Integrated science program fuels passion for doing good

Photo courtesy Ayush Namboothiri

Jermiah Joseph is a gold medal graduate in integrated science, specializing in computer science.

A science and math whiz, Jermiah Joseph graduated from high school with a multitude of post-secondary options.

Medical sciences at Western captured his interest, so he applied. Then he heard about integrated science, a relatively new program in which students tackle a wide range of sciences from biology to climate change to physics – and Joseph applied to that as well.

He was accepted into both programs and, in choosing the latter, became part of a select class of 60 in his first year.

“I had an interest in science and I wanted to play a part in solving multi-disciplinary problems,” he said. “It feeds my curiosity about how things work.”

Next week, Joseph will officially graduate among Western’s fall Class of 2020 and will join more than 315,000 individuals around the world who count themselves as Western alumni. (More graduation coverage is here.)

For attaining the highest average in his graduating cohort, he will be awarded a Gold Medal in integrated science, as a specialist in computer science.

More important to him than the accolades has been the opportunity to make a difference.

In one course, he was part of a five-person team (all of them studying different specialities within integrated science), that studied a community project called the Big Bike Giveaway.

Together, the students helped quantify the benefits of the project – in which London volunteers collect, repair and give away hundreds of bikes – by examining the economic, social, environmental and health impact of cycling.

The organization used the team’s report as part of its report to the community to show the benefits of the program go well beyond providing transportation to people in need.

“It gave me a chance to get out of the ‘Western bubble,’ ”Joseph said. “It was weird to me that I was given so much at Western and this felt like I was giving back to the community. It really inspired my passion for doing good and for helping someone else do good.”

When it came time to specialize, Joseph chose computer science even though he had never taken a computer course in high school. “It was so cool. I felt like I was doing some mind-blowing stuff.”

He also became immersed in the science students’ council after a friend suggested he could make videos and do some graphic design – work that evolved into his heading the council’s communications portfolio.

“I was able to find time for school and science council because I was very passionate about it. If you told me in first year that I would do this, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said.

That’s partly because, despite his achievements, he felt like an imposter even months into his first year.

“I didn’t feel like I belonged, that I didn’t belong in my program, that I didn’t belong at Western. I thought eventually people were going to find out I’m a fraud.”

Joseph got through by leaning on a supportive family, making connections with friends and roommates, getting involved and learning that he needed only compare himself to himself and not to others.

That perspective became especially helpful when COVID-19’s shutdown made his graduating year memorable for unexpected reasons. But he was philosophical about what was to have been the pinnacle of his time as an undergraduate. “Everything is (about) the journey, not the destination. It’s what you get out of it along the way, not necessarily what you get out of it at the end.”

Now he is using what he has learned to work towards a master’s degree in medical biophysics: helping combine his degree in integrated science with his continued drive to make a difference in the medical field.

“Choosing integrated science was by far the best decision of my career. It really appealed to my interests, my passion, my curiosity. It was where I could get an understanding of how these different disciplines worked and then become a specialist in one of them.”