There when students need them most: Meet this year's Rosemary Gill Award recipients

- June 19, 2014

Rosemary Gill Award recipients (left to right): Monique Comeau, Eileen Denovan-Wright, Susan Mansour, David Matthias. (Nick Pearce photos)
Rosemary Gill Award recipients (left to right): Monique Comeau, Eileen Denovan-Wright, Susan Mansour, David Matthias. (Nick Pearce photos)

“Above and beyond the call of duty.” “A door that’s always open.” “There when you need a helping hand.”

It’s easy to say or write clichés and idioms like these; it’s another thing entirely to live them day-in and day-out.

And yet, there are faculty and staff at Dal doing just every day that to help students succeed. Sometimes, the contributions may seem small — a quick answer to a question here, a phone call there — but at other times the work may be life-changing. The support these individuals offer may not always be highly visible, but it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.

Each year, Dalhousie presents the Rosemary Gill Award to up to four such individuals who provide truly outstanding support to students in capacities other than teaching. The award takes its name from the late Rosemary Gill, a Dalhouise Medical School graduate who served as director of University Health Services from 1985 to 1991 and exemplified a high level of service to students.

This year’s recipients play a variety of different roles: assistant dean, associate director, department admin, graduate coordinator. They were nominated for the award by different individuals and groups across campus. Yet there’s a striking similarity to their stories: in every case, their nominations included letters from students who’d been through challenges, from the small to the earth-shattering, and found in a Dal staff or faculty member not just help and support, but a true ally and advocate.

“They’re stories about people who have made the extra step to connect with our students, to help and assist them,” said President Richard Florizone, who presented the awards. “It’s truly inspiring.”

Monique Comeau, Department of Economics

Starting at university can be tricky: where to go, what courses to register, how to find what you’re looking for. For Economics students, Monique, the department’s administrator, has been there to help for nearly three decades.

“Monique is really the face of the department,” wrote one of her nominators. “When new faculty and staff members arrive at the Department of Economics, they will talk to Monique for guidance. When new students arrive at Maxwell House of the Department of Economics, they will ask Monique for advice on almost every conceivable matter.”

“I like helping students,” says Monique. “Whether it’s registering for classes, or getting into full classes, or having issues with visas… it’s great to be able to offer help.”

Cited for her friendly manner and attention to detail, as well as initiatives like helping acquire better work space for grad students, it’s clear from the glowing letters of support that Monique makes a huge difference in the lives of her students.

“It’s an honour,” she says. “I’ve worked at Dalhousie a long time and met a lot of students, and that they would do something like this for me is quite touching.”

Eileen Denovan-Wright, Department of Pharmacology / Faculty of Graduate Studies

To say that Eileen’s contributions to student life in the Department of Pharmacology are varied would be an understatement. They range from something as sprawling as a complete overhaul of the department’s graduate student procedures and requirements, to simply offering up a set of wheels.

“Dr. Donovan-Wright has often taken time out of her personal time to drive students to stores to get supplies for events,” wrote one nominator, “and has volunteered to help run events when students and staff have not been responsive to calls for help.”

Eileen has been a faculty member at Dal since 1996. From 2007 until 2013 she served as the department’s graduate coordinator and now she’s associate dean of the Faculty of Graduate studies. Her students credit her with being a key part of the department’s tight-knit community, noting her fair mindedness and strong mentoring.

“I’m really lucky,” she says, about the award. “There’s a lot of students, but they all have their own story, and to be a small part of any of their stories is really touching.”

She says working with students is so enjoyable that often it barely feels like work: “It’s brand new every time. No matter how old they are, they’re starting something. They’re exploring knowledge, exploring who they are, and the potential is unlimited.”

Susan Mansour, College of Pharmacy

When students give you a nickname like “Momma Mansour,” that says an awful lot.

Susan has been with the College of Pharmacy for over 20 years. She’s currently the college’s associate director of undergraduate education, but starting July 1 she’ll be its new director. She’s a celebrated teacher, with several awards to her name, but the Rosemary Gill Award celebrates her incredible support for students outside of the classroom.

Several of the students who nominated her have been through incredible challenges in their personal and academic lives: health issues, deaths, career crises, hardships of the heart. And time and time again, Susan has been  there, with words like “compassionate,” “calming,” “empathetic” appearing in the nomination letters time and time again.

“I knew I could talk to her at any time and I cannot thank her enough for her kindness and caring attitude,” wrote one of her nominators.

“I think an award like this, it just means more than any other,” says Susan. “I love being able to help [students] achieve their goals, to help them succeed, and to see them mature and grow and achieve their full potential.”

David Matthias, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

“I routinely attempt to rename [David’s] job title from ‘assistant dean, student matters’ to ‘assistant dean, students matter,” writes Robert Summerby-Murray, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), “as I am convinced that is a more accurate description of his work.”

Regardless of the title, David has played an important role within FASS since 2009. He’ll meet with literally hundreds of students over the course of the year, whether it’s about appealing an academic dismissal, dropping classes due to personal or family emergencies, or returning to school after time away. David’s a visible force within FASS, working closely with the Dalhousie Arts and Social Sciences Student Society to implement initiatives like the Peer Partnership Program and FASS’ popular orientation event.

One student nominator, who recalls her nervousness about working with the dean’s office for the first time, was reassured by a peer, “Don’t worry, you’ll be working with David, it’s going to be great.” And it was.

“It’s very gratifying,” says David, about receiving the award, “because I know how many people do similar work like I do across campus, who are making significant contributions to student service and helping students achieve their degrees and cope with difficulties.”

He says convocation is a particularly proud moment each year.

“I serve as head marshal at our Faculty’s convocation, so I actually am there ushering them literally up on the stage. For some students, it feels like I’ve been doing that for most of my degree; it’s great to be there for them then.”


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