Jan. 3, 2019
Top student story of 2018: Crash survivor graduates and sets new goals
- Pictured above, clockwise from top left: Future Rhodes Scholar Rahul Arora; Schulich graduate and crash survivor Sara Elkady; bee nest sculptor Dylan McLernon; some of our latest Vanier scholarship recipients; Dorsa Sobhani, a Bahai'i who fled persecution in Iran; Aura Pon, co-inventor of a musical instrument for the unborn child; nursing students who worked to raise awareness about local cases of human trafficking and sexual exploitation; star student-athlete Brianna Ghali; Janine Farrell, who helped develop consent training for medical students; Olympic luge medallist Alex Gough.
Apparently, learning to walk again while earning an engineering degree in hospital wasn’t challenge enough for University of Calgary graduate Sara Elkady.
Elkady, whose story was the most read UToday article about students in 2018, lost her parents and a sister in a car crash. Yet, nine months after getting her prosthetic leg, and only 18 months after the crash, Elkady walked across the convocation stage to thunderous applause while she collected her degree from the Schulich School of Engineering.
Starting this January, Elkady will be taking to the water for the first time as a rower, despite having never sat behind the oars before. “I like a challenge and I like structure in my life, and it helps to have a goal to work towards,” Elkady explains of her decision to try out for Rowing Canada.
“I want to be more active and commitment to a schedule helps me do that — and I can go on to compete, if I like rowing.”
Determination and drive define Elkady. Graduation was one milestone of many for the Calgary-based process engineer, who now juggles a full-time job with delivering keynote speeches for organizations like the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association.
Her best day? Elkady, a devoted sibling, says that day was when she went shopping for prom dresses recently with her surviving sister, Dina, who is about to graduate from high school. “That was the highlight of the past six months — I’m so excited for her.”
This inspirational story and the nine other powerful tales below are UToday readers’ top 10 student stories in 2018. Read on and click the links to learn about a few of the university’s remarkable students who are excelling in everything from academics to sports and raw guts and determination.
A health sciences student is off to Oxford University in the fall after winning the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, the 16th Rhodes Scholar from the University of Calgary. Rahul Arora, a fourth-year student in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program, has a strong interest in data science and how it can change cancer care. There are only 11 Rhodes Scholarships awarded in Canada every year, three of which are designated for the Prairie region.
Schulich engineering student Alex Gough won silver and bronze in luge events at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Gough won Canada’s first-ever Olympic luge medal with a third-place finish in women’s singles, and later in the week she won the silver in team relay with teammates Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith.
There were times it seemed more likely Dorsa Sobhani would go to prison than university during the social work student’s long and dangerous road to convocation. Sobhani is from Iran and a member of the Bahá'í faith, which is persecuted by the regime. After being arrested and spending 28 days in solitary confinement, her family eventually immigrated to Canada and she finally was able to earn a degree.
Nine PhD students were awarded prestigious Vanier scholarships for 2018 for their innovative research and extraordinary leadership. Receiving a Vanier is a significant achievement that supports highly skilled and innovative students, each of whom are leaders, both in their individual research and in their communities.
PhD grad and musician Aura Pon co-invented the Womba, a musical instrument for the unborn child. Pon believes the lightweight electronic instrument that a pregnant woman straps across her belly is “the world’s first prenatal musical instrument.” The Womba is triggered by in-utero movements to make music and present patterns of light.
Nursing students helped draw attention to human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Calgary. The students partnered with local non-proft CHILL to create a social media campaign and e-learning tool for health-care providers to build awareness around exploitation. A year ago in Calgary, there were 1,500 cases of youth and women being exploited. Exact numbers are unknown because it’s estimated only 10 per cent of cases are reported.
Kinesiology graduate Brianna Ghali could have taken an easier path. She didn't have to throw herself into varsity sports — in her case, as a standout for the Dinos women's basketball team. She didn't have to maintain a near-perfect grade point average as she earned a Bachelor of Science from the Faculty of Kinesiology. She didn't have to invest countless hours in volunteer work. But she did.
MFA student Dylan McLernon came up with an idea to solve bee homelessness, one ceramic sculpture at a time. Struck by the declining numbers of native bee species in Alberta, McLernon took matters into his own hands — literally — crafting some specially designed teapot-sized ceramic bee nest boxes.
Medical student Janine Farrell helped raise awareness about #Metoo movement for peers. Farrell worked with the Undergraduate Medical Education office at the Cumming School of Medicine to incorporate consent training and bystander training into orientation for medical students. She’s also presented research on sexual harassment and assault experienced by students and trainees in medical settings.
Michael Platt, Schulich School of Engineering, contributed to this article.