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October 24, 2002 Great grads



Seanna Miller

Photo by Christian Fleury

Politics inspired JMSB's Seanna Miller

Business students don’t usually take much interest in student politics — they’re focused on their aspirations in the world beyond the campus — but it was a political protest that turned Seanna Miller from a conventional student into an exceptional one.

“My first six months at school, I did nothing. It wasn’t a time I want to remember,” she recalled. However, when activists in the Concordia Student Union sabotaged a job fair organized by the business students, Miller got mad.

Along with others in CASA, the John Molson School of Business students association, she roused her fellow students to protest against the union’s anti-business stance. She got deeply involved in CASA, and in this, her final year, she represented the JMSB on the CSU council, where she often found herself having to defend a minority viewpoint.

Her path to university wasn’t smooth. Miller grew up in Guelph, Ont., and was in a molecular
biology and genetics program there when her father died. Disheartened, she dropped out, and spent the next two years in a variety of short-term jobs before enrolling at Concordia.

Getting involved in the School’s many competitive and charitable activities made all the difference to her success
as a student. Articulate and poised, she impressed executives at the huge health care conglomerate Johnson and Johnson, who were about to launch their Information Management Leadership Development Program in Canada, and had contacted JMSB’s Career Placement Service for candidates.

The company was looking for freshly minted graduates in management information systems, like Miller, but they were especially impressed with her “soft skills,” her leadership experience and ability to deal with people.

As a result, she was one of only three young Canadians hired by Johnson and Johnson for this program, which provides placements in three key health care companies under the J & J umbrella. Coincidentally, her first placement will be in Guelph, where she grew up.

- Barbara Black








Laura MacDonald

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

Laura MacDonald took an alternative path to art history success

Laura MacDonald, who is graduating this spring with her BFA in art history, began to develop her ideas and passion for art when she was 17 and attending Dawson College’s New School, a student-run humanistic alternative school that was ideal for someone who was “basically a geek and not fitting into the system.”

The New School introduced MacDonald to new ideas and expanded her social network. Her friends and mentors included “everyone from punk-rock radicals to the very straitlaced, and a teacher who was in the Peace Corp.”

She was so inspired by the school that once she began her BFA at Concordia, she returned to the New School to teach art history classes to students roughly her own age. Working an extra five to 25 hours a week simply fed her enthusiasm and her resolve to bring her teaching gifts, or “education facilitating,” as she would put it, back to the New School once she completes her master’s.

“In teaching,” she said, “the goal is to be invisible,” but as the sixth best performance artist in Montreal this year, according to a poll for The Mirror, she has been far from that.

With a GPA of 4.0, she has been awarded an FQRSC grant of $15,000 a year to finance her master’s degree in art history at the University of British Columbia. (Quebec’s Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture gives the grant to students who show great research potential.) MacDonald chose to go west rather than overseas or to the States on the advice of her Concordia professors.

Her choice of a thesis topic goes back to when she was a student at the New School: exploration of gender, sexuality and body image. Her thesis will be focused on “artists who destroy the image of the beautiful, healthy body.”

She added, “I think Concordia helped me to find foundations for things I felt instinctively. It gave me the tools that I needed to be able to understand and explore things on a deeper

- Susan Font


Alexandra Guerson de Oliveira

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

Alexandra Guerson de Oliveira excels at Iberian history

Alexandra Guerson de Oliveira had no doubts about grad school. She knew where she wanted to study, what she wanted to study and who she wanted to study with. She secured an advisor at the University of Toronto and narrowed down a research topic. Everything was set — except that she hadn’t applied yet.

It never occurred to de Oliveira, an honours history student who projects an aura of quiet confidence, that she might be rejected, and she wasn’t. The University of Toronto awarded her a full doctoral fellowship to pursue a PhD in history.

Her doctoral work will focus on 15th-century Iberia (what we know as Spain and Portugal) and the Jewish-Muslim-Christian relations, a subject that has been poorly explored, partly because of language requirements. A scholar would need to be fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Arabic, Hebrew and Latin to do justice to the literature.

Oliveira, a lover of language, feels up to the challenge. “It’s like detective work,” she said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together. That’s what attracts me to professional history — it’s the challenge.”

Her area of interest has slowly migrated south. She came to Concordia fascinated by medieval England. By the time of her undergraduate thesis she was writing on heresy in 13th-century southern France, a research topic which took her to New York on scholarship to study the Latin court records of the Albigensian Crusade and eventually won her the David Fox Thesis Prize. Now she hopes for a career researching medieval Iberia.

Her route to professional history began accidentally. While she was completing a law degree in her native Brazil she met a Canadian over the Internet, a man who eventually became her husband. When she visited him six years ago she took a course in English as a second language in which she had to give a 15-minute presentation on the book The Children of Henry VIII. It turned into an hour-long lecture, and de Oliveira knew she wanted to become a history professor.

When she’s not busy with her research, Oliveira races dragon boats and heads the Students of History Association, which published its first peer-reviewed journal this year. This balanced approach to academic excellence and university life won her the History Department’s O’Connor/O’Hearn Award.

- Scott McRae