This week's vitals: Spotlight on student awards

Meet four award-winning student scholars and leaders who are setting a course for excellence at UAlberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

Kirsten Bauer - 13 April 2017

Several students in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry have earned prestigious awards for the outstanding calibre of their research and leadership this month. Although these learners span a variety of disciplines and experience levels, a common thread that binds them is a shared desire to satisfy their curiosity. The secret to their success? Pairing their quest for meaningful discovery with supportive faculty mentorship.

Lily Sun - Outstanding Interdisciplinary Award, Festival of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities

As a first-year medical student, Lily wanted to apply her background in chemistry to an area of human health. She had no idea that her first student project, supervised by Chris Le, would be so well-received.

"I didn't expect much from my first summer project," she laughs. "I was really surprised to get an award on my first project ever!" Lily's project, entitled Total Arsenic and Speciation of Arsenic in Albertan Freshwater Fish looks at different types of arsenic that are found in Alberta's water, noting that some types are non-lethal and safe for human consumption. As a winner of FoMD's Annual Summer Students' Research Day poster presentation award, she will also represent the University of Alberta at the annual National Student Research Forum in Galveston, Texas from April 19-21, 2017.

She isn't sure what kind of research she will do next, but she is excited to see what the future holds. "I'm still exploring the different fields, but research is definitely something I enjoy, and hopefully I can incorporate that into my career. But it's too early to decide on a specialty and I want to keep my options open."

Kristi Ngo - Alberta College of Medical Diagnostic and Therapeutic Technologists Student Leadership Award

Second-year student Kristi Ngo didn't know she wanted to pursue radiation therapy until she took a biochemistry class, where she quickly became fascinated by the physics and precision of the treatment that could be offered to cancer patients. A few years later, her gift for targeting problems and finding solutions motivated her to become president of the Radiation Therapy Students Association (RTSA).

The RTSA was only established last year, and Kristi's term as VP prepared her to take on the role of president in her second year. "Our program has very few students" she says. "Each cohort has about 10 students, so it was easy to step up as a leader and communicate openly because we already work really well as a team." Since becoming president she has introduced a student mentorship program, wherein junior students are paired with more senior peers to help prepare them for success.

Next year Kristi's clinical training will take her to Calgary, where she is sure to discover new leadership opportunities. "I've heard there are a lot of challenges in terms of communicating with patients," she says, "so hopefully I can help make things a little better for people."

Danielle Clark - ADEA/Crest Oral-B Scholarships for Dental Hygiene Students Pursuing Academic Careers

As the first Canadian to receive this award, Danielle is achieving her goals with laser-focus. Her first brush with research happened when she participated in the Undergraduate Summer Students' Research Program with Sharon Compton. Danielle says at first she hated research, but the mentorship that she received changed her mind.

"As soon as I knew that I liked research I was on the academic path," she says.

Since then the MSc student has presented her research on periodontal disease at the Pacific Dental Conference and the International Symposium on Dental Hygienein Switzerland, which exposed her to the breadth of work being done at the international level. This is just the beginning for Danielle, who sees a future for herself in dentistry research.

"I think there's a huge need for dental research in several different aspects. My heart is in prevention, and I think we understand a lot about how to prevent," she says, "but something isn't working in the community setting, so more work needs to be done in terms of knowledge dissemination and translation, in order to see high risk populations get the care that they need."

Mohamed Omar - International Association of Dental Research(IADR) Unilever Hatton Award 2017

The IADR annual meeting is the largest dental research conference in the world, and PhD student Mohamed Omar's project ranked number one against candidates from 27 other countries. This is only the second time the award has been won by a Canadian student, and the first award of this calibre for Alberta dentistry since 1970.

According to Mohamed, dental research at the University of Alberta is on the rise, and he believes it will lead to new discoveries. "Two years ago it was just me and a few other students," he says. "Now there are more than 25 students at different educational levels who are involved in dental research. I think my award is a reflection of the amount of effort being put in by our supervisors and our chair to advance dental research, which will probably have a big impact on the whole university."

Read more about Omar's story here.