Lab Canada

Scientific mentors receive accolades

Ottawa, ON – The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has recognized the efforts of four mentors who stimulate the scientific minds of Canada’s youth.

Through its Synapse – Youth Connection initiative, the following people receive 2008 Synapse awards: Anteneh Argaw (graduate/postdoctoral fellow), (tie) Dr Lisa Robinson and Dr Jane Roskams (individual researcher) and the Toronto Teen Survey research team (group).

The Synapse initiative acts as a scientific junction that brings together health researchers and young students across Canada. More than 4,000 CIHR-funded health researchers have already signed up to become CIHR Synapse mentors – and the number increases on a daily basis. Synapse, in collaborative partnership with national science outreach organizations, connects these mentors with high school students through hands-on training experience that will help create the next generation of Canadian health researchers.

This represents the second year that all three of these awards have been presented. One award, in the graduate/postdoctoral fellow category, is worth $5,000, another award in the individual researcher category is also worth $5,000, and another award, in the research group category, is worth $10,000. They all recognize the exceptional efforts of each recipient to promote health research among Canada’s high school students.

“It is important for health researchers to motivate youth to appreciate the values of both science and health research,” says Dr Pierre Chartrand, acting president of CIHR. “These mentors being honored today deserve the Synapse award commendation for their efforts.”

Mr Argaw, a PhD candidate at Universit de Montral, is one of the primary organizers of the Montreal chapter of the Brain Awareness Week, which teaches Canadian youth about the value of the brain, its role and its function. He also delivers accessible lectures regarding celebrated scientific African-Americans at McGill’s Black Student Network’s Children’s Day. He has provided homework assistance for students at a Montreal community centre called Maison d’Haiti, and has tutored student-athletes in the U de M football program for science/math.

Dr Robinson, a staff physician and scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), an associate professor at University of Toronto and a Canada Research Chair, co-created the Kids Science program as a way to make science an understandable, entertaining and hands-on educational subject for ‘at risk’ young Canadians who do not have equal exposure to science and technology awareness experiences. This youth, which include patients with chronic illness at SickKids and elementary/high school students from Toronto and Northeastern Ontario regions, experience accessible one-to-one scientific conferences with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and established researchers and also have the chance to visit different laboratories around the SickKids Research Institute.

Dr Roskams, an associate professor in the department of zoology at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and member of the Brain Research Centre, encourages youth to both develop an appreciation of science and excel with their creativity. She is founder of the UBC Mentor Centre that encourages the BC-based research community to speak in elementary/high school classrooms, organizer of conferences that demonstrate how people of different backgrounds can become established researchers, keynote speaker for conferences that offer teaching advice for elementary/high school teachers, and facilitator for high school students to both visit and help in various research laboratories.

Dr Flicker, an assistant professor at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, and Dr Larkin, principal investigator of gendering adolescent AIDS prevention at the University of Toronto, created the Toronto teen survey research team, made up of professionals who trained members of Toronto’s youth community to develop a survey tool that evaluates the assets, gaps and barriers that exist in sexual health education among Toronto’s youth.