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June 11, 1998

Great Grads

Connie Barnes Rose, Catherine Kidd:
Writers on the rise

Two graduates from Concordia's MA program in Creative Writing are enjoying the stuff of writers' dreams: publishing success.

Connie Barnes Rose was a finalist for the 1997 QSPELL Award for her debut collection of short stories, Getting Out of Town, and was recently shortlisted for the Dartmouth Book and Writing Award.

Catherine Kidd, whose previous publications include a chapbook and Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Taxidermy, a book and tape of performances, is under contract to write a novel for publication by Key Porter Books.

Rose, 44, came to Concordia as a mature student in 1980, shortly after her arrival in Montreal from Nova Scotia. Studying part time, Rose earned her BA in English in 1992 and joined the Creative Writing program the following year. She experienced early success in 1986 with the publication of her first story, Knights, in the University of New Brunswick's Fiddlehead magazine.

"But then the subsequent stories all came back with rejections, for years and years, it seems," she said, but continued to send out stories despite the sting of rejection. Married with two children, Rose had to develop a routine around her family. "I wrote around their naps, I wrote at night, I wrote while they were in the bathtub and while they were in school."

Gradually, things picked up. Her story Escaping Escape was selected for the anthology Scribner's Best of the Fiction Workshops 1997. The story also caught the attention of a senior editor at Simon & Schuster, who made it clear she was interested in her future work. Rose is working on a novel, although she is reluctant to discuss it. "I've just, just started, but I'm having a lot of fun playing with it," she said.

Catherine Kidd, 31, started her Bachelor studies in philosophy in India. "I had been keeping journals extensively, and then it just seemed that God, life and the universe and other things could be expressed in a much more tangible context if I wrote short stories, instead of philosophical treatises," Kidd said, laughing.

Kidd said she has been fortunate since she started writing, receiving several undergraduate financial awards at Concordia and, during her graduate studies, a J.W. McConnell scholarship and FCAR grant. With the help of a Canada Council grant and an advance from her publisher, Kidd is working on a novel called Bestial Rooms.

"It's a young, adult narrator who, with a faltering memory, is trying to piece together her childhood; she now has an infant daughter herself. By putting together the bits and pieces on the periphery that she can remember, she hopes to describe the shape of what had been unknown, not talked about or looked at in her family history." She expects the book to be released the end of next year.

- Debbie Hum

Laverne Gervais-Contois: Learning abled

For Laverne Gervais-Contois, getting a BA in Applied Social Science was "really tough."

An addictions counsellor with Aboriginal Women of Montreal, she had just gone through a divorce and was selling her home. Although she began at Concordia with her daughter, it took her longer to graduate. Along the way, she discovered that she had a learning disability.

"I knew I was having a difficult time," she said. "When I finally went for an assessment and was told I had dyslexia, I got the news with a great sense of relief. It was something that was overlooked when I was at school, especially for Native kids."

She was given extra time for assignments, and picked up some useful tips from Concordia's Office for Learning Disabilities, such as reading passages repeatedly, and hearing them spoken.

Gervais-Contois, who grew up in Winnipeg of Ojibway, Cree and Sioux stock, approached her program in interpersonal group dynamics with some skepticism. "I felt I was only learning about the mainstream; I couldn't see how Native groups fit in. But it gave me a wider perspective. I came to see how each group has a life of its own." Now she plans to go back into addictions counselling.

Gervais-Contois's daughter, whose name is also Laverne Contois, graduated in December with a BA in Linguistics, and is teaching English in Taiwan. Mother and daughter keep in touch by e-mail, she said a little sadly, "but it's not the same as hearing her voice."

- Barbara Black

Daniel Cross: The grit of the streets

Daniel Cross is one determined director. For his first feature-length documentary, The Street, he spent four years filming the homeless men who haunt the Guy métro station.

Then, with help from friends, he spent another two years editing 40 hours of footage down to a crisp 79-minute documentary, a job made harder since his camera did not record sound, and it had to be painstakingly added to the film from tapes. All this he did between classes, working in Concordia's Audio Visual Department and raising two young sons with his wife.

But Cross, 36, who graduates with an MFA in Film Production this month (he did his BFA in the department, too), has been rewarded for his efforts. His gritty, intimate portrait of street life has earned rave reviews from the press. It has aired on CBC and TVO and will soon be seen on CFCF-12. His work has also toured the film festival circuit, from Ireland to India, and several North American cities, winning him various awards.

Cross, who comes from Crystal Beach, Ont., estimates that The Street cost $200,000 to produce. Much of that budget was provided in kind from companies like the National Film Board, which lent editing facilities. He also convinced local filmmakers to donate leftover film stock, pieces too short for their purposes but perfect for Cross. "I got lots of favours for this film," he said, smiling.

Cross is now in pre-production for his next documentary on Montreal's homeless and the squeegee teens. He also hopes to secure a teaching position, using his experience as a Cinema Department teaching assistant, which would enable him to make movies on the side. "It's pretty hard making a living as a documentary filmmaker," he said. "Teaching would allow me some freedom and enable me to continue with my art."

- Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins

Benet Davetian:
Tackling the big issues

Two years ago, Benet Davetian earned critical acclaim for his first book of fiction. The Seventh Circle, named after Dante's Inferno, is a collection of stories about people caught in conflicts all over the world; it ended with an ambivalent take on Quebec's 1995 referendum. The book was a finalist for the QSPELL Award, and eventually won Mordecai Richler's ironically named Parizeau Prize.

At the same time, the author was working his way through a BA in sociology, graduating in 1996 with great distinction and a medal. Now graduating with his MA and a 4.13 GPA, he has been awarded a three-year Commonwealth Scholarship for study in the U.K., a four-year Connaught Scholarship from the University of Toronto, and a SSHRC doctoral fellowship.

It's a bittersweet triumph, coming as it does in middle age. "For somebody 20 years younger, these awards would be fantastic," Davetian said, "but I have responsibilities. I may stay right here and write quietly in Montreal. I've applied to Concordia's doctorate in humanities program."

"Concordia is so undervalued," he went on. "We need to sell ourselves more. For example, the University of British Columbia looked up all the SSHRC winners and sent them each a letter inviting them to go to UBC."

Before settling in Montreal in 1974, Davetian spent years in New York and Toronto, working in advertising, then as a psycho-therapist. Both careers seem to have contributed to his shrewd but passionate engagement with contemporary mores.

His MA thesis was a critical evaluation of The Sibling Society, by Robert Bly, the guru of the U.S. men's movement. Now he's writing a book on "the American culture of pessimism, the moral panic that says we're always in trouble." He's also scheduled to teach two courses in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, including one on "the family and the corporation."

- BB

Hubert Gagnon:
Our first PhD in Biology

Hubert Gagnon, Concordia's first PhD in Biology, has received three degrees from Concordia. Now at the Université de Montréal with a post-doctorate NSERC fellowship, Gagnon, 37, is glad he started his studies here.

"During the course of my BSc, I became a student of the Science College, which was a great opportunity, because we had courses of general interest in science and several research projects," he said.

Gagnon earned his BSc in Biology with a Science College Certificate in 1989. He said Professor Emeritus Ragai Ibrahim encouraged him to pursue graduate studies in microbiology and plant biochemistry. Ibrahim supervised Gagnon's Master's and PhD theses, which he completed with the help of postgraduate scholarships from NSERC and FCAR.

"Dr. Ibrahim was a passionate and enthusiastic supervisor. He taught me the ins and outs of being a young researcher; it's been very beneficial to my career." Gagnon has published six articles in refereed journals and is co-author of another.

He started his PhD work -- on the symbiotic interactions between legumes and bacteria that infect them -- looking for known molecules (plant flavonoids) believed to induce the bacterial process.

It turned out that these molecules "never really worked," but in the course of his work, Gagnon discovered a novel family of nod gene inducers that interact with at least three different species of bacterial symbionts, Rhizobium loti, R. lupini and R. meliloti, which infect lotus, lupin and alfalfa respectively.

"These symbiotic interactions, which allow the legumes to have a higher protein content, are restricted to legumes. The longterm goal of this type of research would be to bioengineer bacterial strains that can nodulate a wider array of host species, such as wheat or rice," Gagnon explained. "It may help in the long run to improve the benefits from agricultural crops, which help to feed the population."

At the Université de Montréal, Gagnon is studying signal transduction pathways in the potato tuber.

- DH

Martin Hayes:
Studying Cree youth through their rock songs

Martin Hayes, 29, spent two months last winter living on a Cree reserve in northern Quebec and successfully defended his Master's thesis in Sociology in early May.

His thesis is a study of "cultural process and identity construction" among the Cree on a reserve that Hayes calls "Red Bank" to protect the privacy of the community.

"Young people are creating cultural space in the community -- despite the conventional conceptualization of the aboriginal culture as static and eternal," Hayes explained.

In his thesis, Hayes explores cultural hybridity and creolization. He shows how young Crees are taking from two different sources of cultural flows, mass media and pow-wows. From these, they appropriate and adapt symbols and meanings to their local context.

Hayes collected a number of rock songs written and performed by young people "that might sound like Guns N Roses, but are really about very particular local experiences." Young people have also gone to pow-wows out west and brought the ceremonies back to the Cree community. They did this over the objections of many of their elders, who identify with an Anglican tradition that goes back more than a century.

"Anglicanism in the Cree reserve is not the Anglicanism in, say, Montreal," Hayes said. "It's been syncretized with shamanism and indigenized, just as rock songs and pan-Indian ceremonies take on characteristics unique to Red Bank."

Hayes has also been to Africa to study the effects of modernity on indigenous groups. Last summer, he was a group leader in Operation Crossroads, a U.S. project in Benin. This summer, he is working with Save the Children Fund in Malawi, evaluating a project that helps the community cope with its HIV/AIDS problem.

While he was at Concordia, he also served as a research assistant on Professor Bill Reimer's New Rural Economy Project, whose work is done here in Canada.

- DH

Justin Hayward:
Roving reporter

One of the highest grade-point averages on record for a graduating Journalism student belongs to Justin Hayward, but he has turned down job offers -- for now -- in favour of his motorcycle.

Hayward modestly said his GPA was "4.0, something like that," and attributes it to having racked up a little life experience.

A native of Vancouver, he had spent two years in Central America, and visited Montreal en route to Africa. He loved it and Concordia, and came back to enrol.

"I loved the feel of the school," he said. "The students are a bit older, and very, very cosmopolitan."

At 30, he still hasn't got travel out of his system, although he plans to make Montreal his home. He was interviewed by phone in Los Angeles, where he was on a sweep down the West Coast, keeping his eye out for good stories, but he planned to be back in time for convocation.

- BB

Shaun Hegarty:
Australia, Africa, Montreal

In his 20s, Shaun Hegarty already had a chemistry degree from his native Australia and a successful career in the mining industry in French West Africa.

But he wanted a break, and broader prospects. Now, at 30, he's a Montrealer. In fact, only a week after finishing his Master's of Business Administration exams, he was working for the well-known investment firm Jarislowsky Fraser.

Hegarty worked in the mining sector in the South Pacific, including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. He went to the U.K. and did some cancer research.

Then he landed a job in mining that took him to Africa for five years and put him in charge of 200 employees. He was based in Burkina Faso, but worked across the region, including Eritrea, just after that country achieved its hard-won independence from Ethiopia.

"French was de rigueur, so I had to learn it right away," Hegarty said with a laugh. "During one of my five-week vacations, I came to Montreal and liked it. I asked my Belgian girlfriend if she'd like to move there with me, and she said yes."

Hegarty enjoyed his MBA program, but he's a pragmatist. "When Stephen Jarislowsky interviewed me, he said that experience is more important than education, and I agreed. So he said, Then why did you do your MBA? I replied, You wouldn't be talking to me now if I hadn't." - BB

Jun Cai:
Post-doctoral grant winner in actuarial math

Jun Cai, who defends his PhD thesis in Mathematics this summer, has received a post-doctorate NSERC fellowship for research at the University of Waterloo, starting in the fall.

Cai, 36, came to Canada as a visiting scholar at the University of Alberta in 1994 and joined the PhD program in Actuarial Mathematics at Concordia the following year.

"Few universities in Canada offer this program. I have many common research interests in statistics and actuarial mathematics with Professor José Garrido, my supervisor," Cai explained. His field of research includes distributions, risk and reliability theories and applied probability.

Cai was the recipient of a Concordia Graduate Fellowship and two awards from the Institut des sciences mathémathiques, the Major Scholarship in 1997-98 and the Minor Fellowship in 1996-97. He has published 13 articles since 1990 in various journals.

He said he and his family have enjoyed their three years in Montreal. "It's a big city with many activities," he said.

His eight-year-old son Tianyi attends an English school but is also rapidly picking up French. His wife, Sufeng Xu, holds an MA in Chinese classical literature and was a lecturer at the Teachers College of Yangzhou University. She hopes to continue her graduate studies in Canada. Cai and his family frequently go to Chinatown, he said, even though few people there speak Mandarin.

Cai earned his Master's in Statistics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 1987, then returned to his hometown, Jiangsu, to lecture at the Teachers College of Yangzhou University. He said he misses his parents and sister, who live in Jiangsu, but his work has kept him too busy to visit.

- DH

Najmeh Khalili:
Woman of many talents

Although Najmeh Khalili will receive her Bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering this year, she isn't convinced her career path might not eventually change. The self-described "news freak" is still pondering a future as a writer or journalist.

While living in her native Iran, she wrote two unpublished books in Persian, her mother tongue, and wrote for the student press. "I decided to study Computer Engineering at Concordia because my math is much, much better than my [written] English," she explained.

Khalili, 26, came to Canada in 1993 after falling in love with an old Iranian friend she encountered in Europe, and later married. She learned English with astonishing speed; after only five years, her accent is barely audible.

This fall, Khalili plans to pursue an MSc in biomedical engineering at McGill University with her two-year $32,000 NSERC award. After that, she hopes to complete a doctorate in that field at an American university. "I feel there are many unanswered questions in biomedical engineering," she said, "and I like finding answers to questions."

But Khalili wouldn't dream of leaving Quebec after completing her studies. She loves Montreal. "I also want to stay here for a chance to return something to a city that has been so kind to me, and where I have found happiness."

- Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins

Linda Klevnick:
On to great things

Linda Klevnick has already had an eclectic career. After completing a BA in English at McGill University in 1968, she moved to Chicago, where she was, variously, a homemaker, an artist and a Buddhist priest.

She returned to Montreal in 1994, and while she intends to write a book about her experiences, it is on hold. Klevnick, fascinated by human behaviour, has completed another BA, this time in Psychology.

She worked as a researcher in a Psychology Department lab and was a peer helper for two years. Now 50, she confided that when she came back to university, she felt out of place -- "I felt ancient," she said -- until she found the Mature Students Association. "Now, I feel differently."

Klevnick received valued support from the staff of the Centre for Mature Students when she did her honours thesis, which was on gender differences among older adults in conversational and social skills.


Jan Matthews:
Off to Oxford

Although Jan Matthews toyed with becoming an actor and enrolled in an English program, it wasn't until he took an introductory Psychology class that he found his true vocation.

Now, the 23-year-old is off to Oxford, where he will complete a PhD in neuroscience on a four-year Welcome-Trust scholarship. It's at least partly the result of hard-won experience as a researcher at the CSBN lab, which is housed in the Psychology Department and is the site of groundbreaking research, notably in the area of appetite and addiction. His thesis was a rat study on development of tolerance to morphine.

"I was euphoric," he said of his acceptance into the elite represented by Oxford University. "Yet I'm a little scared, since it's so important. If I get though this and do well, I'm virtually guaranteed a chance to do anything I want." At least he'll be in familiar surroundings. He was raised near the city of Oxford, and his family still lives there.


Sean Cain:
Another CSBN winner

New Brunswick native Sean Cain also went from the CSBN lab to a bright future. His thesis was on why repeated head trauma has increasingly greater effects, and while his research was on rats, the results could be applied to injuries in sports. Cain will do a PhD in behavioural neurobiology at the University of Toronto with the help of an NSERC scholarship.

- S-JD

Megan Lewick:
Changing the world
with art

Megan Lewick hadn't been able to bear looking at hand-made oriental rugs after she read about Iabal Masih, the 12-year-old Pakistani labourer who was killed for cutting the chains that bound him to his master's carpeting loom and helping 3,000 children follow suit. Rather than throwing out her living-room carpet in protest, she opted to paint Masih's portrait on it instead.

What she produced -- a haunting, ghost-like image of a child that blends into the rug -- has earned much notice for the Studio Arts spring graduate. (She already has a BA in English, also from Concordia.)

The Canadian Labour Congress reproduced her work on its annual booklet. The booklet is also distributed by the United Nations, which prompted the International Labour Organization to borrow the rug to exhibit at an upcoming convention in Geneva on child labour in 179 countries. Lewick will also create a banner for the Canadian delegation to use during a march.

Another one of her rug paintings on the same theme has joined an exhibit on child labour at Manitoba's Museum of Man and Nature that will travel across Canada until 2001.

"It's as though these paintings have taken on a life of their own," she said passionately, excited that her work might bring people "positive change and awareness."

The 31-year-old Brampton, Ont., native won Concordia's Heather Erin Walker Humanitarian Award in 1997. Activism is one side of her life; she is also a scenic painter for Montreal's burgeoning film industry, working on mega-movies like Snake Eyes and Grey Owl.

She has many other projects on the go, including sculpting, photography and video, but what Lewick wants most to do is teach, something she had a taste of as a Studio Arts teaching assistant. "I adore teaching," she said. "I'm really doing what I love." - S-JD

Dominique McCaughey: Microhistory
for the people

Dominique McCaughey was working as a community organizer when she came to Concordia in 1990. Taking classes at night, by day McCaughey worked for the local anti-poverty group Project Genesis.

"I've often had to translate very technical information to make it accessible," she said. "For example, new regulations for housing, welfare, or unemployment insurance entitlement. And I found it very interesting how doing that, you can often distort information.

"When I was studying, I looked at text and how distorted it is when viewed so many centuries later. I was always interested in figuring out the linkage between so-called popular and learned levels of society, and how ideas get transmitted."

In 1996, McCaughey earned her Honours BA in History with distinction; this August, she will defend her MA thesis. She credits Professor Fred Krantz for sparking her interest in European cultural history and "the meticulous and painstaking approach to text called microhistory."

Her honours paper was on the methodology of historian Carlo Ginzburg. Ginzburg revisited Inquisitional documents previously dismissed by historians as one-sided records kept by the Church, and while acknowledging the biased viewpoint of the text, maintained that through close scrutiny, one could still discover the voice of the person being questioned.

McCaughey received Concordia's J.W. McConnell Memorial Graduate Fellowship in 1996-97 and last year received an FCAR research grant. Using text recovered from Venice's Jewish ghetto, she is trying to apply some of Ginzburg's methodology to her MA thesis, a biography of 17th-century Venetian rabbi Leone de Modena.

McCaughey, 34, plans to apply to law school this fall.

- DH

Susan Molloy:
Future yacht designer

Susan Molloy may not own a sailboat yet, but that hasn't stopped the spring graduate in Mechanical Engineering from keeping her sea legs.

Last fall, she founded the Concordia Sailing Club, in association with McGill University, to pursue her passion. About 20 students from both universities joined the club. They attended lectures by celebrity sailors and sailed on Lake St. Louis with a borrowed boat from the Pointe-Claire Yacht Club, where Molloy was a part-time instructor.

She has sailed for 15 years -- in places like the Irish Sea before her family immigrated to Canada nine years ago from Dublin -- and has been in several sailing races with her father. "I'm obsessed with sailing," admitted the 24-year-old.

Much to her chagrin, though, Molloy will be landlocked this July when she moves to Denver, Colo. with her fiancé, who nabbed a one-year contract as a computer scientist. But when that contract ends, the couple will return to Canada. "It doesn't matter whether it's in the east or west," Molloy said. "As long as there's water."

In the meantime, she will complete a degree in environmental and ecology science by correspondence from the University of Waterloo, where she had previously dropped out. After that, she hopes to pursue her studies in naval architecture because, she said, "I've wanted to design yachts since I was 15."

- S-JD

Elizabeth Napalano:
Intern at the UN

Last summer, Elizabeth Napalano, a BA in Journalism student, got an internship in Ottawa at Finance Canada. What she learned there about doing research and writing reports helped her land a six-month internship at the United Nations in New York.

Napalano spent several years in editorial positions with The Concordian. When she heard that the UN makes internships available to 20 recent Canadian graduates every spring, she became one of 1,000 applicants.

She loves her new job, which involves sorting and drafting answers to the avalanche of mail received by Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In fact, only weeks into the job, she is acquainted with Annan, and has met several other notables, including the president of Columbia University and President Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

- BB

Graham Pratt:
German opened
a new world

Graham Pratt, this year's winner of the Governor-General's Silver Medal for having the highest undergraduate marks in the university (4.28), enrolled in his German studies program as a means to end.

"I was trying to get into medical school," the 30-year-old Pratt confessed, "and my GPA from my BSc in Biology just wasn't high enough."

Studying a language opened up a new world to him. "Coming from a science background, I had never been exposed to the arts -- literature, history or philosophy. The classes were tiny, and I loved it."

Pratt started with Italian, but found himself drawn to the difficult but rigourously logical grammar of German. "It took me two years to master it, but it's extremely interesting." He also went to Germany several times as a tourist to practise his language skills.

And will he finally get into medicine? "If not, I have a back-up plan to do a graduate degree in agricultural and bio-systems engineering," Pratt said. "I love university. In fact, I'd love nothing better than to teach there."

- BB

Joseph Said:
'Virtual brother'
kept him going

Computer Science student Joseph Said defended his PhD thesis during this winter's ice storm in a stairwell -- the only lighted part of the Webster Library Building.

Said had come from Lebanon during the turmoil of the University's 1992 shooting incident, and got his bearings by staying with Peter and Mary Pikes via the International Students' Office Homestay program.

His biggest motivation came from his mother. "She had invented this older brother who was supposedly studying for his PhD in Canada, that my brother and I were encouraged to emulate. She created this story to push us to educate ourselves by writing, reading and creating stories to please our 'virtual' brother. This has a lot to do with how hard I study and my desire to learn."

During his five years at Concordia, Said completed an MA and a PhD with an A average. He has now received a two-year NSERC grant to do post-doctoral research on document processing with Concordia's Computer Science Professor Ching Suen and Michael Strobel of the Université de Montréal's Psychology Department. Said himself taught software engineering to undergraduates this semester.

As part of his research, he is developing software that will recognize and analyze handwriting. "It's a mixture of computer science and psychology," Said said. "Not a lot of work has been done on it, and we're trying to make it automated. It involves scanning data and performing different algorithms to recognize the characters."

But Said also has a distinctly compassionate -- and enterprising -- side. Last year, he set up a bone-marrow testing clinic with the help of the Red Cross and Rector Frederick Lowy to find a match for a friend dying with leukemia. He hustled for support, prepared posters and publicity, and got 200 donors who yielded two positive matches.

Now he has taken on the role of the "virtual brother" -- he's an inspiration for his young sister back in Lebanon.

"When you grow up in a country that is burning down around you," Said said, "you quickly learn that the only thing you can work on is yourself."

- Eugenia Xenos

Mike Savatovsky: Journalism leads
to medicine

Mike Savatovsky is this year's winner of the $1,500 Al Cauley Award, given every year by CJAD to an outstanding student in the Broadcasting Journalism program.

But Savatovsky isn't going to be a broadcast journalist, he's going into medicine. "I'd always wanted that, but I thought I was too dumb," he confessed. "Then I went into Journalism, and I realized I wasn't.

"I'll use things like the research skills, the ability to work by myself, initiative, determining who to talk to for information. For me, journalism was not an end in itself, but a tool."

Also, congratulations to Philippe Germain, who won a Mix-96 bursary of $500 in competition with other Journalism and Communication Studies students. - BB

Copyright 1998 Thursday Report.