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Convocation 2011 -- Stories of student success

Trouncing adversity

Graduating student wrung every drop out of Grenfell experience

By Pamela Gill

Being in Brad Evoy's presence is what some might call an uplifting experience.
Known for his smiles, pleasant demeanour and frequent riffs of whistling, Mr. Evoy will leave a palpable void when he graduates from Grenfell Campus, Memorial University.

The historical studies major/classics minor has been at Grenfell since 2007 and in that time has made a significant mark on the university community.

His achievements include being an executive member of Grenfell Campus Student Union, a student representative on Memorial's senate, a leader in many student societies and an advocate for students (fighting for better city transit and student accommodations were among his aims).

It's no surprise then that he won the 2011 Sullivan Cup (Grenfell's Student of the Year award) and at convocation on May 13 was awarded the first-ever Chancellor's Undergraduate Award for Grenfell Campus.

His enthusiastic characterizations of his peers, his professors and the staff are an indication of the positive experiences he's had since coming to Grenfell.

"I heard wonderful things about the historical studies program, and I always wanted to do history," said Mr. Evoy. "I've had a really good working relationship with everyone here. The professors are more than just teachers; it goes beyond the classroom, in terms of conducting oneself as an academic. And they are very understanding and supportive of my many activities.

"I'm really fortunate that professors see the benefits of developing the whole person."

That someone could be this supportive, positive and energetic about Grenfell is gratifying enough; add to that the fact that Mr. Evoy has cerebral palsy, and you start to understand what a special person he truly is.

Ask someone who works closely to him.

"Whether as a student or a staff person here at Grenfell, I have never met a more dedicated individual than Brad Evoy," said Kirk Wiseman, general manager, Grenfell College Student Union. "Rather than fret or admit defeat over anything, Brad will focus his unwavering attention on a challenge until he overcomes it. He is an outstanding student leader and an individual that will have a great impact on others throughout what will likely be a lifetime career of learning and educating."

Mr. Evoy has been so involved with Grenfell that he actually moved into residence to eliminate the commute from his home in Benoit's Cove. Living, working and studying on campus opened his eyes wider to the sorts of accessibility issues some students face.

"My disability is fairly mild, but anyone with any greater severity would have difficulty," he said. "I have lobbied for that for quite some time. The staff is very accommodating in arranging accessibility around the building as best as they can. I don't feel that my disability has been a challenge to overcome."

He said his disability has actually increased his awareness of the issues faced by all students, regardless of their circumstances, allowing him to act as an effectual advocate for student needs.

"Because of my background as a person with a disability, I am more aware of all student issues – I have an eye to detail," he said.

The students at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, will be all the better equipped to trounce adversity upon Mr. Evoy's arrival next fall. There, he will continue his work as a historian, studying the growth of small campus institutions into larger degree granting institutions. Sound familiar?

"I'll be studying places with like situations as Grenfell; that phenomenon, with similar sorts of processes, can have very different results," he said with a grin. "You never know, I may come back and research Grenfell one day."

Writer's life

Accomplished poet finds her calling


By Janet Harron

Some people take a gap year between high school and university. Lynette Adams, a "go big or go home" sort, took a somewhat longer break between starting and finishing her degree.

"I first enrolled at Memorial in 1988," she said. "I didn't come from an academic background, I didn't know the questions to ask – I didn't even know it was okay to have questions!"

Although she received the Edward Russell Scholarship in English in 1989, Ms. Adams remembers spending most of her time "trying to look like I belonged." Her work suffered and she ultimately left student life behind to travel and work abroad. One thing she didn't leave behind though was her love of literature.

"Ever since I left university in the early 1990s, I've been reading," she said. A love of reading led to a love of writing and subsequent enrolment in creative writing courses that eventually acted as a gateway back into fulltime studies.

A 2006 class she took with novelist Kathleen Winter in 2006 was a turning point.
"She was (and continues to be) as much interested in the writer's personal engagement in the work as with the work itself," Mr. Adams said of Ms. Winter. "I realized that the only thing anyone can do is the thing you do well."

And Ms. Adams can write. She has been awarded the Gregory Power Award three times (winning once and coming second and third in subsequent years) and has published (several times) in student literary magazine Paragon. In addition her work has appeared in The Antigonish Review, The Windsor Review and The Newfoundland Quarterly and she read from her poetry at the first SPARKS Literary Festival in 2010.

"The quality of Lynette's poems, coupled with her lively and engaging delivery, were factors in my choosing her as one of the two creative writing students who read in the inaugural SPARKS Festival," said Professor Mary Dalton.

After convocation, Ms. Adams is heading for the University of New Brunswick to accept a spot in the English and creative writing MA program.

Diving in

Humanities student an optimist at heart


By Janet Harron

Morgan Murray's alliterative name isn't the only thing he has in common with filmmaker Michael Moore. He's also a bit of a revolutionary, even entitling his master's in humanities journal (a.k.a. thesis) Screw Everything: Make It Better.
"I'm interested in how we can overcome pervasive hopelessness and cynicism – the sort that allows Stephen Harper to get and keep power – with an ethics of responsibility and engagement so we might make things better," said Mr. Murray.

Originally from Alberta, he remembers that it was a professor from the University of Calgary, where he got a BA (Hons.) in Canadian studies, who suggested Memorial's master's program in humanities.

"She said it would be right up my alley - and it's turned out pretty well."
Since arriving in Newfoundland in 2008, Mr. Murray has lived his personal philosophy of "acting in your particular context to make things better." He is a director at large of the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador, has worked as an assistant curator for The Rooms, and volunteers at the Eastern Edge Gallery. He writes for The Scope and blogs for The Walrus. He has also become somewhat of an impresario, hosting and organizing Words in Edgewise, a monthly forum that brings academics to the community in what Mr. Murray calls "a good old-fashioned variety show with equal parts sequins and tweed."

"Morgan is a powerhouse of graduate energy who has changed the lives of people within and without the university," said Dr. Jennifer Dyer, director of the M. Phil program.

Excited about the future and committed to overcoming negativity, Mr. Murray believes there are tremendous opportunities for policy, economics and the humanities to partner in order to improve social development for people across the province. Cynics should take note.

Going backwards to move forward

Mature student finds his calling


By Jenn Deon

Graduating pharmacy student Hany Ellaboudy faced an interesting choice four years ago: accept an entry into a pharmaceutical sciences PhD program in Toronto – or begin an undergraduate bachelor of sciences pharmacy program here at Memorial University.

In 2007, Mr. Ellaboudy was already a student at the school of pharmacy – a graduate student completing his second master's degree. But it was during this time that he discovered his passion for helping others.

"It wasn't an easy decision," he said. "In fact my first year was very hard as I had to finish my master's degree at the same time as I was completing my first year courses.

"When I was trying to make up my mind whether or not to apply to the undergraduate program, I had a meeting with Dr. (Linda) Hensman (director of the School of Pharmacy), and I will never forget the words she said to me: 'Hany, I know you are a very hard worker, and I know you have a great passion to help others. I think if you become a pharmacist, you will be a wonderful one.'
"Once I heard these words, my heart was decided."

Mr. Ellaboudy is also the oldest member of the pharmacy class of 2011. At 42, he entered the program a couple of decades older than most of his classmates. But says he didn't feel any different.

"We studied together, we did projects together, I felt completely accepted and a part of everything."

When Mr. Ellaboudy walks across the stage at convocation this month, his wife Shereen will be there to witness, along with some other people who are special in his life.

"Since I left Egypt in 2004, the faculty here have become my family, and the school my home. They all were so supportive of me and treated me with so much care and respect during my time here.

"I would not have made it through without their encouragement and support."
Mr. Ellaboudy has already been offered a position to work in hospital pharmacy with Eastern Health.

Love of learning

Octogenarian optometrist is a new master

By Janet Harron

If there was a special convocation award for the sheer love of learning, the smart money would be on Avrum Richler. The octogenarian and practicing optometrist is, quite simply, amazing. He's a perfect example of Einstein's belief that "intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death."

Dr. Richler received his PhD from Memorial's Department of Community Medicine in 1979 and was a research fellow in the Faculty of Medicine from 1980 to 1986. At the age of 85, he is graduating with his master's in religious studies.

In Israel for a conference in the early 1980s, Dr. Richler recognized a famous archaeologist one night at dinner. Interested in the discipline (other passions include photography and oil painting) Dr. Richler engaged the scholar in a discussion.

"His latest project was the Temple Scroll, the largest of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He offered to show it to me on my next visit but died soon after our initial meeting," said Dr. Richler, who is the elder brother of the late novelist Mordecai Richler. His interest piqued by the missed opportunity, a few years later he was convinced by religious studies professor emeritus Dr. Morley Hodder (with encouragement from Dr. Hans Rollman) to do a degree.

In the five years it has taken to complete his MA, he has been an inspiration to his fellow students and the faculty.

"I consider Avrum a scholar, gentleman and friend. I've taught him in both undergraduate and graduate classes and he struck me as being on an intellectual quest for knowledge – of all types," said Dr. Ian Kim Parker. "The improvement of his writing and research skills between his undergraduate years to the completion of his MA were the most I have seen in any student. Period. Proves one is never too late to learn!"

For his part Dr. Richler says he will miss being a student and vows to be back.
"This is where I belong – I should have been an academic really."

He is also looking forward to receiving his hood at the convocation ceremony from Dr. Noreen Golfman, whom he has known since she was a child growing up in Montreal.

"I used to play poker with her father," he laughed. No doubt the smart money was on him back then, too.

Stars in his eyes

Love of astrophysics directs academic choices


By Kelly Foss

Sometimes the path to graduation is a straight shot, but other times a student meanders a little along the way. After all, it's not always easy to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life.

Kevin Sooley's experience in completing a B.Sc. (Hons.) in physics was a little like that. But in finding out what he didn't want to do, his true path became clear.

Memorial University is in Mr. Sooley's blood. His dad, Stephen, is a long-time employee who now supervises the machine shop. His mom, Nada, returned to Memorial to complete a nursing degree in 2006. His younger brother, David, is currently in his first year of studies.

"I always knew I wanted to be a physicist, even in high school," explained Mr. Sooley. "Originally I wanted to do experimental physics with lasers so I spent four terms doing that, but the summer between my second and third year I became interested in another area when I worked on a project doing simulations with magnetic materials for hard drives.

"However, it wasn't until my third year, when I did a stellar astrophysics course with Dr. John Lewis, that I finally realized that I wanted to do astrophysics."
So how does one graduate with a specialty in astrophysics from a university with no astrophysics department? Dr. Lewis says he was particularly impressed with his new student.

"Kevin had next to no knowledge of astrophysics until he took the course," explained the professor. "But he learned astrophysics thoroughly enough that he ultimately did his thesis on modeling star formations.

"He also impressed the astrophysics folks at McMaster, a very strong department I might add, and will be heading off for graduate work with them in the late summer."

His recent experience as a tutoring assistant in the first year physics labs has also awakened a previously unknown interest in teaching.

"At first I thought I wouldn't want to teach but I really enjoyed tutoring," said Mr. Sooley. "After all, if you discover all of this information and have no one to continue that research after you, then what's the point? I think it's important to pass information on to the next generation."

And though his path to graduation took him down a few side roads, the journey was not wasted.

"I might never again use the skills I learned for making fibre sensors again, but the most important thing I will take away from that time is a way of thinking about how to solve problems, relating it to things you've seen before so you don't always have to come up with a new solution.

"There's also a notion of collaboration and cooperation at Memorial. It always helps to have another perspective."