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Faculty of Science names Co-op Student of the Year Winners

April saw the announcement of this years' Science Co-op Student of the Year winners. Top awards were presented to Vanessa Bierling, Mathematics & Statistics Co-op, Year 3 winner; Branavan Sivapathasundaram, Molecular Biology & Genetics Co-op, Year 4 winner; and Vanessa Sheng, Biology & Pharmacology Co-op, Year 5 winner.

Winners were announced at a reception held at the University Club. There, all graduating Science Co-op students gathered to celebrate their co-op and academic successes over their five years at McMaster, and recognize these top achieving students. Vicki Lowes, Manager, Science Career and Cooperative Education (SCCE), and Samantha Couch, Career Development and Relationship Manager, SCCE, presented the awards.

The SCCE Office invited Science Co-op employers to nominate students who had gone above and beyond during their work terms over the past year. The Office received 17 employer nominations, which recognized students from 9 of the 14 Science Co-op programs, and from all sectors – academia and hospital, industry and government.

A four-member committee then selected the Co-op Student of the Year Award recipients. The Committee scored students on academic achievements, the strength of their employer nomination letter, the student’s personal statement, and contributions to cooperative education and extracurricular activity at McMaster or the community.

 “We are proud of our cooperative education programs and especially proud of the winners and nominees,” says Maureen MacDonald, Dean of the Faculty of Science. “We also thank our employer partners who do an exceptional job of mentoring and supervising our students and providing them with valuable work opportunities.”

The SCCE Office manages 14 unique cooperative education programs for the Faculty of Science. Each year they help students secure over 400 work terms across a variety of sectors, giving them valuable work and life experience. All programs start in year 3 and follow Canadian Association for Cooperative Education criteria and guidelines. More information about the Science Co-op program at McMaster can be found here or by emailing

Award Winners and Nominees

  • Vanessa Bierling worked as a Co-op Student in the lab of Dr. Paul McNicholas at McMaster University for four months, focusing on mixture model-based clustering and factor analysis research. Dr. McNicholas described Vanessa as the best undergraduate student he has had the pleasure of supervising, and she made exemplary contributions to his work.  Vanessa was an NSERC USRA recipient and has maintained a perfect 12.0 GPA throughout all her academic terms.

  • Branavan Sivapathasundaram worked for 8 months at the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) in Hamilton as an Education Assistant, designing interactive eLearning training modules for PHRI studies and developing a course framework to help PHRI staff gain a better understanding of research methodology concepts. His supervisor at PHRI, Kirsten Grubic, wrote that Branavan represents the ideals of a co-op student, always striving to improve, and he quickly excelled and had a positive impact. Branavan is also active in many extracurricular activities at McMaster and in the community, and he promotes the benefits of co-op to everyone who will listen.

  • Vanessa Sheng worked as a Medical Research Associate at Six Degrees Medical Consulting for four months. Her supervisor stated that she adapted easily to the learning curve and proved to be one of the best co-op students to ever work with their company. In addition, Vanessa has contributed extensively to McMaster and the local community, holding executive positions on the McMaster Red Cross Group, the Biology & Pharmacology Society, the MCAT Prep Club, and working in peer mentorship roles with many groups on campus. She also helped to organize an information night for prospective co-op students, promoting co-op and expressing her love for her program, all while maintaining an impressive 11 + GPA.

The event also recognized the following 2016 Co-op Student of the Year nominees:

  • Year 3: William Zizek (Chemical Biology), Victoria Piccioni (Actuarial and Financial Mathematics), Megan Vierhout (Life Science), Michelle Lo (Biology & Pharmacology), and Rehginald Ragos (Biochemistry).

  • Year 4 and 5: Dana Buckingham (Chemistry), Reda Siddiqui (Life Science), Alexandria Hanly (Chemical Biology), Andrew Brown (Chemistry), Julianna Sebastiani (Medical Physics), Annik Gougeon (Math & Statistics), Lydia Li (Actuarial and Financial Mathematics), Lavan Sivarajah (Life Science), and Michelle Yee (Molecular Biology & Genetics).

Your visual cortex keeps maturing and may get better as you age

Kathy Murphy, Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, and her team have found that the part of the brain responsible for processing visual signals continues to develop until you are in your late 30s or early 40s. Previously the visual cortex was thought to mature and stabilize within the first few years of life. These findings may have implications for treatments conditions such as amblyopia or “lazy eye”, where it was thought only children could benefit from interventions.

The study used post-mortem brain-tissue samples from 30 people ranging in age from 20 days to 80 years. The research appears in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Congratulations to latest Ontario Early Research Award holder

Heisz Kin headshotJennifer Heisz, Kinesiology, is one of seven McMaster researchers to receive Early Researcher Awards from the Province of Ontario. The awards are designed to help recently appointed researchers – those having held a full-time faculty appointment for fewer than five years – build their research teams. Heisz’s project, “Brain health in aging: Understanding how exercise promotes brain function to reduce the risk of dementia,” has the potential to create lasting impacts and contribute to healthy aging.

New Killam Fellow to study how stars form

Christine Wilson, Physics & Astronomy, has been awarded a prestigious Killam Fellowship, one of six scholars to receive the award this year. The Fellowship supports full teaching and administrative release to allow researchers to pursue independent research. Wilson will be studying dense gas and starformation in galaxies to answer important questions about how stars develop. Deborah Cook, Faculty of Health Sciences, also received a Killam Fellowship this year. Both researchers are also Tier 1 Canada Research Chairs and Distinguished University Professors.


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