Newsmakers: Western News looks back on 2016

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How will we remember 2016? Probably through one or more of these faces. Western News presents its 7th annual Newsmakers issue, a celebration of those who contributed to our campus conversation in the last year. Join us in remembering the names and faces that spotlight, in brief words and striking images, some of our favourites from the last year.

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GUNJAN MHAPANKAR

Gunjan Mhapankar went from being a 15-year-old and new to Canada to an audience with Queen Elizabeth in just six years. Cheers to that.

As a young teen in Vancouver wanting to learn about her new community and country, Mhapankar, 21, began volunteering at organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, Science World and BC211.

Her advocacy efforts led the first-year Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry student to the steps of Buckingham Palace this summer, after winning a Queen’s Young Leaders Award, which celebrates exceptional young people taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives. Only 60 awards are presented worldwide; Mhapankar was one of two Canadians.

If that wasn’t enough, Mhapankar also spoke at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa this fall, where she shared her story with more than 1,300 youth from 196 countries.

 

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JANET WILLIAMS

How long was Janet Williams at Western? If you glance out her former office window in Middlesex College, you’ll see a lovely, mature 35-year-old beech tree. At one time, there were two. One died about three years ago.

Williams remembers the day they were planted.

When Williams left her office in July, after 46 years at the institution, she was the longest-serving member of the University of Western Ontario Staff Association. The academic counsellor in the Department of Math left campus with a ton of memoires, as well as a piece of bark from the ill-fated tree, another small piece of the tree doubling as a door stop.

London born and raised, Williams attended Fanshawe College the second year after it opened. Finding a part-time job at Western, in the Department of Buildings and Grounds (now Facilities Management), she never thought it would lead to a nearly half-century career.

With a brief stop in Economics, Williams landed her job in Math in 1971 – and never looked back.

 

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JOHN YUN

The versatility of John Yun, MMus ’12 (Literature and Performance), a multi-faceted musician, one who effortlessly moves between the roles of musical director, collaborative artist, jazz pianist and opera tutor, landed him the Associate Conductor role with the international travelling production of West Side Story, which kicked off this past October with stops in Germany, Italy, Japan, Singapore and Dubai, to name just a few.

Yun credits his time at Western, under the tutelage of Don Wright Faculty of Music professor Stephan Sylvestre, for setting him on this musical journey, which has already seen him work numerous shows around Ontario and shows such as Sounds of Sinatra, Cosi Fan Tutte, Godspell and Annie.

“Everything ties back to that one summer between first and second year at Western, which pretty much started the whole snowball and the gigs kept getting bigger,” said Yun. And he knew this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“It’s a great way to see the world. The professional experience was too good to pass up. The pros far outweigh any cons. There was no way I was going to say no to this.”

 

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RYAN FRAYNE

Every goalie who hates to let a puck by – especially through the dreaded five-hole – will take keen interest in the work of Ryan Frayne, a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Wolf Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory, located at the Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic.

Working with Kinesiology professor Jim Dickey, Frayne began testing ice hockey goalie equipment and its effects on the body. He focused on femoroacetabular impingement, a condition where the bones of the hip are abnormally shaped and begin rubbing against each other, causing damage to the joint. Frayne explored a potential cause of this issue – the equipment.

Frayne looked at the impact of the equipment on the body, as well as on performance, the latter since creating an industry partnership with Reebok-CCM Hockey. Frayne’s findings supply performance measures toward the creation of the next generation of goalie pads. In fact, the new Extreme Flex II goalie pads from Reebok-CCM are designed using Frayne’s research.

 

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ERIC ARTS

A discovery that the most common variant of the HIV virus is also the “wimpiest” will help doctors better treat millions of individuals around the world suffering from the deadly disease, Microbiology & Immunology professor Eric Arts has discovered.

One of the world’s leading HIV/AIDS researchers, Arts, a Canada Research Chair in HIV Pathogenesis and Viral Control, said HIV is one of the most diverse viruses that infect the human population, and to treat these patients you need to know how they respond to treatment when infected.

For more than a decade and a half, Arts has explored how the various strains of the HIV virus advance in the body. He sought out differences in the strains and how those differences might impact treatment.

In screening approximately 300 women in Zimbabwe, Thailand and Uganda newly infected with HIV starting in the early 2000s, Arts found Subtype C replicated poorly and slowly in patients – earning it the ‘wimpy’ moniker among its fellow subtypes. And with Subtype C being the dominant strain in the HIV population, Arts’ findings may soon have an impact on potential treatments for HIV patients.

 

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SUSAN MUMM

When Susan Mumm was appointed the 12th Principal of Brescia University College in July, there were plans for a large installation ceremony.

However, the former Dean of Arts and Science at Queen’s University felt a ‘party’ in her honour wasn’t necessary – the $25,000 budgeted for the welcoming could be put to better use. She requested that the money be directed toward supporting new student awards.

Mumm feels a good leader is someone who can find the power to “unlock potential” in others. With an extra $25,000 going in the pockets of the students, it’s safe to say Mumm may have the key.

“Our vision centres on our students graduating as women leaders who contribute actively and positively to society,” Mumm said. “We know 46 per cent of our students receive some form of financial support funded by Brescia, and I want to ensure the focus continues to be about our students and their success. The more opportunities that we can find to make this happen, the more successful we will be at realizing this vision.”

 

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LISA SAKSIDA AND TIM BUSSEY

The purpose behind their research is simple in concept – improve therapies for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. But it’s difficult in execution – delving deep into the brain’s inner workings to see how thoughts are organized, what the mechanisms are behind them and what happens when this organization breaks down.

The husband-and-wife team of Tim Bussey and Lisa Saksida, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professors, brought their wide array of expertise from their Translational Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at the University of Cambridge to their new home at Western earlier this year.

Also serving as core members of Western’s Brain and Mind Institute, the pair are interested in cognition – learning, memory, attention and problem-solving. They want to know how the brain does it, how it’s organized and what processes underlie these functions. They are also curious with what goes wrong with cognition in neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and Huntington’s.

 

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BrainsCAN

It was quite the celebration earlier this year as the largest research grant in the university’s history – a $66-million Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) grant – supported the much-anticipated work of the BrainsCAN: Brain Health For Life initiative.

BrainsCAN will bring together researchers from across campus under one unifying initiative, through a partnership with researchers at McGill University – who received $88 million for its Healthy Brains for Healthy Lives initiative – to leverage both institutions’ complementary expertise to better understand disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia.

Western is at the forefront of research in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Funding from CFREF will ensure the university is well positioned to move forward and ensure a positive impact for patients worldwide.

BrainsCAN plans to radically transform our understanding of the brain over the next seven or so years, and will deliver evidence-based intervention in the classroom, operating room and in the clinic.

 

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MAZEN EL-BABA

Born in Lebanon, Mazen El-Baba is bringing together his passion for social justice with his study of neuroscience to better his community.

In September 2015, the second-year Neuroscience graduate student started a non-profit organization, H.appi, which works to de-stigmatize addiction and mental-health issues in the Middle East and Africa by providing grants to researchers in the area, and to support resources such as a mental health hotline.

As many families of Syrian refugees came to Canada, there were behavioral problems in some of the children. El-Baba felt some form of intervention was needed and, this summer, he organized a camp for some of these children, designed to provide opportunities to learn English, connect with local groups and have a summer camp experience.

He saw another unique opportunity by working with Psychology professors Bruce Morton and Daniel Ansari to collect intellectual, behavioral and cognitive data from children in the camp, part of an ongoing relationship to identify how trauma and adversity may affect how children learn and develop cognitive reasoning. This, in turn, can be used to help better prepare for refugee resettlement.

 

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SMOKIN’

Western community members were hoping to be able to breathe a bit easier thanks to an expansion of the university’s smoke-free zones on campus. However, it seems many are still learning to comprehend the current policies when it comes to lighting up and littering.

Western’s Clear Air Corridors expanded this year to include a large area bordering University Hospital. The corridors also include areas around many buildings on the north end of campus, including most medical facilities. On the east side, the corridors extend across the footbridge to take in parts of Westminster Hall.

Along with numerous signs reminding people they are in a smoke-free zone, bright blue lines are painted around campus as a cue to where to stand when smoking.

A recent campuswide survey showed 59 per cent felt the university should go smoke and tobacco free before being legislated to do so, and another 68 per cent said Western should step up on this issue and be a leader among large Canadian universities. Further, 44 per cent of Western community members didn’t feel the university’s smoking policy was effective in Clean Air Corridors.

Don’t be surprised if we revisit this issue in 2017.

 

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INDIGENOUS STRATEGIC INITIATIVES COMMITTEE

Looking to engage Indigenous Peoples at every level of study, work and research, Western’s Indigenous Strategic Initiatives Committee (ISIC) was formed to develop the university’s first-ever multi-year Indigenous Strategic Plan.

In consultation with the Indigenous Postsecondary Education Council, Western formed the committee to consult with members of the campus and local/regional First Nations communities over the past two years to develop the plan. Western has three local First Nations communities in close proximity – Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, Oneida Nation of the Thames and Munsee Delaware Nation.

The approval of the Indigenous Strategic Plan by the university Senate and Board of Governors signaled an historic occasion for Western. Next up, a task force will be formed in the New Year to recommend ways to implement the goals outlined within the plan.

The ISIC committee includes, from left, Chantelle Richmond, Brent Stonefish, Jana Luker, Jerry White, Myrna Kicknosway, Karen Danylchuk, Rick Ezekiel and Marcia Steyaert. Members not pictured include Candace Brunette, Brent Debassige, Natalie Fletcher, Kevin Lemure, Charmaine Dean, Carol Benyon, Angie Mandich and Susan Hill.

 

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MAX

For the past two years, Max, a 5-year-old golden retriever, has been a full-time member of the dean’s office team within the Faculty of Law. As a puppy, he started out casually dropping in on Fridays with his human, System Administrator Corey Meingarten. The team loved him and, soon enough, Max became an office staple.

Today, Max is the faculty’s Canine Ambassador, who is, according to his online profile page on the faculty website, “responsible for morale development and the consumption of leftovers … greeting visitors at the front counter, watching for courier deliveries and welcoming guests.”

Office culture has changed with Max around. Everyone is more relaxed. Having a dog around provides an outlet for students, staff and visitors to be friendly and casual, regardless of who they might be and how they might be expected to behave.

 

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DOUBLE HOMECOMING

This year, Western’s Homecoming celebrations and events were split over two weekends. In May, Western officials announced Homecoming 2016 would be moved to Saturday, Oct. 22, in an effort to address a variety of concerns associated with an unsanctioned street party on Broughdale Avenue. Labeled ‘Homecoming Saturday,’ that weekend featured a football-centric experience for participants. Planned faculty reunions, as well as the Alumni Awards of Merit and Golden Anniversary dinners, still took place as originally planned on Reunion Weekend, Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

Though the initial announcement in the spring placed emphasis on a desire to quell the Broughdale street party by spreading Homecoming events over two weekends, officials likewise noted the double celebrations were part of an effort to move Homecoming to a later date for good, accommodating students and alumni and keeping in mind holidays, exams and the start of the academic calendar. A date for the 2017 celebration has been set for a single weekend of Oct. 20-22.

And while there were some concerns over a double Homecoming resulting in a doubling of the Broughdale festivities, both Homecoming weekends in 2016 went off without a hitch.

 

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VICKIE CROLEY

With one of her athletes taking home a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Vickie Croley – the Mustangs’ head coach for Track and Field – has had a good year.

In the lead up to the Games, Croley, her fellow coaches and physiotherapists worked together to ensure London decathlete Damian Warner was set up for the best performance possible. Warner certainly didn’t disappoint and in August, became the first Canadian athlete in nearly three decades to medal in the decathlon. His bronze is only Canada’s second-ever medal in the event – the first since Dave Steen’s third-place finish at the 1988 Seoul Games.

 

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SARAH SASKA

Sarah Saska knew early on a future in the Ivory Tower was not meant for her. Instead, the Women’s Studies and Feminist Research PhD forged a way to leverage her academic training and the skills she gained at Western outside of the academe. While at Western, Saska took a seminar that focused on looking at a PhD in light of transferable skills and everything unraveled from there.

While working on her PhD, she put out a call for partnership proposals, listing her biography, skills and academic experience, seeking connections with women’s rights organizations, non-profits and social enterprises. Saska didn’t want to spend the next three or four years writing a thesis that would sit on a shelf in a library, she said. She eventually partnered with The MATCH International Women’s Fund, a grant-making organization that funds women’s rights organizations and supports projects that dismantle barriers, change systems, challenge perceptions and transform society. Her partnership with MATCH garnered three separate Mitacs Accelerate awards, the first to be given to non-profit collaborations.

Her research revealed many real-world examples of the damage caused by not considering innovation through a gender lens. Last year, Saska was named among Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winners and accepted an innovation fellowship invitation with the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.

 

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BOOCH KOMBUCHA

Shawn Slade, left, a Health Promotion PhD student, and Shannon Slade, BHSc’10, didn’t expect it to grow as much or as fast as it has. But the couple is rolling with the punches.

Booch Organic Kombucha – which started as a home-brew project for the Slades four years ago – quickly evolved into a successful local business. Today, they run a brewery and retail store in London’s Old East Village and distribute to dozens of health-promoting retail locations across southwestern Ontario. Propel Entrepreneurship, Western’s business incubator, selected Booch among its 2016 cohort.

Kombucha is a probiotic-rich, fermented tea and originated in China 2,000 years ago. It was part of a traditional diet, and was termed back then, ‘the elixir of life.’

 

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AMANDA AND MAX

Max Eisen had a story, but Amanda Grzyb helped him find his voice. The result was a powerful memoir of survival.

In March 2010, Eisen, who had spent decades sharing his story of surviving the Holocaust, and Grzyb, a Faculty of Information and Media Studies professor, met on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s inaugural mission to Poland. Eisen had recounted his story many times, but he could never put his experiences down on paper. Grzyb, a noted genocide scholar, with expertise on the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide, worked with him on a memoir, compiling and transcribing 16 hours of recorded interviews.

In the process of working with Grzyb, Eisen started to write, training his mind to recall his and his family’s experience at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The writing process was more challenging than speaking about what he endured.

“Often, when you speak, you have all these time constraints,” Grzyb explained. “You have a particular story that you need to start somewhere and get to somewhere in 45 minutes or an hour and then that’s it. It is well-rehearsed. But writing and remembering these small details provoked a lot of traumatic memories, memories that came to the surface about things Max had not thought about in a very long time.”

In April, By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz was released by HarperCollins Publishers and garnered national media attention.

 

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BASEL AL NOSERAT

Basel Al Noserat, a 25-year-old undergraduate student, grew up in Syria, in a small town in the country’s south. Conflict in the once peaceful country took the lives of family members and friends. It drove him and his family from their home. But through it all, he refused to give up on what he wanted to accomplish.

This year was the first in Canada for Al Noserat, who is the first Syrian citizen to study at Western under the university’s Syrian Refugee Student Awards. The program covers tuition and living costs for eligible candidates. It is here he hopes to finally leave the nightmares of war behind, and ensure his dreams for the future become reality.

Al Noserat spent the past year studying at the Western English Language Centre (WELC) at the Faculty of Education, in order to improve his English. His plans are to study Civil Engineering. The degree will enable him to one day help rebuild his shattered country, as well as give back to his family in Syria.

 

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JOHN LEONARD

A renowned John Milton scholar, John Leonard, who teaches in the Department of English and Writing Studies, received a handful of accolades in 2016.

Earlier this year, Leonard was awarded the 2016 Hellmuth Prize for Achievement in Research, an honour that recognizes faculty members with outstanding international reputations for their contributions in research – one of the defining hallmarks of a university. In March, he received the Distinguished University Professorship Award, which acknowledges sustained excellence in scholarship over a substantial career at Western.

Leonard also piloted a new undergraduate course this year, ‘Winter is Coming’: A Game of Thrones, will be a serious study of the first four volumes of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. With falling enrolments in the English department, Leonard sees courses like this as an opportunity to introduce non-Arts & Humanities students the discipline and offer exposure to great works of literature.

 

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CONCUSSION RESEARCHERS

Concussions dominated numerous discussions for Western researchers in 2016.

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry continued to host See the Line in an effort to shift the culture around concussion in sport. The event serves to highlight cutting-edge concussion research from across the university and community.

Alexandra Harriss, a Health Sciences PhD student, worked with the Ontario Player Development League and Burlington Youth Soccer Club to study the relationship between accumulated head impact exposures in female youth soccer players. Using specialized sensors players wear as headbands, Harriss looked for changes in brain function that occur as a result of head-to-head, head-to-ground and head-to-ball impacts during practice and game play.

Scientists from Children’s Health Research Institute, a program of Lawson Health Research Institute, and Western developed a new blood test that identifies with greater than 90 per cent certainty whether or not an adolescent athlete has suffered a concussion.

Researchers working under Western’s BrainsCAN initiative will likewise be studying concussion as part of its ongoing research in cognitive neuroscience and imaging.

Theo Versteegh, BSc’98, MSc’10, PhD’16, developed TopSpin 360, a weighted football helmet used to strengthen the neck of athletes, an effort that could help prevent concussions.

 

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THE DEPARTED

This year marked the last year on campus for a handful of well-known, long-serving administrators at Western.

Thérèse Quigley, one of the most respected and decorated athletic leaders in all of Canadian Interuniversity Sport, retired from her post as Director of Sports and Recreation Services. Over the course of her career, Quigley earned a national reputation as an innovator in interuniversity sport, recreation programming, fundraising, facility development and student leadership.

Susan Grindrod, Associate Vice-President of Housing & Ancillary Services & Liquor Licence Coordinator, retired at the end of June after 34 years at Western. Grindrod was just 29 years old when she stepped into the role of Associate Director of Housing in 1982. She oversaw the construction of six new residence buildings during her time, including Alumni House, and she has been praised for helping Western stand out as one of Canada’s best student experiences.

In October, after more than a decade of service, Gitta Kulczycki left her post as Vice-President of Resources and Operations. During her time at Western, she was responsible for initiatives including the Campus Master Plan and the President’s Advisory Committee on Environment and Sustainability. Kulczycki accepted a position as Vice-President of Finance and Administration at the University of Alberta.

After 36 years at Western, Teaching Support Centre Director Debra Dawson retired in August, but not before receiving the Chris Knapper Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. The award recognizes the long-time Western employee’s contributions to teaching, learning and educational development in Canadian higher education.

 

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RICHARD MCLAREN

From generating world headlines with two groundbreaking World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) reports, the latest released last spring, to his appointment to the Order of Canada, Western Law professor Richard McLaren, HBA’68, LLB’71, has had a stellar year.

McLaren has become one of the strongest voices in international sport, having placed his stamp on inquiries ranging from steroids in Major League Baseball, to drug testing cover-ups by USA Track & Field, to widespread cheating by Russian athletes on the eve of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.

Released in June 2016, a WADA report led by McLaren found the Russian government, as well as its security services and sporting authorities, colluded to hide widespread doping across “a vast majority” of winter and summer sports, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.  Despite these dual findings, however, the International Olympic Committee allowed Russian athletes to compete at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.

Nevertheless, what McLaren helped expose has been applauded across sports – and beyond.