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Great Grads

Part 1

Benoît Goudreault-Émond

GG-BenoitBenoît Goudreault-Émond seriously considered becoming a computer scientist, but he realized that "most computer experts think of the computer as just a black box. I wanted to learn how the whole thing worked."

He entered Concordia's Computer Engineering program, and did so well that he will receive at least three awards at the Engineering and Computer Science convocation ceremony: the Computer Engineering Medal, for which his relevant grade-point average is 4.29, the Chait Medal for top Bachelor of Engineering student (GPA 4.25), and the top award for a graduating student for the whole university, a tie with another student, for which his GPA for all the courses he took is 4.26.

Goudreault-Émond has always been a good student. He attended a private high school in Rosemont, then Collège Maisonneuve, where he was one of the outstanding graduates in the pure and applied sciences program.

He admits that work and study suit his temperament, but he also has some tips for aspiring scholars. "Keep the problem you're working on in mind and don't get distracted by side issues," he advises. "Try to learn as much as possible by yourself, and read a lot, or you'll become obsolete in a few years."

For a while, Goudreault-Émond is going to work full-time at Silanis Technology, a small software company where he has been employed in the summers.

However, he knows he'll go back to school, probably to do a Master's in Business Administration and an advanced technical degree.

- Barbara Black

Three of the best from the Science College

GG-ScienceAnesthetizing and dissecting water striders, a kind of spider that "skates" on river banks, and then locating their reproductive organs, is not a typical skill, but it comprised a research project that Véronique Campbell did as part of the Science College curriculum -- and it helped her to understand concepts of evolution.

One of the attractions of Concordia's Science College is the opportunity students get to do three supervised research projects, of increasing difficulty, while they are still undergraduates. That's what interested Campbell, a Biology major with an Honours in Ecology.

Three research projects later, she is one of two recipients of the Governor-General's Silver Medal, and the winner of this year's Science College medal, awarded to the student with the highest grade point average at the college.

Having attended French-language schools all her life, Campbell came to Concordia, in part, to practise her English -- and she was perfectly prepared to do poorly as a result. "For the first month of school, I read my chapters in French and then reread them in English. After about one month I got used [to the English instruction], and it wasn't a problem any more," she said.

Campbell, 25, attributes her academic success to the two years she took off from school to think and travel. Her mother is an education consultant who works in Benin, a small country west of Nigeria, and Campbell visits her often. Together they travelled to several African countries, including Kenya, Gabon, Cameroon, Morocco and South Africa.

While in South Africa, she volunteered for three months with a marine biologist, helping her to study the dwindling mussel population off the coast. When it came time to return to school, the practical experience was invaluable. "After three months with the biologist, I noticed that the same concepts kept coming up in class over and over again, so I was familiar with them," she said.

Her next stop is the University of Alberta, where she will be doing graduate studies on the genetic diversity of Canada's lynx population.

John-Christopher Boyer, 25, tried several courses as an independent student before finally finding a niche in the world of physical chemistry. A few years ago, it wasn't clear what direction Boyer would be heading in. He, too, took some time off after finishing high school and worked for a few years at his father's clothes-dyeing company in Jamaica. While there, he took some courses.

"I was actually a pretty poor student -- I got 4 Ds," he said. "After four years of work, I applied to McGill and, with those grades, I didn't get accepted."

He was eventually accepted as an independent student at Concordia in 1997 and switched to Chemistry shortly after. Now he is graduating in Honours Chemistry with a GPA of 4.00 (4.30 is perfect).

His honours thesis was on laser spectroscopy. He examined the optical properties of glass and crystals that can be used in telecommunications. "I think it's really hard to do an honours project without any previous experience," he said. "The independent research projects [required by the Science College] helped a lot."

Boyer recently received a National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grant that will allow him to continue studying at Concordia with Professor John Capobianco.

Mixing the theoretical with the practical is how David Hambly went about completing his Hon ours Biochemistry program. In addition to being a member of the Science College, Hambly also participated in the Chemistry/ Biochemistry Co-op, which allowed him to do alternate semesters of work and school.

"From the time that I started school until December 1999, I think I took about one week off -- and that was for my honeymoon," he said with a laugh. "It was an  extremely intense schedule."

Through the Co-op, he has worked for four-month stints at the pharmaceutical companies of Merck-Frosst and Boehringer-Ingelheim, where he focused on viral research, and also at the University of Ottawa.

He leaves Montreal on May 20 to settle himself in La Jolla (near San Diego), California, where he will be studying for a PhD in the macromolecular and cellular structure chemistry program at Scripps Research Institute.

What was the secret to his success? "I sit in the front. I take really good notes. I never memorize anything. What's the point of doing that? I figure that if I really make the most out of my time in class, then I won't have to spend as much time studying outside.

"That way, I maintain my social life. I have to, I'm married."

- Anna Bratulic

Jennifer Ng

The sky is the limit for Jennifer Ng. The Concordia graduate, who is receiving a Bachelor of Science in Actuarial Mathematics, conducted her studies while working as a flight attendant for Air Canada, taking her homework to places as far away as Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.

NG-2Ng, who came to Concordia in 1997, has worked for Air Canada for five years. She started as a summer temp, but has worked her way up to in-charge flight attendant, flying all over North America, the Caribbean, Europe and the Middle East, all the while pursuing her aim to become an actuary.

"I would go to school during the week and then I would work on my days off from school," Ng said. "I would bring my books with me and read on my layovers -- and even on the plane, when it is such a long flight that there is time to read. I used my little breaks for that."

Ng, who also has a BSc in anatomy from McGill, found it easier to reconcile her job with her studies at Concordia. "At McGill they have a stricter class schedule, where you can basically take only day classes," she said. "At Concordia it was a lot easier to plan my schedule. The last semester I took classes from Tuesdays to Thursdays, so I would work Fridays to Mondays."

Asked whether that was not too gruelling, Ng admitted that it "took a lot of getting used to." Although she sometimes would "drag her books around for three or four days without even opening them," most of the time she was able to use her time efficiently.

With her degree in hand, Ng is now preparing to take entrance examinations to become a licensed actuary. "I would like to work for a consulting firm," she said. Still, she is not keen to leave her work as a flight attendant behind. "I'm enjoying Air Canada right now," she said.

- Frank Kuin

Karen Tam

K aren Tam is very attached to her family. In fact, they are the source of her artistic inspiration, and have helped her create a body of work that has gained her entry to one of the world's best art schools, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The family history is poignant, but it has a happy ending. Karen's great-grandfather came to Canada early in the 20th century, when he was a young man looking for work so that he could send money back to his young family. "A month's salary here was equal to a year's salary in China," she explained.

GG-tam/french qtBecause of Canadian government restrictions imposed on Chinese, the so-called Exclusion Act, her great-grandfather spent the rest of his life here, and it was only months before he died in 1967 that his family would immigrate to join him.

Tam's art has involved her family in many ways. One of her installations features a painting by Tam of her mother, flanked by two photos of her mother as a young woman mounted on typically Chinese wall dividers, "dividing the past from the present."

Another piece looks like two bookshelves mounted in a corner. Each holds a row of thick pieces of glass inscribed with Chinese characters, poems written by Chinese detainees on Angel Island in California. The light shining through the glass throws shadows of the calligraphy on the wall behind.

Yet another installation looks like a school desk, with a headset, five compact disks, and a set of notebooks. Tam recorded speech by members of her extended family in Toishanese, a rural Chinese dialect. She transcribed it phonetically into English, and then translated it into English.

Toishanese is dying in North America with each succeeding generation. Although she stopped speaking it at home when she decided "it wasn't cool," as she said with a laugh, now she's changing her mind.

While she started at Concordia in painting and drawing, Tam has moved into doing installations. She loves using all sorts of materials in new ways, including the incorporation of sound into her pieces, so in Chicago, she will do her MFA in sculpture.

Photo:   Forgotten in France. Karen Tam painted this acrylic first by projecting a slide onto the canvas. The photo is of Chinese labourers who went across Canada by train, hidden under a tar paulin so that inspectors wouldn't notice them. Then they were taken by ship to France, where they dug trenches for the Allies.

- Barbara Black

More great grads....

Part 1      Part 2      Part 3      Part 4

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