Meet Reeda, one of the two students who works in the Science Outreach and Enrichment Office. They do events on campus about science including the successful Science Literacy week in September. It was Reeda and her colleague Nathan who I met with in late August about this chapter of the In Their Shoes Project and they suggested that I take Organic Chemistry with Dr. Koivisto. I guess I need to blame them for my confused state when I am home alone studying and can’t figure out why I got a different answer for the problem than the one on the solution sheet.
Reeda is in her 4th year in Biomedical Science at Ryerson. She started her life in Toronto and in middle school her family moved to Brampton where she attended a catholic secondary school. I was very interested to learn that growing up Reeda had no interest in math or science because, as she described it, she “was very bad at it and she found it hard”. Something changed in grade 10 when her class started learning about cells and the basic structure of cells. When she realized that everything in our bodies is made up of cells a “spark hit her” and she became amazed at the perfection and imperfection of human biology. In the remaining two years in high school she took all the science courses available. She still struggled a bit with high school chemistry but persevered because she was now excited about what she was learning. She put most of her time and energy into studying biology because it had become so interesting to her.
Unlike many students who I have met and my own experience at university, Reeda told me that she really doesn’t worry much about her grades. She said she took two classes with Dr. Koivisto last year and just got an average mark but she didn’t care because she learned so much. She said that she understood my experience taking “orgo” (organic chemistry) with no chemistry experience because she took a chemistry lab course last year where everyone else in the class was a chemist. She was trying to learn things that they had all already done but now she says she can hang with the chemists and understand what they are talking about. A great lesson for me and lots of others from Reeda…she values the learning more than the letter grade…while it took her time to develop this attitude it allows her to enjoy the school experience much more than if she were to be obsessed with her grades. In class she gets to rediscover why she loves science so much when she just focuses on the learning and being introduced to new amazing things.
Reeda talked a bit about her family and told me that she shares her interest in science with her mom who also did an undergraduate degree in science. Her parents came to Canada from Pakistan where her mom was studying to become a doctor and her father had a financial background. Her parents were really open to letting her study whatever she was interested in…she was actually shocked to learn how many women are discouraged from focusing on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines. She has been very fortunate to enjoy complete support from her family. I asked her about her experience as a young woman studying science and she indicated that in her classes she has always felt welcome, equal,
supported and encouraged, but in her work related to the science outreach she has experienced, particularly in meetings with external people, the need to work harder to be taken seriously.
Originally Reeda was intending to go to the University of Toronto but she applied to all three Toronto universities. Due to a poor grade on her first chemistry test in grade 12 she panicked about whether she would be accepted to U of T, so she looked more closely at Ryerson. She was doing lots of research and realized that the program at Ryerson, which had fewer students and was in a new smaller faculty, would be better suited to her and give her a more personal experience than heading to a huge university with thousands of other new biology students. She changed her application, listing Ryerson as her first choice and University of Toronto as her last choice. In the end she received an acceptance from U of T as well and learned that the cut off average for the program she applied for at Ryerson was actually higher than at U of T.
Reeda thought initially that she wanted to have a career in biomedical research and assumed she would continue on to graduate school to get more research experience. She worked as a research assistant in 3rd year and realized that it might not be for her after all. Around the same time she got involved in science communication by engaging in various outreach projects – last year she was co-lead on a project called “there’s no place like gene-home”…the project team actually broke the world record for building the largest DNA model. The idea was born when she and Nathan talked about doing things that brought together science and art for an event in the spring called Science Rendezvous. There goal was to engage people in science and teach people about science through art. She then started working for the outreach office and she has discovered that she really wants to do more projects like this…communicate about science, engage folks in science and create for others the spark of excitement about science that fascinated her enough to want to study it full-time.
She may go to grad school but she is not yet sure. She is also interested in getting a Project Management designation. She loves event planning. But for now in addition to her part time job on campus she has courses to complete including her 2nd year Stats course which she can longer put off till later. Next semester she is looking forward to courses in stem cell biology and cancer biology.
When I asked her what she does for fun she said working in the Science Outreach and Enrichment office is fun, she likes to draw, and watch her favourite TV shows.
Reeda said that her decision to come to Ryerson was the best decision she has ever made. Given the proximity to industry and hospitals and the focus at Ryerson on innovation and experiential learning she tells people all the time how much she loves Ryerson. What a great ambassador she is for all that the Faculty of Science has to offer.