UMGSA Award winners announced Recipients range from social workers to engineers

Earlier this year the University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA) announced the winners of the annual UMGSA Awards for 2014-15.

The UMGSA Awards are given to students in the faculty of graduate studies who do not hold any major fellowships in their field and have contributed to society through scholarship and community involvement. There are five awards: two for master’s students, valued at $12,000 each, one for doctoral students, valued at $16,000, and two for part-time students, valued at $5,000. There is also an award for excellence in teaching, which is valued at $500 and is given to a faculty member who displays “a dedication to knowledge and sensitivity to their students and the student community.”

This year’s winners are: Suzanne Simpson and Jennifer Otto (part-time), Jeana Klassen and Ogai Sherzoi (master’s), Walter Wai Tak Chan (PhD), and Martin Scanlon (teaching).

Ogai Sherzoi is a first-year master’s student in the faculty of social work. Born in Afghanistan, she came to Canada at a young age and was faced with culture shock. She credits her extended family with helping her adjust to the unfamiliar environment.

“I began to recognize the importance that a support system has on an individual and family level,” she told the Gradzette.


Sherzoi created an after-school cheerleading program for young children, and volunteered with various other groups in the city. During her undergrad, Sherzoi served as president of the Social Work Students’ Association.
Now she is chair of the working group against forced organ harvesting. This group opposes the state-sponsored harvesting of organs from executed prisoners and persecuted minorities in China. Last year, they brought doctors Kirk Allison and Damon Noto, and human rights lawyer David Matas to the St. Boniface hospital to give a medical workshop on forced organ harvesting in China.

“By working with individuals, connecting them with resources, and advocating for social justice, we are essentially creating a positive impact in the communities, and society as a whole,” said Sherzoi.

“The majority of my work is with vulnerable children, youth, and their families. However, I also do a lot of volunteer work in raising awareness of global human rights violations. My goal is to have direct participation to effect change in global human rights violations such as genocide.”

Suzanne Simpson began her master’s in education in 2012 and took a maternity leave in 2013 after the birth of her second daughter. One of the major criteria for the award is community involvement, and Simpson has volunteered on the boards of directors for ArtsJunktion Manitoba, Pollock’s Hardware Co-op, and the Friends of Kildonan Park.

About the award, Simpson said that “It was so very encouraging to be selected by my peers from among the many applicants.”

“There are not many awards offered to part-time students and I was thrilled to see that the UMGSA saw the need and dedicated funds to support us. This award allows me to continue being a stay-at-home mom without the worry of where tuition for the next term will come from.”

Simpson has completed her coursework and is planning to do her thesis on elementary school teachers incorporating school gardens into their instruction.

Jeana Klassen is pursuing a master’s degree in city planning. She is studying street design practices in Canadian cities and comparing them with each other and with cities in Europe, with the goal of improving accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists. Klassen notes that streets are both corridors for moving people and places for social interaction.

“It is the paradox between streets as places and corridors for multimodal transportation that causes tensions in street design. This tension is my challenge!”

Walter Wai Tak Chan is a PhD student in social work. He studies leadership in the mental health consumer, survivor, and ex-patient movement in Western Canada. He is doing part of his research in Vancouver.

“It is quite fascinating contrasting the politics, people and environment of Vancouver with Prairie cities,” he said.

A luncheon celebrating the winners of the awards was held on Aug. 26. Aside from the winners of the awards and members of the UMGSA council, James Allum, Manitoba’s minister of education, and Archibald McNicol, associate dean of the faculty of graduate studies, were also in attendance to congratulate the winners.

The award is funded by a levy applied to all graduate students at the U of M, in addition to a contribution by the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative and U of M alumnus Dr. James Burns. The recipients all expressed great appreciation for the award.

“I am honoured and humbled to have my efforts recognized by my fellow peers,” said Sherzoi.

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