Indigenous spring graduate working to understand, fix cognitive decline

May 30th, 2023

Kelly Foss

As an Indigenous youth from the NunatuKavut Inuit community in southern Labrador, Amelia Jones was taught respect for her elders.

A woman in a knit sweater and glasses sits in a empty classroom.
Amelia Jones

“Growing to an old age is a wondrous accomplishment and it comes with the highest honour and esteem in my culture,” said the 2023 spring graduate. “Elders bestow great wisdom and leadership, and it is because of their encouragement that I pursued post-secondary education in the first place.”

Understanding the health brain

Forteau, like many other communities in the province, has an aging population and with it an increased prevalence of age-related disease.

During her time at Memorial, the bachelor of science (honours) student became engrossed in researching the neural and molecular underpinnings of memory across the lifespan.

“Seeing more and more community members getting a diagnosis related to senescence was the root of what inspired me to join the research effort for understanding the healthy brain and the way it changes over time, leaving it susceptible to age-related cognitive and memory decline,” said Ms. Jones, who will pick up her parchment during spring convocation ceremonies in the afternoon of Tuesday, May 3o, at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre.

“When I started looking at the brain as it ages, I thought of it from the perspective of seeing neurodegenerative or cognitive decline happen in the elders I grew up with, who are so crucial to our community. I wanted to help them, but first we need to learn why it happens and how to fix it.”

For the last few years, as she completed a double major in biology and behavioural neuroscience, Ms. Jones worked with Dr. Sue Walling in the Department of Psychology.

A woman in a knit sweater sits in front of a brick wall.
Ms. Jones hopes to inspire other Indigenous students to follow in her footsteps.

‘Anxiously optimistic’

This fall she is accepted to begin a master of science degree in experimental psychology (behavioural neuroscience) with Dr. Walling. She also applied to Memorial’s medical school and hopes to hear word on that soon.

“It’s a big commitment, but I’m anxiously optimistic,” said Ms. Jones. “I come from a long line of nurses, including my mother, so I’m pretty familiar with the health-care system in Labrador. But if there is an option for me to go back and provide a service to the people of Labrador, that’s really important to me.”

Despite not meeting many Indigenous students during her time at Memorial, Ms. Jones hopes she can inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

“I want to let them know that we exist and we are here on campus,” she said. “I want to get our voice out there and show other Indigenous kids like me that if I can do it, they can too. It’s a big part of why I do what I do.”

A woman in a knit sweater and leggings stands in a hallway.
Ms. Jones says the most important skill the Class of 2023 has learned is how to adapt.

Learning to adapt

As a member of Memorial’s Class of 2023, Ms. Jones says she and her cohort have had the “weirdest university experience ever.”

“One thing we’ve all learned is how to adapt,” she said. “Every semester since 2020 has been something different and I don’t think we really know what a normal university experience should be like. But I think it was an insightful experience for us all and possibly the most important lesson I could have ever learned.”

The text "Spring convocation 2023" is over a claret background with a subtle damask pattern and a gold Memorial coat of arms in the lower right-hand corner.