Helping students succeed: Meet this year's Rosemary Gill Award winners

- June 10, 2016

Left-to-right: Shelley Caines (Masters of Engineering in Internetworking), Kelly Underwood (Physiotherapy), Barb Hamilton-Hinch (Health and Human Performance) and Chibuike Udenigwe (Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture). (Danny Abriel photo)
Left-to-right: Shelley Caines (Masters of Engineering in Internetworking), Kelly Underwood (Physiotherapy), Barb Hamilton-Hinch (Health and Human Performance) and Chibuike Udenigwe (Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture). (Danny Abriel photo)

Dalhousie loves to celebrate the excellence and achievements of its students. But for many students, their success often depends a great deal on the empathy and support of certain faculty and staff along the way.

Every year, Dal recognizes some of those individuals who have provided outstanding service to students in a non-teaching capacity with the Rosemary Gill Award.

The awards — established in 1995 — are inspired by Rosemary Gill, a graduate of the Faculty of Medicine who later served as director of University Health Services (now Student Health Services) between 1985 and 1991. A physician at the university and a member of Student Services staff, Dr. Gill was known for her deep commitment to student success.

“The best part of my job is celebrating excellence,” Dal president Richard Florizone said at an awards ceremony for this year’s awardees Tuesday.

Meet this year’s recipients:

Shelley Caines, Masters of Engineering in Internetworking

Gaining practical knowledge and work experience early on as a student can make all the difference when it comes time to transition to the workforce, and that's particularly true when it comes to competitive fields such as internetworking. For nearly 20 years, Shelley Caines has helped ensure students in Dal's Masters of Engineering in Internetworking program develop that professional edge they need.

Shelley first joined the Internetworking program in 1997 in a part-time capacity before moving into a full-time position as administrative assistant two years later. As the program evolved over the years, so too did Shelley's role and she eventually became program administrator in 2001 and then program manager in 2012. Her dedication to preparing students professionally is evident from the many initiatives and programs she has helped introduce over the years, including Cisco training and certification, lab upgrades to better simulate the workplace, and lab assistantships in which students work alongside staff to resolve technology related issues.

Shelley has also been a pillar of support for the many international students the internetwrorking program attracts. She has a reputation as a community builder and has been a fixture at Diwali celebration events and at the recently introduced Colour festival, both of particular interest to the many South Asian students in the program. She also introduced a peer-to-peer program to help ensure those students coming from far and wide have a smooth transition to life in Canada. One student praised Shelley's "natural compassion" and "unwavering enthusiasm," calling her "more than just a student advisor; she's a mentor, a motivator, an inspiration and a good friend."

"Each year we invite many enthusiastic individuals who have dreams and goals and high expectations," Shelley said in remarks after receiving her award, adding later that "it's absolutely important to ensure that our students feel that we at Dalhousie University care about them and their success. That's what drives me and motivates me each and every day."

Barb Hamilton-Hinch, School of Health and Human Performance

Barb Hamilton-Hinch first arrived at Dal 25 years ago as an undergraduate in the Recreation Management program. Today, she teaches other students in that same program as an assistant professor focusing on diversity and inclusion of marginalized populations. Her impact on students stretches far beyond what she teaches them in the classroom, though.

Barb has been a tireless supporter of students over the years, through committee and advocacy work. She was instrumental in the creation of the Black Student Advising Centre and served as its director for several years. She has also worked hard to ensure students are represented in various forums across the university and played a key role in the decision to include a student representative on the Faculty of Health Professions's affirmative-action committee, which she co-chairs. She has paid particular attention to the needs of African Nova Scotian youth and worked to boost enrolment and retention of students from that community over the years. The Imhotep Lagacy Academy, a program that aims to increase the presence of African Nova Scotians in science and technology fields, was also developed with Barb's help.
Barb, who graduated with her Interdisciplinary PhD earlier this month, has been an important mentor to many students at Dal, getting to know many of them personally and offering support during tough times. It's this personal connection and genuine concern that seem to endear Barb to people, as so many of her past students attest. As one former student put it, Barb is "tireless and selfless" and has "cared for me as a mother would for her child."

Accepting her award, Barb thanked her family, students and others at the university for supporting her during her own journey. "Without the students and without you, none of this would be possible."

Chibuike Udenigwe, Department of Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Agriculture)

Chibuike Udenigwe has made a big impact at Dal in a short span of time. Since joining Dalhousie's Faculty of Agriculture four years ago to establish a new program in health and food bioproducts, he has become an important leader on the Agricultural Campus and a mentor and role model to students.

Two of Dr. Udenigwe's students were so inspired by his course on communications skills for scientists that they decided to start a student group called “Ruminate” that gives students on the campus the opportunity to explore ideas and discussions beyond their own topics. Dr. Udenigwe attends the group's sessions each week, often bringing students and other faculty along as well.

Dr. Undenigwe has also encouraged more students to get involved the Three-Minute Thesis competition, and, this year, three of the eight finalists were from the Agricultural Campus. As one of those finalists says, "Dr. Undenigwe has made great efforts to augment the graduate student experience, not just for his own graduate students, but for each one of the graduate students on our campus."

Dr. Udenigwe cites his own experience moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba from Nigeria as an international student 11 years ago as one of the key reason he works so hard to support students in a holistic way. "I have tried to use that experience to help them get something better from what I got as an international student," Dr. Udenigwe said after receiving his award. "They came here for school, but it's very refreshing for them to see that they can get more than that."

Kelly Underwood, School of Physiotherapy

Professional programs are known for being tough to get into. But Kelly Underwood has helped to settle the rattled nerves of more than a few applicants to graduate programs in the School of Physiotherapy since taking over as admissions and graduate programs assistant in 2008.

As the first point of contact for the more than 400 prospective applicants to the school’s programs each year, Kelly’s attention to detail and work ethic have been crucial to the success of the admissions process in recent years. Whether it is explaining the increasingly complex pre-requisite criteria or suggesting course equivalencies, Kelly’s expertise has been invaluable to both students and colleagues. One colleague called her the “brains, heart and soul” of the admissions committee.

Then there is her commitment to treating all applicants fairly. Rather than dismissing applications that are incomplete, Underwood follows up with the students to point out the missing areas and help them finish their submissions. “There’s no denying that without Kelly’s hard work and patience, some of us who are in the program right now would not be here,” writes one current student. “Thankfully her attention to detail makes up for our lack of it.”

“I love my job. I love working with the students,” she said. “Just receiving this award is like the icing on the cake, really.”


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