Author: susanne

Speaker Series: Manufacturing Meaning: Medieval and Modern Material Sustainability?

Wed, 25 April 2018
6:30 PM – 9:00 PM

What does medieval literature have to do with environmental sustainability? How does reading a medieval manuscript inform sustainable interior manufacturing? How does a partnership between university and community promote socioecological welfare? How does architecture and interior design impact our learning environment?

Join Dr. Kenna L. Olsen, Associate Professor of medieval literature at Mount Royal University, and Elias Fahssi of Calgary’s DIRTT Environmental Solutions, to find out how this new collaborative project between an industry-based company and an historical literary project identifies new practices for conceiving and constructing sustainable human spaces.

For more event details, and to register for free, check out the link below:

Answer to: Reimagining (and Redoing) Graduate Education for the 21st Century

Dr. Lisa Young
Dean and Vice-Provost, Graduate Studies (University of Calgary)

Susan Porter’s blog post makes a compelling case for the imperative to reimagine graduate education, both in substance and in form. The vision she articulates problematizes the disciplinary boundaries of scholarship, adherence to models of scholarship that valorize communication to relatively small academic audiences, and attachment to traditional models of scholarly communication.

I agree with her analysis that scholarship and scholarly communication are changing, and that graduate education must be open to these changes, and in some respects lead the way. After all, graduate students are the emerging generation of scholars, and if we do not find ways to help them challenge the boundaries of scholarship and scholarly communication, we are standing in the way of change.

So what is the role for graduate supervisors, program directors and deans? We are “the establishment”, embodying the status quo. Some of us are deeply attached to the way things are, and have ‘always’ been done. We think that candidacy exams should be just as rigorous as the ones that we recall passing, and dissertations should be first drafts of scholarly monographs, just like ours were, back in the day. I believe that this attachment to the status quo isn’t just innate conservatism, but an aversion to risk. As supervisors, we want our students to succeed, to pass their thesis defense with ease and move forward, perhaps into the academic career that we have enjoyed.

Writing a dissertation that crosses disciplinary boundaries, that embodies an unfamiliar epistemology, or that takes a form other than the traditional entails risk. When we advise students who want to innovate, we often find our own advice to be surprisingly conservative, in an effort to minimize the risk of failure for our promising student.

Just as we are, as an institution, encouraging our students to engage in entrepreneurial thinking, we are as faculty members faced with an imperative to find the right balance between innovation and risk aversion for our graduate students. How can we encourage graduate students to take intellectual risks, while still serving as their trusted advisors? There are no easy answers to this question, but it is a conversation we must have. We must also confront the possibility that there is greater risk in failing to innovate than in innovating; perhaps, in counselling students to pursue traditional questions through traditional means communicated in traditional ways, we are preparing them for yesterday’s academy, rather than tomorrow’s research environment.

In the Faculty of Graduate Studies, we are trying to open these conversations in a variety of ways. We have supported the University of Calgary SAGE group (Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Education) in pursuing a series of conversations around the topic of Decolonizing the Dissertation. We have also developed a webpage that discusses non-traditional thesis forms, and profiles some notable examples of innovation. We hope that these conversations help students and their supervisors to think about risk and reward in new ways.



Lisa Young received her PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto in 1996. She also holds an MA in Political Science from Carleton University and a BA in Political Science and Economics from the University of Winnipeg. Her research interests include Canadian political parties, women’s participation in politics, interest groups and social movements and the regulation of electoral finance. She is the recipient of a University of Calgary Killam Research Fellowship (2003), and a Faculty of Social Sciences Distinguished Research Award (2000).

Reimagining (and Redoing) Graduate Education for the 21st Century

Dean of Graduate Studies, UBC

The suspicion that human activity can impact the climate is an ancient one. In analyzing the increasing amount of data generated in the 19th century, the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius formulated a more specific hypothesis; that the burning of fossil fuels would raise the earth’s temperature. The story from there is a complex, tortuous one, moving from the discoveries of individual scientific teams to mounting public attention and the attraction of a vast array of stakeholders and disciplines as the early suspicions about climate change proved founded, and the problem turned wicked. Most of the seminal mid-20th century papers on the subject were published in scientific journals, authored by a small scientific teams, working from universities and research institutions. Although such work continues to be critical, a much larger, transdisciplinary, focus is now also essential as we struggle to mitigate and adapt to the ravages of human activity on our planet. The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) exemplifies this ‘all hands on deck’ approach: Their Fifth Assessment Report was authored by 831 experts from universities, governments, NGOs and industry, representing a multitude of disciplines spanning the natural sciences to economics, engineering, and the health and social sciences. This arc typifies the framing of knowledge generation changes over the last half-century as a transition from a model that is primarily linear and discipline-based (mode 1, according to the work of Michael Gibbons), to one that is problem-based, transdisciplinary, multisectoral, and iterative (mode 2).

Among many attributes that were common to all those who made these impactful contributions to understand and address climate change was a deep understanding of their areas, an ability to think critically and creatively, a sense of responsibility and commitment to their scholarship, and aptitudes in communication and working with their peers. The development of these attributes, of course, is the traditional goal of graduate education. But at least some of the experts who contributed to the IPCC report needed more: They needed to understand how their field intersected, contributed to, and was enriched by other disciplines and approaches. They needed to communicate in ways that non-peers could understand and build on; many would have worked in numerous contexts over their working lives, and they needed to be adaptable to each, to integrate the zeitgeist of new environments and learn to make advances on problems with infinite variables and no single solutions. I and others argue that these abilities, the importance for which extend well beyond climate science and the tackling of wicked problems, can be challenging to develop through traditional models of graduate education, especially those involving single disciplines and sole authorship.

Daniel Coit Gilman, the first President of Johns Hopkins University, was a pioneer in the establishment of formalized research graduate education in North America. As he adopted the German model of the research PhD, he adapted it in ways that he felt met the needs of North American society more broadly. He warned against narrow technical specialization and the risk of developing graduates who had no understanding or connection to the society of which they were to be ‘wise, thoughtful, and progressive guides’. He noted that as society is constantly changing, the academy needs to keep pace with it: ‘Universities easily fall into ruts. Almost every epoch requires a fresh start.’

What is the fresh start needed for the 21st century? Apart from changes in the way knowledge is generated and mobilized, societal transformation is occuring on many fronts. Universities see their role increasingly as institutions engaged productively with the larger community; the millenial generation in particular is (arguably) characterized by pragmatic idealism and a deep desire to make the world better; graduate careers are increasingly diverse, and the workforce overall is moving from one characterized by linear job-based career trajectories to one of ever-changing portfolios. What should or could a research graduate program look like in light of these epochal changes? Should a critical (and assessed) learning outcome be the ability to communicate effectively with diverse audiences? Could students be encouraged in their research to include collaborations across disciplines and/or across societal sectors, and include multiple perspectives? Could they be assisted in making a tangible impact with their research if relevant, e.g. through policy development, inventions, or teaching? Should graduates be expected to have holistic understanding of their field and its significance and potential in broader scholarly and ‘real world’ domains?

If the answer to some or most of these questions is yes, I would argue that graduate education needs to be freshly imagined. Up to now, most attempts by universities to address some of the above needs usually involve the addition of elements that do not typically involve assessment of student learning or count towards the degree qualification; they are also not commonly integrated with students’ deepest learning. These ‘add-on’s are seen as helpful in developing skills that will complement the intellectual development gained through traditional scholarship. Where, though, do students routinely gain epistemological pluralism and rhetorical flexibility (different ways of knowing and arguing)? Where do they gain the practical and creative ‘intelligences’ that allow them to be experts at adapting and contributing to diverse environments and ways of working? Where are they challenged to profoundly reflect on the ethical dimension of the work and identities as scholars? When students do have opportunities to develop these, how do we know that they do so – or do so meaningfully?

Calls (by some) have gone out for some time to rethink graduate education from these perspectives; in particular, to rethink the learning and research that is integral to a graduate degree. In 1990, the American educator Ernest Boyer argued eloquently for a ‘more capacious’ understanding of scholarship for the professoriate. In addition to traditional ‘discovery’ research, he said, valued forms of scholarship should include those focused on forging connections aross disciplines and with non-experts, on productively bridging theory and practice, and on teaching the next generation of scholars. Several large projects in the US in the 2000s built on his work to advocate for similarly broadened conceptions of graduate education. More recently, McGills’ Paul Yachnin and others disseminated a white paper advocating for a replacement of the dissertation with an ensemble of projects oriented to ‘active participation in the world’; several disciplinary organizations (e.g., the Modern Language Association) have argued for similar changes; and the national graduate associations of Canada and the US (CAGS and CGS) have led numerous conversations and projects related to these goals.

The responses so far, however, have been primarily about more add-ons. Many universities have developed creative non-credit programming for career development, and major Canadian and US granting agencies support graduate training programs that require exposure to interdisciplinary and/or multisectoral perspectives (e.g., NSF IGERT, NSERC CREATE, NIH BEST). Learning from these latter experiences, however, does not have to be assessed or integrated into students’ primary research focus – the programs do not redefine what a graduate degree signifies. It’s not hard to come up with reasons why fundamentally reimagined graduation education has not caught on. Among these are the fact that universities are wholly dependent on the master-apprentice paradigm in the sciences (students are needed to pursue their supervisors’ line of research), and faculty are not rewarded for broadened scholarly contributions or mentorship; many view intellectual diversification as dilution, putting in peril the value and prestige of the PhD; and there is fear that students with broadened research perspectives and dissertations risk failing their defense or being shut out of the academic job market.

Glimmers of change are on the horizon, however. Universities (at least in North America) are increasingly accepting non-traditional dissertations, and some, like the University of Calgary, are actively promoting the value of broadened graduate scholarship and dissertations. At UBC, we are experimenting with this on multiple fronts. Our primary focus since 2015 is developing and running a program – called the Public Scholars Initiative (PSI) – designed to support doctoral students (financially, and through community and professional development) in broadening their dissertation scholarship in ways that meet this century’s needs. The scholarship of PSI students typically involves collaborations with partners external to the university (or sometimes in different domains of academia), and is oriented to tangible advances in societal good through transdisciplinary, problem-based research and knowledge mobilization. The last chapter of PSI scholar Sarah Munro’s dissertation, for example contains a policy brief developed with and for health authorities and clinicians (the recommendations of which are now being implemented) stemming from discovery work in understanding how women make childbirth decisions after having had Caesarean sections. PSI scholar Paige Olmsted’s dissertation on the role of financial incentives in environmental conservation efforts includes the report she wrote for the NGO she collaborated with. Several others are carrying out teaching and learning research in addition to that of their primary scientific focus, and will incorporate that work as chapter in their dissertations. So far, 115 doctoral students have been accepted into the PSI program, and over 10 have successfully defended their dissertations and have graduated.

Of all the outcomes of this program and the broader socialization of its principles, among the most moving and unexpected for me was the development in many PSI scholars of a rich professional identity and heightened sense of responsibility (‘I became something more than just a student’, ‘I began to understand the role of my work’, ‘It increased my awareness of societal responsibility’, ‘it broadened my view of what being a scholar means’). Many also expressed exhilaration about the opportunity to pursue what they felt most passionate about, and the validation of these pursuits by the academy (‘I feel more strongly about this project than any other I have worked on in my dissertation’, ‘it is some of the more meaningful work I will have done during my PhD’, ‘ it has been the highlight of my PhD’, ‘now I see a path that motivates me to continue my studies’). All external partners were enthusiastic about the collaboration, and most have already seen tangible benefits to the work.

Overall, we would say the experiment was a success in modelling expanded notions of graduate education. That said, not all faculty are on board with the concept, and not all students either want or have the opportunity to engage in these forms of research and learning. There is still much work to be done and innumerable challenges to overcome if these values are to be embodied more broadly. I believe the train has left the station, though, and we will only see increasing adoption of the principles espoused by Ernest Boyer and others, who saw broadened views of scholarly work as essential for the vitality of the academy and for the next generation of scholars.

Read reply of Lisa Young.


Dr. Porter is a molecular biologist by trade. Originally from Montreal, she came to UBC in 1980 to complete her PhD and was appointed as Assistant Professor in 1991.

She left basic research six years later to lead the molecular diagnostic work for the microbiology laboratory at Vancouver General Hospital. With an interest in graduate education, she became increasingly involved in administration, culminating in her appointment in 2011 as interim Dean of Graduate Studies, and as Dean and Vice-Provost in 2013. In her role, she leads the charge in championing graduate education and postdoctoral studies at UBC, and helping to ensure they are the best they can be.

Opinion: UBC takes lead in rethinking doctoral education

Upcoming Event

Thursday, April 12th 2018
4:00 – 6:30 PM
Crowsnest Hall: MD Room

A presentation and discussion of how graduate studies and the graduate thesis can connect with today’s society.

Prof. Susan Porter
Dean of Graduate Studies
University of British Columbia

Introduced by:
Prof. Lisa Young
Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies University of Calgary

Please register here



Creating a Common Language for Low-carbon futures in Alberta

Luis D. Virla
University of Calgary

How can Alberta use its available energy resources to develop an energy generation sector that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable?

In this panel discussion, experts from various backgrounds (Indigenous communities, Academia, Policy Making, and Industry) will present their views on the challenges and opportunities of current initiatives addressing low-carbon future options in Alberta. In addition, the panelists will discuss the potential risks and uncertainties for these futures and their socio-economic impact from the perspective of the communities involved. Attendees will learn about the evolution of the energy sector and what is the current situation regarding green-house gas emissions. Also, how potential low-carbon futures for the province may look like and will be welcome to engage in a constructive and throughout dialogue with the panelists and other members of the audience.

About the panelists:

Cecilia Fitzpatrick – Elder, Fort McKay First Nation

Bori Arrobo – Sr. Manager, Environmental and Regulatory Affairs, Fort McKay First Nation

John Van Ham – Director, Water NEXT and VHR Inc, Environmental Consulting

Prof. Alastair Lucas – Director, Sustainable Energy Development Program, University of Calgary

Prit Kotecha – Director, Environmental Engineering, Suncor Energy

Reflecting on the Graduate College’s recent Olympic/Paralympic Panel

Simon Barrick
PhD candidate in Kinesology
University of Calgary

So, what factors go into deciding whether to bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Games?

Turns out a great many!

That was one of the key takeaways from Tuesday night’s panel: Reimagining Winter Olympic and Paralympic bids for the 21st Century. This panel was the second installment in the Graduate College Speaker Series (GCSS); an initiative which aims to engage the university and local community in important local, national, and international conversations. The GCSS is jointly funded by the Graduate College and the Graduate Students’ Association Quality Money program.

One of the great benefits of belonging to the Graduate College is that many of our events are member driven. This is true of the GCSS. Back in December, I approached Dr. Thompson (Interim College Head) and expressed interest in turning one of my research and personal passions – the Olympics and Paralympics – into a GCSS event. Namely, I wanted to create a space for members of the public to learn about Olympic and Paralympic bids from various experts and share their perspectives on Calgary’s prospective 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic bid.

The Graduate College is quite fortunate to be located in such an entrepreneurial and diverse city as Calgary. A further advantage is the large pool of sport experts living in our backyard from municipal governance, elite and grassroots sport, and academic backgrounds. Thus, it was unsurprising we were able to amass such an outstanding panel of experts for this event including:

Erica Wiebe (Olympic Gold Medallist – 2016 Rio Summer Olympics)


Dr. Roger Jackson (Professor Emeritus – University of Calgary – Faculty of Kinesiology)


Druh Farrell (City of Calgary Councillor – Ward 7)


Dr. David Legg (Professor – Mount Royal University)


Barry Heck (President & CEO – WinSport)

Now, fast forward to the evening of Tuesday, March 6th – the night of the event. Approximately 100 members of the local community turned out for what (unsurprisingly) turned out to be an evening of collegial, passionate dialogue about the potential benefits and drawbacks of Calgary hosting the Olympics and Paralympics.

While many great questions, ideas, and opinions were shared throughout the event, I want to highlight three main points that I believe are especially poignant:

1) Bidding on and hosting mega-sport events like the Olympics and Paralympics are complex undertakings for local communities in our contemporary society. The panelists did an excellent job outlining many factors (e.g., building infrastructure and security) that drive up event costs and create organisational challenges.

2) If Calgary is to bid for the 2026 Games, now is the time to ask tough questions about our community and the feasibility of hosting the Olympics and Paralympics. Where will the money to pay for the Games come from? What legacies will be left for Calgary, Alberta, and Canada? How do the Olympic and Paralympic Games fit into Calgary’s master plan? These questions were all raised throughout the panel and promise to be key discussion points as we approach a final decision on a Calgary bid.

3) Calgary is uniquely positioned to deliver world-class Olympic and Paralympic Games. We have the venues (legacies from the 1988 Games) and the volunteer base to pull off an event of this size. Yet, as was reiterated throughout the evening, Calgary should only go forward with a bid if it makes sense for the current and future needs of the city, province, and nation.

This last point promises to be an increasingly contentious one as debate heats up at City Hall and throughout the living rooms and social media feeds of Calgarians and beyond.

In closing, I want to thank the many people within the Graduate College who helped make this panel an overwhelming success. We also received tremendous support from various academic units across campus for which I am personally grateful.

And lastly, thank you to everyone who attended last week’s panel. Bidding on the 2026 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games promises to be a topic of contentious public debate moving forward. I hope that this panel has illustrated the essential role wide-spread public dialogue must play as the process continues to unfold.

My Space is Green: The Importance of Personalization and Biophilia in the Workplace

Ana Karinna Hidalgo
PhD candidate in Environmental Design
University of Calgary

Organizations have being changing the way in which they conceive the workplace. From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when mass production required mechanical tasks, to nowadays when a work can be performed not only in the office but in any place, the search of better layouts or systems to design workplaces is still undergoing.

The design of the workplace is an interdisciplinary task that involves ergonomics, design and its various disciplines, environmental psychology, and other fields according to the type of work the organization does. The interdisciplinary group that decides about the layout of the place most of the time fail to consider individual needs or tastes, they may not allow each worker to personalize the space, they may not even think about physical characteristics of the people that work for the company. Therefore psychological and spiritual needs used to be out of discussion.

Because of a more comprehensive understanding of the human body and behavior, new topics are nowadays considered when designing work environments. Territoriality, ergonomics, personalization of the space, and biophilic design are important concepts to be taken into account. Territoriality fulfills the personal needs of efficiency and competency, self-identity and place of one’s own [1]. Within this space, ergonomics provides the tools and information to make the work tasks more comfortable and avoid injuries and pain that worsen people’s health condition in general and productivity in particular [2].

Personalization is a powerful concept. When a person has the freedom to arrange elements such as furniture, decoration, plants, and colours in the office, dorm, or any workplace, increased productivity is a real result. A study [3] tests the effect of four different environments on people’s productivity. The different workplaces are a ‘lean’ office with its essential equipment, an ‘enriched’ one that was decorated with plants and art pictures, an ‘empowered’ space where people decided the arrangement of the elements, and the ‘disempowered’ where the experimenter changed the personal touches made. As a result, the productivity and well-being of participants increased much more in the ‘empowered’ office, the customized workplace. In this environment participants were happier and more efficient than in the others.

Besides the customization of the office, creating a sense of place in the place we live and work is psychological convenient. For instance, a personalization of the university dorm helps improving the academic performance of students. The opportunity to not only decorate the space that will be home for the following years, but also to arrange flexible furniture, paint the room with the preferred colours and put a taste of home, gives students a sense of self and security that will support them during their studies [4]. Yet not all residence services at universities have policies that will allow students to have such a freedom. However, improved academic performances and reduced levels of stress among students are strong reasons to consider promoting personalized dorms.

The accumulation of stress and mental fatigue becomes an impediment for work or academic performance. Several studies show that biophilic elements positively affect mental health. Edward O. Wilson defines Biophilia as our innate urge as humans to relate to other forms of life and natural processes [5]. Work environments can benefit from including these elements in their design and be transformed into spaces that also restore mental health (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Clusters of Biophilic Elements

The proposed clusters of restorative biophilic elements can be used for the design of public and private spaces. The effect of most of these elements on people’s behavior and health are still an open research area [6].


As part of my research studies, I found that even winter vegetation in urban spaces helps reducing mental fatigue. The benefits of bringing vegetation back into our environments are threefold (Figure 2). Trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses, cactuses, hopefully endemic species, provide mental health benefits by decreasing stress and mental fatigue levels. These natural elements also bring aesthetics to the workplace. Finally, a larger-scale benefit of recovering endemic vegetation is the restoration of natural landscapes.

Figure 2. Benefits of personalized and biophilic environments

The opportunities to personalize the workplace, the dorm, and home should increase. Every chance to incorporate our taste in a place constitutes a psychological health benefit. Preferred colours, plants and our own belongings are important factors to promote this restorative process in a daily basis. One’s space needs to be green and have a personal taste.


[1] Pierce, J.L., Kostova, T., & Dirks, K.T. (2003). The state of psychological ownership: Integration and extending a century of research. Review of General Psychology, 7, 84– 107.
[2] Gifford, R. (2014). Environmental Psychology. Principles and Practice (5th ed.). Victoria, BC: Optimal Books.
[3] Haslam, S., & Knight, C. (2010). Cubicle, Sweet Cubicle. Scientific American Mind, 21(4), 30-35. Retrieved from
[4] Clemons, S., et al. (2005). Importance of Sense of Place and Sense of Self in Residence Hall Room Design: A Qualitative Study of First-Year Students. Journal of the First-Year Experience & Students in Transition, 2/2005, pp. 73-86 (14).
[5] Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. The human bond with other species. Cambridge, MA, and London, England: Harvard University Press.
[6] Hidalgo, A. K. (2014). Urban streets: towards a psychological restorative function. In 2nd Future of Places International Conference on Public Space and Placemaking (Ed.), Streets as Public Spaces and Drivers of Urban Prosperity. Academic Session Papers 2014 Part II. (pp. 240–258). Stockholm: Ax:son Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from

Our Cognitive Fingerprint: A structural look at autism and dyslexia

Written by the Graduate College member, Jennifer Plosz. She is currently a graduate student in the faculty of Education, researching the role that visualization and images might play in the growth of mathematical understanding with a particular interest in students who are non-typical learners.

No two brains are alike, yet it can not be denied that with diversity there are also trends and similarities. Each of us has a unique brain fingerprint. Just as fingerprints have their own unique pattern made up of grooves and ridges, so to do our brains. Yet, even our very unique fingerprints can be categorized based on similar patterns, such as the three basic overarching fingerprint designs: Whorl, Arch, and Loop.

Another example is if we look at the physiology of our hands, no two hands are exactly alike. Yet, if we focus attention on the width and length of our fingers, some of us have quite short stubby fingers, some have very long slender fingers, and the rest of us lie somewhere in between. The structure of our hands can have an impact on the types of tasks we are more suited towards. For example, those who have sausage-like fingers may struggle to do certain fine delicate detail work but provide an advantage in tasks requiring strength. Whereas those with slender fingers may struggle with tasks that require more strength but find delicate precision type tasks easy. In the study of brain physiology, we can likewise make similar categorizations to help us notice some broader trends. Just as some fingers are wide and some narrow, so it is with our brains, some brains are made up of wider folds, some have more narrow folds, and the rest fall somewhere in between. Could our structural brain distinctions impact our cognitive areas of strength and weakness as well?

Dr. Casanova’s work is in studying the brain physiology of different cognitive profiles. Over his many years of research, he has come to believe that there are two cognitive profiles that stand at either end of a spectrum from each other (Williams & Casanova, 2010); Autism being at one end and dyslexia at the other end, with what may be considered “neurotypicals” falling somewhere in-between. Meaning that some people may present closer to the autistic end of the spectrum, as they tend towards being more detail oriented, craving routine, and excellent rote memorizers, while another person, dyslexics, may be more conceptually oriented, crave difference and struggle to rote memorize (Perrachione, et al., 2016).

The structural differences in these two brain physiologies appear to have opposite characteristics. The brain of a person with autism has more folds in the brain than a “typical” brain (see illustrative explanation below). This increase in folds causes the folds to be more narrow, which makes the white matter area held within the fold to be denser than a “typical” brain. This affects how their neural connections are created. Autistic brain structures create more local connections than a “typical” brain structure and fewer long-range connections which also causes them to have fewer connections between the two hemispheres of the brain than “typicals”. This affects how people with autism think and learn. They tend to be very detail oriented and can develop very specialized skills, but struggle to make some of the larger or big picture connections. A person with autism often struggles to see the forest for the trees.

This tendency can play out well in school for a period of time as students with autism are great at picking up detail and spitting back the information exactly how it was presented to them. The teacher can then believe that the student is understanding. The struggle for the student with autism in school is

checking for a deep understanding. Are they making the connections that they should be making? Often the struggle is highlighted when given a bigger project, they may focus too intently on one aspect of the assignment or veer off track on something very loosely connected, missing the main overarching point to the assignment.

The dyslexic brain, on the other hand, has fewer folds than the “typical” brain (see illustrated explanation below). This decrease in folds causes the folds to be wider, which makes the white matter area held within the fold more spacious. This affects how their neural connections are created. Dyslexic brain structures create more long-range connections than a “typical” brain structure and fewer local connections. More long-range connections also cause them to have more connections between the two hemispheres of the brain than “typicals”. This affects how dyslexics think and learn, they tend to be very conceptual, big-picture thinkers, who often make connections between ideas that others do not, but they struggle to learn the details. They also tend to crave difference and creativity but are very weak rote memorizers (Perrachione, et al., 2016). They struggle to see the trees for the forest, but if they are not given the forest/big picture/conceptual aspect of a topic they are often left without a starting point, which is the root of a lot of their struggle with school.

Mimicry is alive and well in the classroom. The teacher presents the material and the student is expected to give that information back to the teacher in exactly the same form as it was presented. Students who can do this successfully often receive top marks. Dyslexics struggle to retain the details and specifics when presented with material in this way. However, they are often quite adept at taking that information and then synthesizing it or connecting it to something else. Yet, many classrooms do not focus on the critical thinking aspects of a subject. In mathematics for example, when the material is presented as a procedure that should be mimicked, the dyslexic will struggle; yet if that same topic was taught through relational understanding, the dyslexic would excel. The dyslexic mind must understand first, and then they gradually learn the details. Yet, often in school when students struggle with a topic, there is a belief that because the student is struggling they are not intelligent. This in combination with the cultural belief that memorization is easier than conceptual understanding, often prompts the teacher to breaks down the topic into little steps that the student is to memorize. This assumption of lack of intelligence and cultural belief in the ease of memorization creates an environment for dyslexics that is a downward spiral of constant challenge in school and contributes to their own belief in their lack of intelligence and ability.

It should also be noted that Dr. Casanova did not find one particular region of the brain in all people with autism or all people with dyslexia to be more frequently affected than any other, hence the fingerprint analogy. For example, it is a commonly held belief that all dyslexics struggle with phonemic awareness. One would then expect that this area of the brain associated with phonemic awareness would be affected by wider brain folds in all dyslexics. Yet, Dr. Casanova did not find this to be the case. The area of the brain that deals with phonemic awareness were not more or less affected in all the dyslexic participants. Rather, he found there to be no pattern when it came to any one area as being more affected by wider folds than others, he just found variation throughout the participants. So, some areas within the dyslexic brains were more affected than others, but as a whole group, one area was not found to be consistently affected. This seems to support the extreme level of variation that is seen in how each student with these profiles presents areas of strength and weakness. Yet, there are still overarching characteristics that can be found within each of these groups.

These ideas of spectrum and variation create an interesting discussion in many areas of the dyslexia and autism debate. Does this influence commonly held beliefs in right brain dominance for dyslexics? A University of Utah study (Nielsen, Zielinski, Ferguson, Lainhart, & Anderson, 2013) looking at over 1,000 brains and discovered similar findings of variation, but in areas of brain activation rather than physiology. They found that none of their participants demonstrated preferential activation in one hemisphere over the other. Yet, there does seem to be evidence of left-handed people having more brain symmetry which would lead to better communication between the right and left sides. This connects well with Dr. Casanova’s work around dyslexics having more connections from one hemisphere of the brain to the other as dyslexics have a greater tendency to be left-handed.

Ideas of phonemic awareness and dyslexia may also spark discussion in the context of this found variation. Is phonemic awareness the root of dyslexia or is it weak neural adaptation (struggle to automatize/rote memorize) (Perrachione, et al., 2016)? Is the weakness for phonemic awareness attached to a weakness in that portion of the brain? Maybe for some. However, for others the issue may be more related to rote memorizing which sounds go with which letters. This is a very challenging task if you struggle to memorize. If we think about the English language, there are 26 letters that look nothing like a sound and then we take some of those letters and put them in a sequence, such as ‘ough’, which in English presents with seven different sounds (ie. through, cough, enough, dough, bough, borough, bought) or if you look at the sound ‘oo’ that has five different spellings (ie. root, ruin, rude, new, through). Retaining the look of a word attached to its pronunciation or meaning is, therefore, an extreme task in rote memorization.

And finally, how does this idea of spectrum fit with those who claim to have both autism and dyslexia? Do these individuals have both narrow and wide brain folds affecting different parts of the brain? Or does their autistic brain physiology present with some dyslexic tendencies with the root really being autism? Or vice versa?

There are many aspects of these profiles left to be discovered and re-examined. However, Dr. Casanova’s research opens the discussion connecting learning patterns with brain physiology allowing us to better understand how different cognitive profiles have a tendency to make neural connections. This will hopefully have an impact on how we can more effectively engage with these students. They both have extreme areas of strength, but the apparent cost is then also extreme areas of weakness. Learning how to support them in their weakness, but more importantly tap into their strengths is crucial for each of these profiles to find success and become the extremely valuable contributors to our society that evolution intended them to be.

Illustrative explanation

In the diagram below, the grey outer lining is representative of the cerebral cortex which is made up of mostly grey matter. The cortex is where we form cognitive and language functions. Underneath the

grey matter is the white matter. The axons, thread-like parts, travel through the white matter area. It is along the axons that our neural impulses travel to connect to other neurons.

This visual interpretation was created by Jennifer Plosz based off information gathered from Manuel Casanova’s work. It is not meant to be a literal rendering, but rather an explanatory one – proportional differences are exaggerated.


Casanova, M. F., Araque, J., Giedd, J., & Rumsey, J. M. (2004). Reduced brain size and gyrification in the brains of dyslexic patients. Journal of Child Neurology, 19(4), 275-281.

Casanova, M. F., Buxhoeveden, D. P., Cohen, M., Switala, A. E., & Roy, E. L. (2002). Minicolumnar pathology in dyslexia. Annals of neurology, 52(1), 108-110.

Casanova, M. F., El-Baz, A. S., Giedd, J., Rumsey, J. M., & Switala, A. E. (2010). Increased white matter gyral depth in dyslexia: implications for corticocortical connectivity. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 40(1), 21-29.

Casanova, M., El-Baz, A., Elnakib, A., Giedd, J., Rumsey, J., Williams, E., & Switala, A. (2010). Corpus callosum shape analysis with application to dyslexia. Translational neuroscience, 1(2), 124-130.

Elnakib, A., Casanova, M. F., Gimelrfarb, G., Switala, A. E., & El-Baz, A. (2012, July). Dyslexia diagnostics by 3-D shape analysis of the corpus callosum. IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine, 16(4), 700-708.

Perrachione, T. K., Del Tufo, S. N., Winter, R. M., Murtagh, J., Cyr, A., Chang, P., . . . Gabrieli, J. D. (2016). Dysfunction of rapid neural adaptation in dyslexia. Neuron, 92(6), 1383-1397.

Williams, E. L., & Casanova, M. (2010). Autism and dyslexia: A spectrum of cognitive styles as defined by minicolumnar morphometry. Medical Hypotheses, 74, 59-62.

Williams, E. L., El-Baz, A., Nitzken, M., Switala, A. E., & Casanova, M. (2012, March). Spherical harmonic analysis of cortical complexity in autism and dyslexia. Translational Neuroscience, 3(1), 36-40.

Holiday Volunteering

The College’s December Theme is: Donate, Engage and Enjoy! To spread happiness around the city, a group of  scholars volunteered at Inn from the Cold and Stephen’s Backpacks.

For more information about these charities please visit:

Graduate College – Scholars

Jason Abboud; Canadian, Calgary; BSc. in Microbiology and Nanoscience, BSc. in Geology, currently an MSc student in Geoscience/Civil Engineering. Jason plans and hosts regular HydroTalks talks in the Geoscience where industry and government professionals share their stories and lessons of work in water. He also hosts water networking events in Calgary called Blue Drinks. He likes being a generalist and wants to continue to work in water-related fields, on large scale projects, such as environmental impact assessments and international groundwater work. He plans within the College include connecting with more individuals and connecting The College to a greater Calgary community, where possible!



Mohamed Abdelsamie




Mohamed Ahmed is a Ph.D. candidate at the Geography Dept. focusing on the air-sea CO2 exchange in the Canadian Arctic. Mohamed originally from Egypt and he is a second-year scholar in the College. He got his B.Sc. in Geology from Egypt and his M.Sc. in Geomatics in Sweden. At present, Mohamed serving as the director of the finance committee for 2017/2018 and as the VP student life in the geography students association.  Mohamed enjoys outdoor activities and would like to connect with all scholars and contribute with all scholars in moving the graduate college one step ahead.

Art Assoiants


Jesse Baker

Viraji Bandara


Simon Barrick is a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Kinesiology. Originally from Southern Ontario, Simon’s current research explores the role that winter sport participation plays in the lives of newcomers to Canada. Simon’s aim is to enrich and empower his community through service and community-engaged qualitative research. Simon has been active in the development of The College’s structure and events, with a current focus on developing a mentorship program involving local Syrian newcomers.

Tiffany Beks
Caroline Beninger (Benny), an MSc student in Veterinary Medical Sciences studying digital dermatitis affecting Alberta dairy cattle. Previously, she received an Emergency Medical Responder certificate from SAIT and a BSc in Biological Sciences with great distinction and an honour’s thesis in antibiotic resistance from the University of Lethbridge. Her goal is to become a production animal veterinarian and volunteer her skills with Vets without Boarders to improve human and animal welfare on a global scale. Outside of The College, Caroline has volunteered with Alberta Spay and Neuter Task Force for nearly 3 years providing veterinary services to First Nations communities with limited veterinary access. As an external committee member, Caroline would like to continue working at the intersection between human and animal health and welfare. Engaging students of all disciplines in the One Health model of health and bridging the gap between farm and consumers is her goal.



Amanda Black

Claire (Jiayi) Cao. Chinese-born Canadian, grew up in Colorado; BSc in Biochemistry / Mathematics from McGill; M. Sc. student in petroleum engineering focusing on the simulation of Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery. Involved in various capacities in communications/external roles (DGA, previously GSA) and in sustainability initiatives outside campus. I hope to become an advocate for sustainability and environmental responsibility in the energy industry. I want to contribute to and learn from the multi-disciplinary, diverse community at the College.

Justin Caouette

Jaclyn Carter is a PhD candidate in the Department of English. Her research focuses on colonial representations of Anglo-Saxon and Norse peoples in literature during and after the Viking raids in England, from the late eighth century onwards. Jaclyn completed her MA at the University of Calgary, also in medieval literary studies, and obtained her BA from Mount Royal University. She is currently active with the College’s Communications Committee.


Suzanne Chew


Evangelian Collings

Sue Crawford; Calgary-born Canadian; BSc in Zoology, BN in Nursing (Pediatrics), Registered Nurse certification, Master of Nursing Student; Known for my disability advocacy including as the co-founder and CEO of the social enterprise, Enable; I hope to continue as a social entrepreneur, representing the rights and meeting the needs of vulnerable populations; I want to contribute to the impressive expertise at the College to create our own community and strengthen the larger community.



Kori Czuy

Zaheed Damani
Leanne Dawson; Canadian; born and raised in Calgary, BSc in Electrical Engineering from the University of Calgary; MSc in Electrical Engineering – specialization in Energy and Environment – from the University of Calgary, currently doing a PhD in the same area as my MSc; working on investigating the impact of weather conditions on power line capacity; besides academics, I spend most of my time volunteering with different university committees, leading school outreach programs in STEM and organizing leadership workshops for female graduate students; My goal for the College this year is to provide opportunities for the scholars to connect and grow as a community.

AnneMarie Dorland; Canadian, Edmonton; Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication Design), University of Alberta. Master of Arts, Communication and Media Studies, Concordia University. Currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Communication, Media, and Film at the University of Calgary. Her goals in life are to act as a catalyst for insight, creativity and innovation for the students, organizations and communities that she serves. She hopes to connect the work done by scholars at the College in new and unique ways and to contribute to the larger efforts of the team here.


Doug Doyle Baker
Maede Ejaredar


Eliana El Khoury

Alejandra Enriquez is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Chemistry. Originally from Spain, where she did her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Chemistry, Alejandra is currently investigating the role of rhodium-based anticancer drugs and their interaction with biomolecules to understand their stability and efficiency. Apart from academics, Alejandra has volunteered in different committees on campus and her goals are to travel and experience the world while contributing to build a better society.


Yangyang Fang; Dutch, hometown Xi’an (China); Background in psychology and art therapy, currently doing a PhD in Community Health Sciences (specializing in community rehabilitation and disability studies). She co-chairs her department DGA and represents graduate students on various different committees including the College of Discovery, Creativity and Innovation. Yangyang volunteers in the community with TEDxCalgary and Dubasov Dance and Wellness and is known in Tuscany as an avid walking-partner to her dog Harvey. Her goals in life are to travel the world and help build community wherever she is! As part of The College, she hopes to gain and share cross-cultural experiences and inter-disciplinary knowledge.



Cristina Fernandez Conde

Amy Fulton


Gary Gress

Brian Hanley is a PhD Candidate in Philosophy. Brian is from Massachusetts and received is undergraduate from Boston University where he studied Philosophy and Physics. Brian’s philosophical interests focusses on scientific knowledge, and how scientists and engineers use knowledge of cause and effect to investigate the world and make design decisions. Brian joined the College in order to learn and engage with conceptual issues outside philosophy. My time in the College has already worked to steer my dissertation research toward engineering. Brian just taught his first philosophy course and loved it.

Melanie Hazlett is a Postdoctoral Associate from Toronto; B.A.Sc. Honours Chemical Engineering Co-op Program from the University of Waterloo, Ph.D. Chemical Engineering from the University of Houston.  She enjoys engaging in STEM and music outreach, believing musicianship and success in technical programs are linked; she hopes to bring this passion to the College.


Ana Karinna Hidalgo, Canada Permanent Resident, originally from Ecuador. BA in Design (graphics, product and environmental design), and Master of Higher Education and Educational Research from the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador.  Master of Planning, currently PhD candidate in Environmental Design, both from University of Calgary. My research focuses on finding evidence on how to design urban streets for winter cities that improve people’s mental health. In addition to my academic life as graduate student and former professor, I have been volunteering as a mentor for international students and new students at my own department, as an instructor at the Taylor Institute, as a conference organizer, and as an elementary school support. I would like to create strong connections between the spouses/children of international students and the University/Calgary.


Oliver Terna Iorhemen is originally from Nigeria. He did his B.Eng in Water Resources & Environmental Engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria – Nigeria. He also holds an MSc(Eng) in Environmental Engineering & Project Management from the University of Leeds, UK. Oliver has strong passion for research on emerging water and wastewater treatment technologies, rural water supply and sanitation, and sustainable solid waste management. He is currently a PhD candidate in Environmental Engineering at the University of Calgary. His doctoral research is on the integration of aerobic granular sludge and membrane filtration technologies to develop the aerobic granular sludge membrane bioreactor (AGMBR) for sustainable wastewater treatment and reclamation. His goal in life is to strive to provide opportunities, motivation, vision and a role model to those who may not otherwise receive these. To this end, he believes in the power of leadership which has driven his continuous involvement with community organizations and academic associations. Oliver joined The College in September 2017 where he hopes to bring his developed research and leadership skills to bear. In addition, he would like to take the opportunity to learn from the multidisciplinary environment The College provides.


Mohsen Janmaleki
Sultan Khetani


Michelle Klaben

Jonathon Lee
Seungwon “Frank” Lee; Korean-Canadian born in Seoul; Education Background: BMSc at Western University, MPH in infectious diseases at UC Berkeley, currently doing PhD in Healthcare Epidemiology at UofC; Research focus is on generating data-to-action evidences to inform high level prevention strategies in public health. Currently a research associate with AHS Infection Control. Previously affiliated organizations include Western Occupational Health, UCSF Medical Center, and Public Health Agency of Canada; contribute to The College’s programs and learn from its multi-disciplinary environment while sharing my own.


Chenhua  Li

Marni MacKay

Emily Macphail is a joint MD/MSc. student (specialization: Nutrition, Metabolism, and Genetics) and has a BHSc. (Hon.) from the University of Calgary. Her research is focused on the relationship between zinc, gut microbiota, and obsessive-compulsive disorder in youth. She loves both the clinical and research aspects of medicine and is excited to continue to balance both. Outside of research and medicine, Emily is involved in medical learner wellness initiatives and active in Alberta Health Services citizen and patient engagement committees. She also loves completing and designing crossword puzzles (especially cryptics).


Tatum Mitra

Kenryo Mizutani  is a JD candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Calgary. He is originally from Tokyo, Japan and he has spent some years in Germany, USA, and UK among other places. He holds BA (summa cum laude) in Economics and International Relations from Boston University, and MPA (Master of Public Administration) in International Development with Distinction from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has also studied German literature and philosophy at the Free University of Berlin, Germany. Before coming to Calgary, he worked for a natural resources company, first as an analyst in the corporate strategy department, and later as an international petroleum negotiator in the upstream oil & gas department. He hopes to inspire and be inspired by the interaction with the multi-disciplinary perspectives of his fellow Scholars. His hobbies are hiking, snow-shoeing, and learning foreign languages. He holds a black-belt rank in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. 
Viet Quan Nguyen


Celso Neto


Dimitar Ourdev


Glory Ovie


Lauretta Pearse

Najratun Pinky is a PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering (Medical Imaging) at University of Calgary. She is working to develop neuroimaging (MRI) biomarker for sport related concussion in youth ice hockey players. She is highly interested in brain imaging research. Originally from Bangladesh, Pinky did her BSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineerging from BUET, Bangladesh and worked for a short time in telecom industry as specialist engineer.  She then did MSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineering with major in Digital Image and Signal Processing from University of Manchester, UK before moving to Canada. Pinky has been involved with the college since its very start and likes the opportunity to gain experience in such a multidisciplinary environment.


Roya Pishgar

Jennifer Plosz

Jason Ribeiro; Canadian, Hamilton, ON; Honours B.A. (History & Religious Studies), McMaster University; B.Ed. (Intermediate/Senior), York University; M.Ed. (Administration and Leadership in Education), Brock University. Currently a Ph.D. student and SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Scholar in the Werklund School of Education (Leadership, Policy & Governance). Highly involved in issues of policy, governance, and politics in Calgary – most recently serving as a Policy Advisor to the Campaign to Re-elect Naheed Nenshi for Mayor. His goals in life are to build a life centred around speaking to issues that matter to people and bringing diverse stakeholders together to create sustainable change. As a member of the College, he hopes to expand the reach of the College beyond the university and into the broader community.


Tauseef Rose

Susanne Schmid, an international PhD student in the biomedical imaging program, focuses on the development of MR imaging technologies. Before arriving in Calgary, she graduated with a B.Sc and M.Sc in Physics from the LMU in Munich, Germany.  She is currently active in the College’s communication committee with the vision to spread the word and represent the College’s diversity and commitment to the broader community.


Natalie Scime

Donghyun Seo


Maclean Thiessen

Eva Umeozor


Luis Virla Alvarado

Andrew Vorhies is from Pleasant City, Ohio. He completed his BS in business management from the University of Maryland and his MBA from Columbia Southern University. Andrew is currently pursuing an MA in curriculum and learning from the Werklund School of Education. Outside of the classroom, Andrew enjoys coaching basketball.



Michael Webster

Taylor Woo MSc ‘17, is currently a medical student at the Cumming School of Medicine. As a recent graduate from the MSc program at the University of Calgary, his research involves characterizing the lung microbiome and natural history of infections in patients with chronic respiratory diseases. He is an active leader on and off campus and is passionate about mentorship, community engagement, and addressing the problem of social isolation amongst vulnerable populations. Participating in the Graduate College in various leadership capacities since it’s inception, Taylor aims to further the impact of the Graduate College within the Calgary community.

Shuyin Yu is a M.A. student in the Department of English. She completed her Hon. B.A. at the University of Toronto in 2017. She is interested in Asian North American Literature (specifically Chinese Canadian Literature) and is planning a capstone focusing on cross-generational differences in young adult literature. She is currently active in the Finances Subcommittee and is interested in fundraising and charity work that benefit the community at large.