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Great Grads

Part 3

Veronica Promyshlianskaia

When Veronica Promyshlianskaia was awarded the Bank of Montreal Pauline Vanier MBA Fellowship, valued at $10,000 a year for two years, she decided she would go ahead and get her Canadian citizenship after all. She had her doubts about it, because it was a big move that would symbolically sever her from her past life.

GG-Promishlynskaia"It made me really very proud of Canada. I was a stranger, like someone from the street, not even a Canadian citizen. All I did was submit an application," she said in a phone interview.

The fellowship, named after the much-loved wife of a late Governor-General, is awarded to a deserving woman who has at least two years of business experience. But Promyshlianskaia, 37, seems to have fallen into the world of business by accident.

Back in Ukraine, Promyshlianskaia earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Kharkov Polytechnical University. She specialized in the dynamics and strengths of machines, a highly theoretical field that dropped in prestige and demand after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"Before that, all our engineering programs [i.e., work opportunities] were sponsored by the state. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it was hard to find work." She was hired to create software for an accounting firm, and her interest in business developed from there.

In 1997, a year after she arrived in Canada, she enrolled as an undergraduate in Accounting at Concordia, but was advised to switch to an MBA program by a professor who noted how she breezed through the courses with near-perfect grades. Eventually she found herself juggling full-time MBA studies with almost-full-time work at a downtown notarial firm, where she now works as a financial officer.

"My whole day was scheduled to the minute," she said. In the  end, she added, the combination of practical experience from work with theoretical knowledge from class made her more qualified to do her job. "To study accounting from books [only] can make you lose a little bit of your qualifications, even with good courses. I believe you should practise every day."

As with many immigrants, Promyshlianskaia had to overcome the language barrier. "I couldn't speak English, only read and write a little bit. Nobody [in the former Soviet Union] expected us to communicate with people from the Western world."

Now she looks forward to reading authors like John Galsworthy and James Fenimore Cooper -- both very popular in Russia -- in the original English.

- Anna Bratulic

Rebekah Tolley

GG-TolleyRebekah Tolley has a passion for trees. For the past seven years, she has spent her summers planting them for lumber companies in Alberta, Ontario and northern Quebec.

The work is laborious. Planters are required to carry heavy loads of seedling on their backs for hours and bend down every few feet to dig a hole for the next tree. "It's really grungy and dirty," she said. In other words, it's perfect for artists.

The experience has given Tolley, a Studio Arts major (Printmaking) with a minor in Creative Writing, a lot to say about the state of Canadian forests and the forest industry. These ideas often find a voice in her prints.

That's her work on the cover of the winter issue of the cultural magazine Matrix. She superimposed a map on a picture of her back, her spine drawn in the shape of a rotting tree. As a writer/artist, she has made a number of handbound books. Printmaking has become a way for her to combine art and activism, and fortunately, she has been very successful at it.

This year, when she applied to the Master's programs of several American universities, she had no idea how she would pay the characteristically high tuition fees if she were accepted, but a few weeks ago, she was informed that she can continue to study printmaking on a $17,000 (U.S.) grant at the Tyler School of Art of Temple University in Philadelphia.

It wasn't always clear in what direction she would head. Coming from a family of engineers, Tolley was encouraged to study the sciences, in large part because of the potential employment security it offered, but "when my mother would ask me what I would do, I'd say, 'Mom, I want to do my own art.'"

After finishing high school, Tolley travelled for two years, backpacking through New Zealand, Spain and South America. "It was probably the best thing for me, because you get a chance to mature," she said. And it had another effect. "I wanted to go back and be a student again."

- Anna Bratulic

Muthukumaran Packirisamy

Muthukumaran Packiris-amy's doctorate grew out of a fascination with micromachines, those tiny devices the size of a human hair that can be made into motors, turbines, sensors, actuators, pumps and rockets.

GG-PackirisamyThanks to developments in silicon technology, components only micrometres in size can be used to produce reliable, fast, miniaturized machines at low cost. MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) components are being applied in defence, biotechnology, telecommunications, automobiles and many other areas.

"Their ability to collect and process information, compute the course of action and thereby manipulate the environment or a macro system make MEMS the product-differentiating technology for the next century," Packirisamy said. "My PhD research contributed towards understanding and solving some fundamental multi-disciplinary problems associated with the fabrication and vibration of these devices."

The behaviour of macro systems in nature is determined by micro-level mechanisms, whether it is at atomic levels for materials or at the cell level for biological organisms, he explained. The vibration of these microstructures is something like the vibration of musical instruments.

"I proposed a unified concept called boundary conditioning in order to study and manipulate the vibration behaviour of both micro and macro systems.

"As the understanding of the physics of these micro systems is not absolutely certain now, the use of mathematical operators that can absorb impreciseness of the system is helpful. The fuzzy logic approach is a very powerful tool to deal with such systems, as it applies approximate reasoning mechanisms on appropriately coded knowledge very similar to that of the human mind."

Packirisamy started his schooling in a small town in India called Kumbakonam, where, he said cheerfully, "I was the topper in all the schools."

He attended Regional Engineering College, Tiruchirapalli, and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, where he got his Master's of Science with the highest possible grades in all his courses. He also worked as a research scientist in India for six years.

"It was such a fantastic feeling when I got the offer from Concordia to do a PhD in MEMS along with a graduate fellowship and tuition fee remission award," he said. While he worked on his thesis, Packirisamy designed and installed a microfabrication facility at Concordia, where he was associated with the CONCAVE Centre.

Packirisamy got A grades in all six courses for his PhD program. His supervisors, Professors Rama Bhat and Ion Stiharu, say that his thesis was unique.

"It combined three areas in a very interesting fashion," said Professor Bhat. "He used the West Indian steel pan as an application example for the method that he was developing, and developed an interest in music as a result. He took up playing a classical percussion instrument about a year ago, and continues working on it."

Bhat added, "Muthukumaran set excellent examples for his fellow students. He was a team player, inspiring everyone with his calm and quiet demeanour. He was full of self-assurance in everything that he did."

Even before he completed his doctorate, Packirisamy was hired by MITEL Technologies, of Ottawa, where he is already hard at work on the research he loves. He expressed his gratitude to Bhat and Stiharu for their support, and added in an interview by e-mail, "I am proud that my research work contributed towards further establishing Concordia as one of the pioneers in the area of MEMS in Canada."

- Barbara Black

Anita Grace

Anita Grace, a Journalism Diploma spring graduate with a BA from the University of Saskatchewan, sent us this dispatch by e-mail from Europe.

La Via Podiensis is over 1,000 years old. Its trails meander through high mountain meadows, steep river valleys and through narrow cobblestone streets. And as it has done for millions of others, it leads me through France and Spain to Santiago de Compostella.

To follow an ancient pilgrimage was an idea inspired by the Canterbury Tales and provided for by a travel scholarship from the University of Saskatchewan. Not long after finishing Concordia's Journalism Diploma program, I found myself descending the great steps of Notre Dame du Puy-en-Velay Cathedral, beginning the 1,600-km journey to Compostella.

During the Middle Ages, the roads to this cathedral, built over the tomb of St. James the Apostle, were thronged with pilgrims. Churches, monasteries and hostels sprang up to welcome them. Even the kings of France joined these religious voyages.

Although interest waned after the 16th century, in recent years, pilgrimages to Compostella have been revived. Last year, more than 400,000 people successfully completed a pilgrimage to campus stellae -- Compostella -- the field of stars.

This summer, I am adding my footprints to those along the Chemin de St-Jacques. Each evening I sit at dinner with people from various corners of Europe and the world, and along the trail I meet pilgrims on foot, on bike and even on horseback. Walking an average of 25 km a day, I should reach my destination in two and a half months.

I find myself part of something greater than I ever imagined. Placing my feet where thousands have gone before, I join a journey based on history and faith, legend and myth.

More great grads....

Part 1      Part 2      Part 3      Part 4

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