PhD students recognized for volunteer service to U of T community

PhD candidates Nika Shakiba and Nimalan Thavandiran were celebrated for their volunteer service to the U of T community at the 2017 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards ceremony on Tuesday, April 25.

Established in 1994 and named after the former U of T vice-president of development and university relations, the award recognizes students in their graduating year who have made outstanding extra-curricular contributions to their college, faculty, school or to the university as a whole.

“Congratulations to Nika and Nimalan on this very well-deserved recognition,” said Professor Christopher Yip, director of the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME). “They are both outstanding mentors and I am particularly grateful for their tremendous leadership efforts in science outreach.”

Shakiba and Thavandiran were among 28 students from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering honoured by the University at Convocation Hall this year.

As a biomedical engineering PhD student in Professor Peter Zandstra’s Stem Cell Bioengineering Laboratory, Shakiba has led a number of initiatives to inspire future generations of students to engage in STEM fields. She has served as site coordinator for the U of T Let’s Talk Science Chapter and organized a number of large-scale, on-campus events that enabled youth to engage in hands-on science.

Shakiba has also become a recognized leader in the local stem cell outreach community as the head of StemCellTalks. Held since 2012, the annual symposium has brought hundreds of high school students together to discuss science and ethics in regenerative medicine approaches. She has since expanded this initiative beyond U of T to eight cities across Canada as chair of its national advisory committee.

Thavandiran is a PhD student under the co-supervision of Professor Milica Radisic and Professor Zandstra. Over the last five years, he has served as a resident advisor for the Living and Learning Community at U of T’s New College residence. During this time, he helped more than 200 undergraduate engineering students succeed and integrate into the U of T community through academic tutoring, conflict mediation, personal guidance and social events.

Since 2014, he has also led the U of T Engineering World Health (EWH) chapter as its co-president. During this time, Thavandiran and his team led a series of initiatives that engaged students to take on challenges in global human health. Their activities included gathering and training volunteers to repair broken medical equipment for low-resource hospitals in Tanzania, Nicaragua and Rwanda, collaborating with Ghana Medical Help to send new medical equipment to Ghana, and mentoring a biomedical engineering undergraduate student team in a design course to conceptualize and build a low-cost vaccine carrier.

In 2016, U of T EWH was named Chapter of the Year by its parent society out of 43 groups worldwide.