CIHR Announces Recipients of 2011 Synapse Mentorship Awards

For immediate release - 2011-11

CIHR presents three different awards related to mentorship in an effort to recognize those who help Canadian youth understand the value of health research and the potential of a scientific future

OTTAWA (June 8, 2011) – Today, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is pleased to announce the names of recipients who are being recognized with Synapse Mentorship Awards for their outstanding efforts in science outreach in three different categories: Ms. Alexis Given (Graduate/Postdoctoral Fellow), Dr. Kurt Haas (Individual Researcher) and Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (Research Group).

Two of the Synapse awards are worth $5,000 (Graduate/Postdoctoral Fellow and Individual Researcher), while one is worth $10,000 (Group). They all recognize the exceptional efforts of each recipient in promoting health research among Canada's high school students. Through mentorship, each recipient regularly motivates young Canadians to consider both the value of health research as well career opportunities that exist within various scientific fields. The recipient is nominated by someone who understands its direct scientific contributions to young people, and is ultimately chosen by the members of the CIHR Youth Outreach Advisory Board.

CIHR's Synapse initiative acts as a scientific junction that brings together health researchers and young students. More than 8,200 CIHR-funded health researchers from across the country have already signed up to become CIHR Synapse mentors – a number that 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.

"It is admirable how these health researchers find time in their busy respective schedules for scientific outreach to youth," says Dr. Ian Graham, Vice-President of Knowledge Translation at CIHR. "If students understand the merits of science, they may, ultimately, feel motivated to choose a career path that is similar to their mentors. The benefits of this could, in turn, be astounding. Not only would Canadian health researchers move forward in terms of discovery through another generation, but our country would reach scientific achievement on an international stage. I commend the recipients of these mentorship awards."

Synapse Mentorship Award: Graduate/Postdoctoral Fellow

As a PhD student in neuroscience at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and University of Ottawa, Ms. Alexis Given has voluntarily devoted time as a mentor to Let's Talk Science and Science Travels in a concerted effort to pass along knowledge to the next generation of researchers. She has delivered more than 90 science outreach activities in local schools, involving 4,000 youth. Ms. Given is keen to creating new learning opportunities, by co-organizing the first StemCell Talks event in Ottawa, which took place in March 2011. She has worked with Science Travels by offering science workshops about DNA forensics in remote areas of Nunavut. Her outreach skills know no borders, however, as Ms. Given has also ventured to Africa for a month in an international effort to teach science to 2,754 students.

Synapse Mentorship Award: Individual Researcher

Dr. Kurt Haas is a rising star in the field of neuroscience at the University of British Columbia's Brain Research Centre. On top of being Assistant Professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, he has created the Brain Awareness Week community outreach program as a way for neuroscience graduate students to visit K-12 Vancouver classrooms in an effort to spark an interest in science. So that this educational outreach is done properly, Dr. Haas has offered teaching techniques for the graduate students so that they can communicate complex terms in an accessible fashion. So far the program has been quite successful, given that 3,800 students have been reached since 2006. Dr. Haas is also interested in providing direct mentorship to students within his own laboratory. Since 2004, he has supervised 40 undergraduates and six high school students – all of whom have had the chance to develop experiments, understand how to analyze data and learn how to present findings.

Synapse Mentorship Award: Research Group

Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST), run by an advisory board made up of experts in related fields from the University of Alberta (U of A), school boards and private industry, create programs and networks that motivate female high school students to consider pursuing scientific careers that are less traditional for their gender. Founded in 1982, WISEST offers the following options: Choices Conference, an annual two day event, introduces 600 Grade 6 girls and their teachers from 150 Edmonton-based elementary schools each year to hands-on experiments in science and engineering at the U of A; SET, an annual day-long event at the U of A, has allowed 2,600 high school girls in the past 22 years the chance to conduct hands-on scientific experiments and interact with experts; and the Summer Research Program, has given 1,200 Grade 11 female students since 1984 the chance to work as paid members of research teams devoted to sciences and engineering at U of A. Two new junior high programs, entitled Meet-a-Mentor and IlluminateIT, were also launched by the group in an effort to motivate female students to consider science courses in high school.

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About the Canadian Institutes of Health Research
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's agency for health research. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health-care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 13,600 health researchers and trainees across Canada.

About the Brain Research Centre: 
The Brain Research Centre, an innovative partnership between The University of British Columbia (UBC) and its affiliated teaching hospitals, Vancouver Coastal Health, is dedicated to advancing our knowledge of the human brain, to promoting research into its diseases, and to developing new diagnostics and new therapeutics. Headquartered at the UBC Hospital site, the Brain Research Centre comprises over 200 faculty members from more than twenty departments. They bring wide-ranging expertise in the neurosciences, extending from the test tube, to the bedside, to industrial spin-off companies. Under its broad umbrella, people, technology, and resources join in exploring the 21st Century of neuroscience. The Centre houses over 20 laboratories, together with major core facilities which are shared among the various disciplines.

About the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute:
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with the University's Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The OHRI includes more than 1,500 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease.

About the University of Alberta:
The University of Alberta is one of Canada's top teaching and research universities, with an international reputation for excellence across the humanities, sciences, creative arts, business, engineering, and health sciences. Home to more than 38,000 students and 15,000 faculty and staff, the university has an annual budget of more than $1.4 billion and attracts more than $498 million in external research funding. It offers close to 400 undergraduate, graduate and professional programs in 18 faculties on five campuses.

Media Contacts:

David Coulombe
CIHR Media Specialist   
Tel. (Office): 613-941-4563
Tel. (Mobile): 613-808-7526
E-mail: mediarelations@cihr-irsc.gc.ca

Bethany Becker, M.J.
Acting Communications Manager
Brain Research Centre
Tel. : 604.827.3396
E-mail: bbecker@brain.ubc.ca

JoAnn McDonald
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Tel. : (613) 737-8899, x 73409
E-mail: jmcdonald@ohri.ca

Brian Murphy
Media Associate
Office of Public Affairs
University of Alberta
Tel.: 780.492.6041
E-mail: brian.murphy@ualberta.ca