Student life superstars: Meet this year's outstanding Board of Governors Award winners

- March 26, 2015

Snapshots of this year's Board of Governors Award recipients. (Provided photos; photo collage Luke Smith)
Snapshots of this year's Board of Governors Award recipients. (Provided photos; photo collage Luke Smith)

Dal has close to 19,000 students across 12 faculties. They reside on four different campuses in Halifax and Truro, plus programs in other parts of our region like Saint John and Yarmouth. They come from over 115 different countries. They study in over 180 degree programs, complete thousands of different courses and take part in more than 280 student societies.

In a community so large and diverse, what difference can one student make? Turns out: a heck of a lot.

Dal’s student community will be celebrated tonight at the fourth-annual Student Impact Awards in Halifax. The event brings together the major student awards from across the university and the DSU and packages them into a one-night extravaganza showcasing students’ achievements from the past year and beyond. In total, more than 70 awards will be presented, recognizing students for their contributions in academic life, student life and community service, and residence life.

Watch: Impact Awards livestream (event starts Thursday evening at 6 p.m. ADT)

Of those awards, none is more prestigious than the Board of Governors Award. The award celebrates students’ contribution to the quality and vitality of the university through both academic and extracurricular accomplishment; think of it as a sort of “lifetime achievement award” for student life. The nominations come from across the university, with the winners chosen by a committee consisting of the president, three members of the Board of Governors and the vice-provost student affairs.

This year’s Board of Governors Award recipients demonstrate the breadth and depth with which students contribute to the Dal community. Among their ranks are an athlete, a student society leader, a student government leader, a community organizer, a residence assistant. But to reduce their contributions to a single role or activity does them a great disservice: these are students whose reach and impact crosses barriers and boundaries, whose drive and determination has made an immeasurable difference in the lives of their peers and their communities.

Simply put: these students embody the Dal spirit at its absolute best.

Kristy McGregor-Bales

Why is Dal soccer star Kristy McGregor-Bales so committed to giving back through sport? Because sport has given her so much.

“I wouldn’t be the person I was today without sport,” says the fourth-year Recreation Management student and captain of the Tigers varsity women’s soccer team. “I learned so much about leadership, communication, resilience and time-management, all through my sport experiences. I want to give back in the same way; that’s where my passion lies.”

Her on-field accomplishments are impressive enough in their own right: Kristy is a First Team All-Canadian, a four-time Atlantic University Sport (AUS) All-Star and was part of the women soccer team’s 2011 and 2012 AUS championship wins. But she’s also a three-time Academic All-Canadian, a recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Leadership, Academics and Athletics, and has been involved in several key leadership roles within Dalhousie Athletics. These include serving as co-president of Varsity Council and co-president of the Special Tigers Society, which runs events where youth with intellectual disabilities partner with Dal varsity athletes to share their love of sport. (Kristy was key to helping secure a $4,500 grant from RBC for the student-run program.)

“Given that I’d like to work in sport administration or management, these were opportunities to get some experience in those areas,” says Kristy, originally from Ottawa. “But they were also opportunities to meet so many great people. Dalhousie, all-around, has been an amazing experience: the people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve had through athletics, the chance to travel to places I’d never have gone to otherwise.”

Those travels include trips to two Olympic Games in a volunteer capacity, including the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia. Her many additional volunteer experiences include the Dalhousie Sports Pals — a partnership with Halifax Regional Police that bring underprivileged youth to Dal for soccer and physical activity — and serving as a volunteer athlete ambassador for “Get Real,” a non-profit that aims to eliminate and unlearn homophobic language and other LGBTQ discrimination.  

Kristy is returning to Dal this fall for a fifth year with the Tigers. And while she hopes to complete an MBA at some point, first she hopes to gain more experience working for a national or multi-sport organization — continuing her commitment to making a difference through sports and recreation.

Xinyu (Lokiy) Wang

Speaking with Xinyu (Lokiy) Wang, it’s hard to imagine that the spirited, engaging student leader once felt out-of-place on campus.

“When I came here I was very shy and not confident in myself,” says Lokiy, who’s originally from Jining City in China’s Shandong Province. “I didn’t even have any Canadian friends until my second year, and I mostly kept to myself.”

As an international student, Lokiy initially felt like some of the more popular societies and groups in the Rowe School of Business, like the Commerce Society, weren’t really “for her.” But two things changed the second year of her Commerce program. The first was advice from a friend, who pointed out that Lokiy’s English skills had greatly improved and that she should be more active in campus life. The second was a co-op term with the Rowe School, where part of her job was encouraging communication between international and domestic students.

That led Lokiy, together with faculty member Linda MacDonald, to start the Faculty of Management’s International Student Success Program. It offers unique supports to international and exchange students and has hosted several successful events to bring the whole community — domestic and international students alike — together in celebration of its diversity. One of its most successful events thus far was Dal’s first International Food Festival, which attracted more than 200 students.

“Dalhousie is a pretty diverse environment,” says Lokiy. “It’s not just about helping international students adjust to Canadian culture, but it’s about how international students bring a different perspective and a different cultural background to Dal from all over the world. It’s an experience for Canadian students to learn about different cultures as well; it’s a two-way process.”

Lokiy has been heavily involved in both the Dalhousie Chinese Student Scholars Association and the Dalhousie International Students Association (DISA), but she’s particularly proud of her role within the Commerce Society. As the first international student to serve on the society’s executive, she initiated the first international students case competition in the Rowe School and hosting the National Inside Ride event in Halifax, which raised over $26,000 for charity.

“The proudest thing is I can see the change I actually made,” she says. “I’ve gotten to see international students feeling like they have more of a place within our program, and it’s great that another international student will be following me on the executive of the Commerce Society. That’s something we want to see more of.”

Mahbubur Rahman

While many graduate students at Dal get involved in campus life, few dive in with the same zeal as Mahbubur Rahman.

The Masters in Civil Engineering student started his degree two years ago, leaving behind his native Bangladesh — and his wife and kids — to seek out new opportunities. (His wife and two daughters, ages six and three, have since joined him in Halifax.)

“I realized I wasn’t enhancing my skills and abilities because I was with a small group of people in small surroundings,” says Mahbubur, who after completing his bachelor’s degree was teaching at Stamford University Bangladesh. “I felt I needed to go abroad.”

With his family back home during his first year, Mahbubur found himself seeking out social opportunities on and off campus alongside his masters work with Ahsan Habib and the DalTrac lab. He started with the Dalhousie Engineering Graduate Society and quickly became its vice-president finance. He began volunteering in the community through the Dal Connects program — with the YWCA, with Immigration Settlement & Integration Services, and many others — and received the program’s “Change Agent” award for the highest level of leadership and voluntary involvement. He joined the Dalhousie International Students Association and became heavily involved in the society’s programming; he’s currently the association’s vice-president executive.

This year, Mahbubur is also vice-president academic of the Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students, president of the Dalhousie Bangladesh Society and president of the Halifax Student Housing Society, which runs the Dalhousie-owned Peter Green Hall.

“I thought, ‘I’m in Canada, why not make the most of it?’” he says. “After classes, in the afternoons and evenings, I’d go to the meetings and student groups. And given I had some leadership experience in my undergrad, I quickly started finding myself drawn to those kinds of roles.”

Still, he never expected he’d end up being hired as DSU vice-president finance and operations. When the opportunity presented itself, though, he quickly leapt at it. During his time in office this past year he’s prioritized making the DSU’s budget more transparent and more focused on the needs of students, particularly student societies. It’s work he’ll get to continue for another year: with the position up for public vote in the DSU elections for the first time, Mahbubur ran unopposed and was elected.

“I work with so many great student groups and communities in the university, and I feel privileged to have so much opportunity to do so,” he says.

Owen Johnstone

After attending art school and spending some time travelling, Owen Johnstone had finally found the academic program he was looking for: the Veterinary Technology diploma at Dal’s Faculty of Agriculture.

 So why was he nervous about starting it?

Owen, a longtime organizer and volunteer within the LGBTQ community, had grown up hearing rumours of Truro’s reputation for homophobia. His fears gained teeth as he received a nasty email after responding to a roommate ad in town and when, during his first semester, he heard about homophobic bullying directed towards another student. He knew his new home could do better.

“I knew that starting an organization could create a space to meet and get to know other people,” says Owen, originally from Fall River, N.S. “Even if we didn’t do anything big or political, we could at least make friends and not feel alone. That was the first step.”

This was the genesis of DALOUT Truro, a student society that now has a prominent presence on the Agricultural Campus. The society has worked with campus residences on programming, hosted public events, taken part in community activities like the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life and received the Club/Organization Award at the 2014 Agricultural Campus Impact Awards.

“That visibility shows others that there are students on campus who are LGBTQ, and hopefully gets people thinking about our community in a different light, and about the need to keep our campus safe and supportive,” he says, noting the society has been well received, both among his Vet Tech peers and across the Ag Campus community.

He has also been heavily involved within the Vet Tech program, serving as president of its student society and, together with Student Services, helping to organize a peer tutoring program. He’s particularly proud of improving the relationship between first- and second-year students with a focus on skills development.

Owen is eager to put his new veterinary technician skills to work after graduation this spring, with a long-term goal of opening a business focused on building community between pet-owners. He says his experience studying at the Agricultural Campus has only enhanced his view of the importance of community connections.

“All of the staff and faculty here are so approachable,” he says. “This is a great campus to attend if you want that individual one-on-one attention. It’s a really community-focused environment."

Randii-Lynn Sullivan

Randii Sullivan’s Dalhousie experience isn’t quite what she expected when she first arrived on campus six years ago — and it’s all been for the better.

The Dryden, Ont. native originally had ambitions of being part of the varsity women’s hockey team. When she didn’t make the cut, she initially felt lost, but quickly found inspiration by getting involved in residence life as a food and environmental rep on residence council. That led her to working as a residence assistant (RA) in her second year, and she’s never looked back.

Now, as Randii nears the end of her second Dal degree (a Bachelor of Social Work, following her Bachelor of Science in Psychology), she’s also completing her fifth year as an RA across three different residences (Shirreff, Howe and Mini Res), including three years as a senior residence assistant. During that time, she’s supervised over 50 RAs and has helped build a safe and supportive environment for hundreds of her fellow students.

“Even after five years, I find that I’m getting something out of it,” she says. “As much as I think I help facilitate students’ experience, they also do the same for me; I find I learn a lot from them. I never get bored with it because there’s always something new learn, always new residents to make the year unique.”

She credits her time as an RA with guiding her towards social work, inspiring her desire to learn more about the social conditions that inform individuals’ personal circumstances. It’s also led her into a whole plethora of community and volunteer activities, from co-chairing the Think Pink Breast Cancer Fundraiser in 2012-13 (raising $3,000) to volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, Change for Children, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Feed Nova Scotia and more. (Somehow, she even made time for a term in Australia on exchange.)

Among her proudest work is her time as a peer advisor with Dal’s Career and Leadership Development Centre. Through that role, she co-chaired the program committee for the Dal-hosted East Coast Student Leadership Conference and travelled across the region and country presenting to student leaders about strategies address the stigma around mental health.

With graduation approaching, Randii is considering masters programs and has also applied to medical school — another thing she would never have considered six years ago.

“My life here at Dal has taken so many different twists and turns, and what I’ve learned is that one person can make a difference,” she says. “I’ve been able to impact people in every aspect of my life here at Dal… You don’t always have to aim big: sometimes it’s the small acts that make a real difference.”

Learn more about the Dalhousie Impact Awards.


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