October 24, 2002 Great grads



Clockwise starting from top: Kevin Debiparshad, Joanna Pohl, Onyenyechukwu Nnorom and Claudia Farnesi.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

Science college students just love going to school

The top four graduating students in the Science College love school unabashedly. With near-perfect GPAs, they have been bombarded with scholarships and awards throughout their undergraduate careers, but that’s secondary to the rewards of knowledge.

Though she has the highest GPA in the Science College, Onyenyechukwu Nnorom could barely recall all of her extra-curricular activities. She was the public representative for the Science College Student Association, and a member of the Caribbean Students’ Union, the African Student Association, as well as the Garnet Key Society.

She is also the co-editor of the students’ section of the black community newspaper Community Contact and visits patients in the Jewish General Hospital’s geriatrics ward. It’s no wonder she described her life as “organized chaos.”

Nnorom talked about her extensive community involvement as if it were innate. Because she supports herself with scholarships and bursaries, she has more free time than students who work, she said.

Until she starts medical school at McGill this fall, Nnorom will perfect a test that she has designed to identify the Chagas parasite in South American monkeys at McGill’s Centre for Tropical Diseases.

Joanna Pohl admitted that she chose Concordia’s psychology program “by default.” It was the only school that accepted her. Because Pohl, an immigrant from Poland, was educated in the French system, she got low marks when she entered an anglophone CEGEP.

Once you gain momentum, it’s easy to get high marks, she said. “Past success makes you motivated to maintain it.”
Yet, marks aren’t everything in the Science College and Pohl’s research came with its challenges. While researching the effect of time of day on the body’s response to amphetamines for her thesis, she had to restart a month’s worth of research because of a technical error. She said that she was not frazzled because she had had a similar experience while studying the feeding behaviour of caterpillars. ‘That’s research, right?” she said and the other three nodded.

Next year, Pohl will continue her research on drug addiction at Queen’s University.

Knack, passion, fascination– Kevin Debiparshad cannot find enough words to describe his relationship to science.

Debiparshad, who will receive an honours degree in cell and molecular biology this spring, was exposed to the sciences through his mother. When he was a teenager, she was completing degrees in nursing and practiced clinical procedures on him.

Though Debiparshad is attracted to the intellectual demands of research, his experiences as a peer tutor and a volunteer in schools and day care centres, among others, made him realize he needed to be around people.

Recently accepted into Mc-Gill’s medical school, he finds medicine to be the ideal compromise. “If you’re in the lab all the time, you contribute to society, but in medicine you can make a contribution to individual people and to society.”

For Claudia Farnesi, the Science College was an opportunity to fuse her two passions, dance and mathematics. A dancer since the age of five, she is a member of the Ballet-Jazz du Québec’s dance troupe and a part-time dance instructor. She likes math because it is always clear-cut. “You always know where you’re headed.”

The correlation between dance and math is perfectly logical to Farnesi. For her thesis, she studied how math was used in dance notation, a written language similar to musical notes.

Once she completes a qualifying year to make up missing courses, Fernasi will enter Concordia’s master’s program in math. She then plans to return to school as a teacher. “I really like being in the school environment.”

-Melanie Takefman








Zal Karkaria

Photo by Vincenzo D'Alto

Zal Karkaria has a global perspective

Like many grad students, Zal Karkaria had difficulty coming up with a thesis topic. The history master’s student was interested in genocide studies, but he also wanted to work in the country he studied. Bosnia was still unstable; an internship in Somalia was unlikely.

Cambodia, however, seemed possible. With the help of history professor Frank Chalk, Karkaria landed a three-
month internship with the Documentation Centre of Cambodia in Phnom Penh last summer and spent his time researching the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. A month into the internship, his thesis topic suddenly came together: the failure of the Khmer Rouge’s policy on women.

Karkaria spent the next six weeks interviewing 24 women in a nearby village recruited as combatants by the Khmer Rouge, had deserted, and had been arrested.

It wasn’t quite the research he had expected to do. “When I went there, I was more interested in political events, but my topic boiled down to how it affected the people. It became social research.”

Political machinations have always interested Karkaria. Next September, he will be leaving academia behind to enter Canada’s foreign service as a visa officer. He had hoped to work on policy but, once again, he finds that he will be more involved with the local population than he thought.

“The position will allow me to be face-to-face with people,” he said. “Having interactions with the people will be really interesting but much more stressful than sitting behind a desk in an office all day.”
While he waits for his posting to begin, Karkaria will be heading back to Cambodia to act as an election monitor

this summer. After that, the travelling aficionado and news junkie hopes that his new job, and all those after it, will send him off to exotic places around the globe.

“I’m very interested in working in foreign offices,” he said. “I guess I’ll always have an international perspective.”

- Scott McRae


Toula Tsifourdaris

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

Toula Tsifourdaris is flying high

Panagiota Tsifourdaris, known as Toula to her friends, carefully inspects the airplane every time she flies. She examines the flaps, scrutinizes the engine, and checks the wings. It’s not for fear of flying, though. Tsifourdaris is an aerodynamicist, a mechanical engineering PhD student with a penchant for planes.

While growing up in Greece, Tsifourdaris debated between a future career as a lawyer or an engineer. She chose the latter and moved halfway across the world to the aerospace capital — Montreal.

Since then, she has completed both her BEng and PhD at Concordia where she specialized in fluid dynamics. Tsifourdaris studied the radial flow between two parallel discs and made enough of an impression on the elite aerospace firm of Pratt & Whitney Canada that she was hired last year.

“It’s one of the greatest technological companies in the world,” said Tsifourdaris. “I’m proud to be there.”

When she was hired, the company placed Tsifourdaris on the aerodynamic design team and she was given the responsibility of designing a vane on a new turbine engine. It was a great honour, but not without its share of stress.

Both her dissertation and the final design for the turbine component were due the same week, which made for long hours and little rest.

However, with long-distance support from her parents and the guidance of her supervisors, Georgios Vatistas and Wahid Ghaly, she got through her winter workload, earned her PhD and is looking forward to taking on the challenges of her new job.

“There’s always so much to learn,” she said. “I love being part of this industry.” She is going back to Greece this summer to visit her parents and give a
paper based on her thesis at a

- Scott McRae


Photo by
Robert Winters

Fiery Welcome

Graduating art students get ready for their end-of-year show, opening this weekend in the lobby of The Gazette at 245 St. Jacques St. W.

Left to right are Stephanie Prest, Elisabeth Hazell, both majors in Studio Arts, and Nadia Mazzone, a major in Art Education.

The artwork, by Hazell, is called Fiery Welcome, and is made with fibre-reactive dyes and opaque pigments on mercerized cotton. The Graduating Students Exhibition will wind up in style June 13, the day of Fine Arts Convocation, with a cocktail party.



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