And if you don’t have people who fully support your endeavor, you’re not going to succeed no matter how much you deserve the Nobel Prize!”





Kim Howson

Launch forth overseas

Kim Howson said deciding to leave her native Ontario to study in the Faculty of Arts was “the best decision I ever made.”

After falling in love with Russian during her first class on the first day of university, Kim made another key decision in revising her original plan to double major in History and English to focus on Russian and History.

“I had always loved Russian history and thought the language would be interesting as well,” she said. Interesting doesn’t begin to describe her subsequent experiences.

By 2007, in her third year, Kim spent half a year studying abroad. After two months in Harlow with the English Cultural Landscape program, she experienced four months in Russian studying at the Linguistic University of Nizhny Novgorod. In terms of her comfort level with the language, Kim maintains that the immersion experience at LUNN was paramount.

So much so that when she discovered in June 2008 that her Russian visa had been extended “by a fluke” she jumped at the chance to volunteer as a short term missionary.

The trip, organized by the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, included working at a summer camp for orphans in China, instructing at a Siberian rehabilitation centre, teaching English at orphanages in the Ukraine, and volunteering at a Romanian pediatric hospital. Almost everywhere she traveled, her Russian language skills were hugely beneficial.

Now back in Ontario and planning to attend Carleton University to do her master’s in Russian and European Studies, Kim still marvels at the experiences that her bachelor of arts made possible. “I’m the only person from my original group of friends at high school who has been able to study abroad. A lot of that is due to the reasonable cost of tuition at Memorial compared to other universities in Canada.”



Nancy Jacobsen

Juggling act

Nancy Jacobsen has done her share of managing courses, family and work. The visual arts Grenfell graduate even brought her newborn baby to classes from time to time.

It’s taken almost 13 years of part-time university, but Nancy has proven that hard work, patience and determination pay off in the end.

“The biggest challenge has been juggling classes and assignments with home life and part-time work,” said Ms. Jacobsen, who’s been an instructor with Learning through the Arts for seven years. “I’ve had three children since I started the degree,” she said. “My profs were always very accommodating, though, and there were a few terms where my newborn baby came with me to art history lectures.”

Nancy said she “truly loved” being a student at Grenfell, citing individual time with faculty, small class sizes and easy access to visual arts facilities as strengths of the campus. In addition, she said the college’s Visiting Artist Program exposed her to practicing artists who often conveyed insightful and helpful ideas to individual students.

“The VA program’s 4950/51 Independent Project was a real culmination for me,” she said. “My advisers were incredibly helpful and perceptive; I feel I really grew.”

She said she is bittersweet about finishing her degree – on the one hand, she has accomplished a great deal through her 13-year journey; on the other, she will no longer have courses and projects for her life’s framework.

“I was pleased to find out that I would receive the University Medal for Academic Excellence in Visual Arts; that really affirms my feeling that the time and effort were worth it,” she said. “I hope I can keep making as much art, even without that framework and those deadlines. I will miss the interaction with profs and students as well, but I know that my art practice will mature and develop in other ways now that I am outside of the institution.”



Tom Power

Radio waves

By anyone’s measure, Tom Power is a success. As a broadcaster he hosts the CBC national radio show Deep Roots which airs on Radio 2 Saturdays at 12:30 p.m.

As a musician, he is in high demand as both an instrumentalist and vocalist and fronts his own band The Dardanelles. And as a student, he will be graduating from Memorial University with a major in folklore and a minor in music history.

Tom says his academic background in humanities and music is a key component in his success. “Every now and then on the show I can sneak in some folkloric perspective on … I don’t know … cross-genrefication of Bluegrass and Classical music,” he said. “Or I’ll be able to talk about variance in Irish trad music by region. Or more importantly, I’m able to think of tradition like a folklorist, I’m able to hear music as both music, but also as form and function of a tradition.”

Tom started out hosting a roots show on CHMR and quickly moved to working in the newsroom at VOCM. Last year he made a pilot for CBC Radio with producer Francesca Swan which resulted in the launch of Deep Roots which focuses on playing the best in contemporary folk music.

Tom’s broadcasting work attempts to break stereotypes of what folk music is. “I’m interested in the possibilities of all music and in using traditional music or roots music as a starting point,” he said.

He is quick to praise his Memorial professors for accommodating his schedule.
“Though it’s been sometimes very difficult juggling a national show and a full course load, it’s important that I credit all of my professors I’ve had since I got the show, because it was their understanding and support that allowed me to be where I am today.”



Aaron Kennedy

Publish or perish

Aaron Kennedy is graduating with his MD this spring, but he’s already been published.

Aaron is the first author on a recently published paper in the journal Obesity that compares the classification of obesity by body mass index (BMI) to dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) in the Newfoundland population. The work is co-authored by graduate student Jennifer Shea and Dr. Guang Sun, his supervisor, a professor of genetics.

“As the incidence of obesity increases, the need to accurately measure body fat is increasingly important for appropriate diagnosis and treatment,” said Aaron.

BMI has been the dominant index to measure obesity owing to its simplicity and low cost. However, it has recently come under criticism as it fails to account for a number of related factors including age, gender, ethnicity and influences from genetics.

“The aim of this research was not to suggest people stop using BMI as a clinical measure,” said Aaron. “We are more interested in shedding light on the fact that it is inaccurate in some aspects and caution should be used when applying it in clinical or research situations.

“These findings will help Canadian researchers in various studies on the relationship between obesity and related diseases such as cardiovascular disorders, metabolic syndrome and cancer. The findings will also help improve the diagnosis of obesity and its treatment by physicians.”

The Newfoundland obesity study is the largest one of its kind in Canada and Dr. Sun’s laboratory has become one of the most productive research teams on obesity in Canada.

Aaron’s immediate plans for the future are to finish his M.Sc. – he’ll receive his M.Sc. (medicine) at fall convocation – and continue his medical training. He starts a residency in obstetrics and gynecology this fall in Vancouver.



Lockyer family

And that makes seven

Ask any parent what it feels like to have a son or daughter receive a university degree and they’ll likely tell you it was one of their proudest moments. Ask parents Norman and Lillian Lockyer what it feels like to have all five of their children graduate from Memorial and they’ll each tell you how blessed they truly feel.

“I feel extremely proud of all of my children’s accomplishments in all areas of their lives,” said Lillian.

Added Norman: “It is indeed humbling, first, to be blessed with five healthy children; and second, to realize that they all had such a wholesome attitude towards education.”

The wholesome attitude towards education likely comes from their parents. Like all of their children, both Norman and Lillian also graduated from Memorial. Norman has a bachelor of arts (history) and a bachelor of arts in education. Lillian received a bachelor of arts (English) and a bachelor of education (high school). Sons Roger and Darren received engineering degrees (electrical). Daughter Carolyn received an engineering degree as well (mechanical). Like her parents, daughter Alison received an education degree (primary/elementary); and daughter Stephanie is graduating this spring with a science degree (double major of applied math and computer science).

Daughter Stephanie is the youngest in the family and the last one to receive a degree. And while she never felt pressure from her family to continue her education at Memorial, she recalls an e-mail from her brother, Darren, when she was in her second year.

“I was having a stressful week of exams and assignments, and vented my anxiety to my siblings. My brother Darren responded jokingly with these words of encouragement: ‘Good luck, Steph. No pressure. If you fail you will be the ONLY Lockyer not to get a degree,’” she recalled.



Jessica Downing

Love of nursing

Jessica Downing never had any doubt that she wanted to be a nurse. Her mother, Gail Downing (BN ’81), and her aunt, Glenys Walsh (BN’78), are graduates of Memorial’s School of Nursing.

“They are both very positive about their careers, they love what they do,” said Jessica. “I never felt pressured to go into nursing but it was something I wanted to do myself and their experience influenced me.”

The love of nursing in the family also influenced Jessica’s sister Laura, 18 months younger, who will finish her BN next year. The youngest sister, Melissa, is just finishing her first year of kinesiology at Memorial and hopes to eventually to go into either occupational therapy or physical therapy.

Jessica entered the BN program directly from Carbonear Collegiate. She describes her four years of nursing education as positive, and appreciates the wide variety of experiences she has had including a clinical placement in Hopedale, Labrador, in January 2009. She’s used her summers well to gain related experience, working one summer in St. Pat’s Nursing Home and two summers as a camping nursing assistant at Tyler Hill Camp in Pennsylvania. She has also worked with the University Counselling Centre.

An active member of her class, Jessica served as president of the Nursing Society from 2007-2009 and was involved with planning last year’s Nursing Charity Ball, co-coordinated by her sister Laura.

Jessica said that Dr. Sandra MacDonald was an excellent mentor to her during her undergraduate degree. “I’ve had wonderful support too from my classmates. It was a small class and in a challenging academic program it makes all the difference in the world to have people to support you.”

This new nursing graduate has already landed the job she wanted and will be working full time in the Intensive Care Unit of the Health Sciences Centre.



Gillian Langor

Engineer without borders

When Gillian Langor chose Memorial’s engineering program, she knew she would receive a top-notch formal education close to home. It’s what she received in her informal education that surprised her.

During her five-year mechanical engineering program, Gillian’s experiences as part of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) have taught her lessons about engineering, life in general and about herself that she says she couldn’t have learned inside of a classroom.

“Being a part of the MUN chapter of EWB has supplemented my education in a very unique way,” she said. “It has afforded me the opportunity to have a safe space to explore contentious issues in structured workshops, casual conversations, and with experts at EWB national conferences. Gaining an appreciation for global injustices has ignited a process of questioning.”

Gillian was very involved with EWB while completing her undergraduate studies. But it was her trip to Ghana in the summer of 2007 as part of the Junior Fellowship Program that left the biggest impact.

“As part of this program I spent four months in a rural community in Ghana working with the local government on programs that aimed at improving the livelihoods of subsistence farmers,” she said. “Though four months has a way of swiftly passing, I gained incredible perspective about life during this short time by living it.

“The Ghana that I experienced so intimately helped me to understand the nuances of rural life; the importance of agriculture, the impact of extreme vulnerability, the distinct lack of opportunity with respect to my own life. Perhaps most importantly of all, I realized that I really wasn’t very different from my host family. We’re all human, after all.”

With studies behind her, Gillian plans to backpack in South America this summer before coming back to St. John’s to begin her professional career as an engineer.


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