July/August 2001

Convocation 2001

Almost 2,500 students graduated at UVic’s spring convocation. Some of them were featured in our June convocation edition. Here are stories on a few more of our special grads . . .

Teaching kids a dream come true for education grad

For Monica Noon, working with children is as much a part of life as breathing.

“I’ve always been involved with kids, through babysitting, tutoring, employment and volunteer work for organizations such as the Share Society, Tri-City Children’s Festival, and Burnaby Parks and Recreation,” says Noon, who is this year’s Maxwell Cameron Medal winner in elementary education.

While at Centennial Senior Secondary school in Coquitlam, Noon was involved with several sports teams and clubs, and she’s also worked extensively with children at the Burnaby and Port Moody Parks and Recreation Departments as a program instructor.

She attributes much of her academic success to work habits she developed when she was a child. “I had a very busy childhood,” says the high-energy Noon. “My parents encouraged me to be active and do things to the best of my ability. I learned early how to manage my time and priorities.”

Noon came to UVic after two years at Douglas College, and she graduated with distinction in November, 2000. Since then, she’s been very busy as a teacher on call in Victoria, teaching in both French immersion and regular English-language classrooms from kindergarten to Grade 7.

She has a particular fondness for Doncaster Elementary, where she did both of her practicum placements and is a popular substitute. “I had two excellent sponsor teachers and feel right at home there. They treat their practicum students like colleagues and include them fully in the life of the school.”

She sings the praises of UVic, and singles out Dr. Tom Fleming, Trevor Calkins and Geoffrey Hett as “three outstanding teachers” she encountered here. “I use a lot of what I learned in their classes,” she says. “All three are wonderful examples of great teachers and I hope to one day be as inspirational to my students as they were to me.”

Noon plans to find a regular teaching position in an elementary school in the Victoria district.

Grad changes countries — and professions

When Yiping Mao moved from China to Canada four-and-a-half-years ago, she had the opportunity to choose a new direction in life. “Sometimes you have a chance to change,” she says. So she jumped headfirst into the high-tech world of computers.

Winner of the Computer Science Graduation Medal, Mao was originally trained to be an elementary school teacher, but decided she wanted to go to university. She spent seven years studying chemistry in China and obtained her master’s.

By the time her husband left Shanghai to begin his PhD in biochemistry at UVic, Mao had been working in the East China Normal University chemistry department for three years. “My major responsibilities were doing research in analytical chemistry,” she says. She also taught analytical chemistry and nutrition chemistry.

She later moved to Victoria to be with her husband. She tried to find a job, but had no luck and decided to go back to school. “Because I come from a foreign country, I think it is necessary to have a degree from Canada to get a job,” says Mao, whose husband graduated in June as well.

Mao chose to study computer science and has spent the last three years studying hard to attain a GPA of 8.7. “It’s a fascinating new area to me. Also, to be honest, I chose it because of more job opportunities.”

Mao also enjoyed her three co-op terms. “When you come back from a co-op term you know which courses you should take and the area you’d like to work in when you graduate.”

Mao is now working full-time for Barrodale Computing Services, a computer company where she did her last two co-op terms.

Mao likes Victoria, and hopes to stay here even though the rest of her family still lives in China. She grew up in Ningbo in Zhejiang province. “If you compare the environments here and in China, I feel it is better here,” she says.

Economics grad praises “life-altering experience”

Following graduation from Claremont high school, Francis Vitek was certain he wanted to be an engineer. But five years later he’s the recipient of the Jubilee Medal for the top graduating student in social sciences for his outstanding work in economics.

“I was unsuitable for engineering,” says Vitek. “So I migrated to economics, passing through physics on the way there.”

While explaining there are similarities between the field he chose and the one he left behind, Vitek admits the promise of better career prospects influenced his final choice of study. “I first worked for the Bank of Canada as a co-op student and I plan to alternate between working at the bank and completing the one-year master’s program at Queen’s University beginning in September.”

Vitek is currently working at the bank, analysing the effects of economic uncertainty on the macro economy. That means developing models to study the link between inflation uncertainty and economic growth. Vitek’s research area is one of the more significant ones on the bank’s agenda. The BSc grad’s success is no surprise to Vitek’s former professor, economist Dr. Judith Giles.

“Francis is quite simply the best student I’ve ever had. He’s ideal PhD material and has already completed three graduate-level courses. He’s so easy to teach, he’s just a delight.”

Vitek, who is also considering a master’s in mathematical finance before pursuing a PhD in financial econometrics, returns Giles’s compliments.

“I have her to thank for my knowledge of econometrics [statistical economics], especially for time series econometrics which is the tool I use at the bank. I can only say good things about the economics faculty. They really opened my mind to questions and opportunities. It’s been a life-altering experience.”

CheboudImmigrant experiences inspire education grad

Elias Cheboud was studying to be a physician when his home country of Ethiopia was taken over by a dictatorship. Under the new rule, he was imprisoned for being a student and became a victim of torture and violence. The day of his release from prison he fled his country, spent months in refugee camps and eventually ended up in Edmonton.

Twenty years later, he has graduated from UVic with a PhD in education.

“I want to be an example for immigrant communities and for children whose families are immigrants,” says Cheboud, who believes anyone can go back to school and achieve their dreams. When he arrived in Canada, he couldn’t speak English very well — he learned it by reading newspapers and listening to the radio — and since his studies in Ethiopia weren’t transferable to a Canadian university, he had to start school again from scratch.

When Cheboud enrolled in an Edmonton college in 1991, he was already in his early 30s with a young family. In 1993 Cheboud moved to Victoria to pursue a degree in social work at UVic, and later commuted to UBC earn a master’s in the same field. For his PhD in education at UVic, he studied how the tribal background and prior socio-economic status of Ethiopian immigrants affects their success in Canada.

“The process of assimilation and adaptation and of achieving full potential depends on a person’s background,” says Cheboud, who hopes his study will encourage people assisting immigrants to really understand their backgrounds.

“If they were oppressed before, when they come here they feel free and equal for the first time and they seize the opportunity,” he says. Immigrants who come from a higher status and have already succeeded have a harder time and take longer to achieve their goals.

Cheboud has worked part-time and volunteered throughout the 10 years he’s been in school. He’s worked with refugee agencies in Edmonton and Victoria and is currently president of the Victoria Coalition for Survivors of Torture.

Cheboud has turned his experience in Ethiopia into a source of strength, instead of something entirely negative. “It prepares me to expect the unexpected and face head-on any challenges that come my way.”

Cheboud is currently working part-time as a drug and alcohol counsellor for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Families.

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