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5 Questions with Rosa da Silva

Who inspired you to teach?

Rosa da SilvaThroughout my time as an undergrad, I was always fascinated by a number of course instructors who had an incredible ability to teach science in the most engaging way. In particular, my second year physiology professor Angela Lange, who would later on become my PhD advisor. I remember sitting in Angela's class, turning to my friend and saying “one day, I want to be like her!”

What's the one thing you know now that you wish you'd known when you first starting teaching?

I will never forget how nervous I was when teaching my first class ever, as a senior PhD student at the University of Toronto.  At that time, I was trying so hard to emulate my own amazing previous course instructors that I focused almost entirely on my slides and barely even made eye contact with students!  What a difference 11 years makes.  I continue to grow as an instructor with each course I teach. It’s especially so much easier now that I'm fully comfortable just being myself.

How do you know when students understand what you're teaching? What do you look for? 

The best part of teaching is revisiting scientific concepts with students, and presenting the course material in ways that facilitate those a-ha learning moments. Those moments happen during lectures, in labs, and even during office hours. The most amazing student feedback is when I hear, “Oh my goodness, that makes so much sense!”  That, along with the smiles on student faces.

What's the most rewarding part of teaching?

I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to teach courses from Level 1 to 4. Because of this, I get to witness student learning and growth from year to year, as they progress through their undergraduate journey. Seeing our students move on as amazing junior scientists is, hands-down, the best reward. 

What's the most challenging part of teaching? 

My hope is that in any course, students will have no hesitation coming forward when they may need any assistance with course material, or if they need other support that can be  provided by our amazing student support services team at McMaster. It’s really hard for me to see students in distress .Yet my ability to support students is constantly inspired by my amazing colleagues in the Department of Biology. This includes our faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate TAs.  I could never do what I do in my own classroom without support from the whole team.

Congratulate Rosa at rdasilv@mcmaster.ca.

Extraordinary News on an Ordinary Day

Two Schulich leader students outside Burke Science Building on McMaster's campus, wearing McMaster University sweaters.
Nadia Breault was working on a beach in Northeastern Ontario while Erin Rebello was at home in Scarborough looking for a Zoom link when they found out they'd each been awarded $80,000 Schulich Leader Scholarships.

Nadia and Erin, together with Alexander Vicol, Nethra Wickramasinghe and Daniel Sampson, are the 2021 Schulich Leader Scholarship recipients in the Faculty of Science. Five students in the Faculty of Engineering also received Canada's most coveted entrance scholarships for high school graduates enrolling in science, technology, engineering or mathematics programs at 20 Canadian universities. Nadia and Erin, who are living in the same residence, struck up a friendship after heading out the door at the same time for a Schulich Leaders reception on campus.

Nadia Breault"When I found out I was a Schulich Leader, I was working as a labourer for the City of Timiskaming Shores, waiting until the beach opened for the summer so I could begin my job as a lifeguard," says Nadia, a first-year Mathematics & Statistics student. "So when I got the email that I had been awarded the scholarship I was emptying garbage cans. As you would suspect I was in shock and told my co-worker who didn’t really believe me until he heard me call my mom. I could barely speak but between my gasps for air and shrieks of glee she soon figured out the great news. I continued picking up garbage for the rest of the day in a state of shock." 

Erin RebelloErin, a first-year student in Integrated Science, had a similar reaction. "I first found out that I was selected as a Schulich Leader while looking for a Zoom link. It was a weekday afternoon, and I was scanning my emails in search of a Zoom link to an important student council meeting. At that point in time, I thought that all the Schulich Leaders for McMaster University were already selected, so imagine my surprise when I saw the email titled 'Congrats! You are a Schulich Leader!' at the very top of my inbox. I must have re-read the email 10 times before it sank in, before running downstairs to tell my mom. We were both literally jumping for joy, and she called my dad and extended family while I rushed back to my computer to attend the Student Council meeting."

Out of 1,500 applications, 100 students from across Canada were chosen to receive Schulich Scholarships based on academic excellence, leadership, creativity and charisma, with strong consideration for financial need. 

Students Helping to Roll Out New Strategic Plan

A collage of six students, clockwise starting from the top left: Strategic Plan Project Team members Samarah Maqbool, Brooke Fearns, Angelina D'Angelo, Oishee Ghosh, Sage Hartmann and Arash Aria.
Students have made a return engagement with the Faculty of Science's strategic plan.

After consulting with students during the development of the strategic plan in 2019, the Dean's Office has recruited a team of students to help implement key parts of the plan. The students with the Strategic Plan Project Team were hired through the McMaster Work Program and started working a series of projects during the summer.

The students have earned high marks from Debbie Marinoff Shupe, Manager of Strategic Initiatives and Special Projects and Project Coordinator Maggie Cockburn who've been supporting the team.

"Each and every student has done an outstanding job," says Debbie. "They've brought their personal perspectives and unique experiences to their work. Having students directly involved means we're not guessing or imaging what initiatives would be helpful and meaningful to students. The students told us, proposed a series of projects and then got to work. We take pride in the Faculty of Science for being student-centred so it made a lot of sense to invite students to get directly involved in implementing our strategic plan."

Maggie says the Strategic Plan Project Team has proven to be a great way for students to make a difference. "Students have co-created plans and projects that they're deeply connected to on a personal level. They're also making contributions that will have a profound and lasting impact for current and future student in the Faculty of Science. It's been an amazing experience that they'll carry with them throughout their careers." 

Screen shot of students meeting remotely on ZoomStudents have been working on a series of projects aligned with the Faculty of Science's 2020-2025 strategic plan  including:
  • Developing a framework for advancing and incorporating Indigenous knowledge, wisdom and culture into the Faculty of Science curriculum.
  • Supporting three new projects in the Science Career and Cooperative Education Office, including the development of a supplementary application to better support equity deserving students, reviewing the career exploration topics discussed in Science 2C00 and creating a chart for students that maps the office's resources, supports and services.
  • Assessing how equity, diversity and inclusion concepts are incorporated into course learning material and Faculty of Science publications. 
  • Working with the Office of the Associate Dean (Academic) to enhance communication and access to resources for first-year students. 
  • Further enhancing communication within the Faculty of Science by reviewing communications at similar Faculties at Canadian and American universities.
Here's what some of the students said about why they chose to join the Strategic Plan Project Team and what they've found most rewarding.

Brooke Fearns (Human Behavior) - "Helping to improve a community is a rewarding experience. We get to help improve areas of McMaster for future and current students by helping further build an inclusive, welcoming and diverse community where everyone feels welcome. It's a wonderful team that is so diverse and close to one another."

Sage Hartmann (Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior) - "This was a unique opportunity to work within an established governance structure and assist in the advancement of initiatives. As a passionate advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous voices and Ways of Knowing, this position was the perfect opportunity to test out my ideas of policy-based reform. The best part of working in this team was the opportunity to work alongside an incredible cohort of students, and with Maggie and Debbie. Despite being virtual, the efforts made by Maggie and Debbie to create opportunities for everyone to connect and build relationships promoted a supportive and inclusive work environment."

Arash Aria (Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization) - "The best part of working with the team is hands down the knowledge you gain from one another. It’s a very intellectual group of people who have experienced life very differently from one another. When you bring that together, you develop a group that can learn from one another and help amplify each other’s voices. I am honoured to be led my Maggie and Debbie who are the epitome of what change should look like today within organizations.". 

Angelina D'Angelo (Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior) - "After reading the Strategic Plan, I was really excited to see that the Faculty of Science had a written plan on how they intended to improve things such as equity, diversity and inclusion. What particularly interested me was the focus on improving EDI training for faculty members. I have experienced many occasions where instructors were greatly lacking in EDI training and it affected my education. I wanted to be a part of this team to use my experiences to improve EDI in the faculty, so future students would not feel excluded in their courses. When Maggie and Debbie told us to propose projects to work on, I did I not expect my ideas to become tangible projects. I was also excited to see so many of the leaders in the Faculty of Science are excited about improving EDI and want to get our projects off the ground as soon as possible."

Samarah Maqbool (Life Sciences) - "I'm currently a Level 1 student at McMaster -- meaning I'm currently between "phases", as one might say, between high school and post-secondary. A lot of change comes with this intermediate period (both good and bad), but more importantly it comes with many chances to learn. By being on the Strategic Plan Project Team, I have the opportunity to share my experience with change and resonate with people in the same boat as me. With these shared understandings, we can find solutions to ease the waves of hardships that come along with change. In my case, streamlining the first-year experience to allow for accessibility, engagement and satisfaction.One of the best parts of being part of the Team is that there are such passionate like-minded students to work with! Finding and discussing areas of concern is so validating, especially when your colleagues feel they've had similar experiences to reach that conclusion. With that, we have a lot of fun in finding the best way to support and uphold the Science Strategic Plan, and creating the optimal experience for everyone in the McMaster community."

Oishee Ghosh (Biology and Mathematical Science) -  "I was interesting in using my previous work experiences as well as my background as an undergraduate student here at McMaster to work on a project supporting the Faculty of Science Strategic Plan. In particular, I was excited to see how the team really values the students' perspective when working on various projects, and gives us the opportunity to provide input on areas that directly impact undergraduate students at the university.  Debbie and Maggie create a welcoming space where we feel comfortable to share our ideas and insights, to then select specific areas we can focus our work on. Through this project, I’m looking forward to the educational opportunities and resources that will benefit undergraduate students at all levels who are interested in science research." 

Simran Dhami (Biology and Psychology, Neuroscience & Behavior) - "I saw joining the Strategic Plan Project Team as an opportunity to help contribute to the positive change I want to see within the Faculty of Science. I was especially interested in the emphasis put on increasing the initiatives revolving around EDI in the Faculty of Science. I recognized that this would be the perfect place to put forward my views and ideas, being an individual from an underrepresented group myself. The best part of working on this team is the continuous learning I get to experience whenever I engage in discussions with team members or other faculty members. I appreciate being a part of a working environment where everyone’s opinions are valued, and it's especially gratifying to be able to listen to the different perspectives on more complex issues within the Faculty ranging from accessibility to discrimination. Overall, I feel like I’m always practicing self-growth while being a part of this team and learning about things that I was previously ignorant to."

Lab's Research Showcased on the World Stage

An image of students and researchers of the Remote Sensing Lab standing in a forest.
Alemu Gonsamo's team in the Remote Sensing Laboratory had reason to celebrate this month.

The lab's two-year research study for World Wildlife Fund Canada was presented at the COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland and made national headlines in the Globe and Mail and CBC.

The Mapping Canada's Carbon Landscape study found that 405 billion tonnes of carbon is stored in Canada's ecosystem. The study, which was supported Maple Leaf Foods and the Metcalf Foundation, is the first-ever comprehensive analysis of its kind and has major implications for conversation planning and strategies.

Camile Sothe, a postdoctoral fellow in Alemu's lab, led the two-year study. "I am incredibly proud of Camile," says Alemu. "Camile led such a challenging project, worked with multiple collaborators, and established a working relationship with the Mushkegowuk Cree First Nations community in Northern Ontario to collect more reference data in the coming years to validate the maps." 

Camile SotheThe research aligned with her academic and personal interests, says Camile. "Being a person who loves nature and works for the environment, I'm glad about the positive impacts of this research when it comes to climate change.

"Quantifying and mapping the carbon stocks of plants and soils in Canada are the first steps for future studies to understand the vulnerability of carbon stocks to human actions such as carbon removal by decomposition, fires, harvesting and other disturbances.

"Having the results shared a conference of such magnitude as COP26 only highlights the critical role Canada plays on a global scale when it comes to climate change."

The study is based on data from existing soil and plant biomass samples collected from across the country, as well as long-term satellite data and topographic and climate variables. 

“Tens of thousands of field measurements were fed into a machine-learning algorithm to train satellite observations, including space-based laser scanning data, to estimate carbon stocks in plant biomass and soils across Canada," says Alemu, Canada Research Chair in Remote Sensing of Terrestrial Ecosystems, an assistant professor with the School of Earth, Environment & Society and a member of the McMaster Centre for Climate Change. "The resulting national carbon map will have a huge impact on the way conservation activities and policies are approached to prioritize nature-based climate solutions."

The research will also play a key role in WWF-Canada's 10-year plan to restore one million hectares of lost complex ecosystems, protect and steward 100 million hectares of ecologically rich habitat and reduce carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes.

“The findings of this study are monumental for conservation in Canada, and across the world," says Megan Leslie, WWF-Canada President and CEO. "Knowing where carbon is stored in Canada allows us to strategically protect and manage the right places to prevent billions of tonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. Protecting these areas will also benefit wildlife by safeguarding habitat for important species at risk.”

Congratulate Camile at sothec@mcmaster.ca.

Celebrating a 20-year Research Partnership

A collage of images featuring Mike Brook and Dan Chen (left and right).
The undergraduate students in the Brook Research Group weren't yet born when Faculty of Science Research Chair Mike Brook and research scientist Dan Chen began working together.

Mike hired Dan in 2001 to fill the key role of lab manager. For the past two decades, Dan's supervised dozens of undergraduate and graduate students, supported Mike's work and conducted his own research on synthetic polymers. Mike secures year-to-year funding from industrial partners to cover Dan's salary.

"Research makes me happy and working with students keeps me active and continually renews my knowledge," says Dan. "When I was young, I wanted to become an expert in a small and specific chemistry field. Silicone chemistry is the one for me and Mike is internationally known as a leading expert in silicones."

So what's been the key to a successful 20-year partnership? "Develop mutual respect and make sure both parties are part of the team," says Mike. 

Dan agrees that mutual trust and respect are key. "Mike always fully supports my work, knowing and valuing my contributions to research projects and lab management. Our communications with each other are always open-minded and lead to creative thinking."

20-year celebration for Dan ChenAnd what have they learned from each other?

"I've tried to emulate Dan's amazing ability to stay calm under pressure but it's still a work in progress,"  says Mike. "Fortunately, Dan is a patient teacher."

"I've learned creative thinking skills from Mike and how to deliver effective and engaging presentations to a wide variety of audiences," says Dan. "Mike also leads by example when it comes to staying active both at work and during leisure time." 

Mike and the entire research group held an outdoor appreciation lunch earlier this summer to celebrate Dan's 20 years of service as lab manager. 

Congratulate Dan by sending an email to dychen@mcmaster.ca.
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