More than 6,600 students receive their degrees from UBC’s Vancouver campus in spring 2014. They each have fascinating stories of personal and academic achievements, and carry many varied ambitions for life and careers. Here are four of their stories.
Sisters’ achievements a combination nature and nurture
Twin sisters Negah and Pegah Mortazavi are in synch in all aspects of their lives. They joined UBC with matching entrance scholarships to pursue their honours degrees in psychology. Their enthusiasm and energy mirrors one another and they share a close bond. The scientist in them attributes this to culture, genes and environment.
“Very early on our parents encouraged us to be close and to support each other,” says Pegah, who is older by two minutes.
“Emigrating to Canada from Iran and learning another language while studying brought us even closer,” adds Negah.
The sisters are united by a shared passion for psychology and research. “We spend a lot of time together and we help each other with our research and our studies,” says Negah. “If I miss something I can use Pegah’s notes and vice versa. Our different perspectives help strengthen our work.”
They share the same research interests and worked together in Prof. Toni Schmader’s Social Identity Lab and Prof. Steven Heine’s Culture and Self Lab. Their work focuses on gender roles, culture and human nature.
In addition to their many similarities, the sisters say their differences complement each other well. “Negah is more hardworking and driven than me,” says Pegah. “I owe my bachelor’s degree to her. I’m more calm in some aspects and it balances us out.”
After graduation Negah and Pegah will be working at the Howe Sound Rehabilitation Services Society, where they’ll be administering cognitive brain tasks such as memory and attention tasks and games to adults with acquired brain injuries. Their goal is to continue their graduate studies at UBC. Together naturally.
Paralympian Josh Vander Vies leaves UBC with a law degree and a desire to compete at a high level
“When I was born, the doctors told my parents that there had been a tragedy,” says Josh Vander Vies, who has no arms and no legs. “They painted such a bleak story.”
Now 29, Vander Vies has charted a course filled with achievements: elite athlete, abstract painter, motivational speaker and father of two. This month, he will add a law degree from the University of British Columbia to the list before working towards his next goal: competing at the 2014 World Boccia Championships in Beijing.
“Sport is all about preparing and competing, preparing and competing,” says Vander Vies, who won bronze in Boccia at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. “It’s the same for law.”
This summer, Vander Vies will focus on Boccia and begin his search for an articling position at a law firm. He also has his sights set on competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Long-term, however, he sees law as a means to channel his competitive spirit.
“My doubles partner, Marco [Dispaltro], told me I would miss the high level of competition if I ever retire from Boccia,” he says. “I’m sure he’s right, but I think law will give me that and more.”
The memory of her deceased grandmother inspired UBC grad Cindy Allen to study Aboriginal law
In 2009, Cindy Allen’s 83-year-old grandmother, Marie-Adele Doctor, was viciously attacked in her home near Yellowknife by an intruder. The Dene Elder from N’dilo, N.W.T. died in hospital a few weeks later.
Initially charged with aggravated assault, the perpetrator was convicted of a lesser charge and sentenced to 14 months in jail.
Feeling let down by the legal system, Allen quit her job as a treaty land claim negotiator with the B.C. government to study Aboriginal law at the University of British Columbia, where she’ll graduate this May.
“We need more Aboriginal people in law,” says Allen, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. “We have our own laws that govern our behaviour, but most people don’t know about them because Canadian law is what people are subjected to all the time. It doesn’t seem to be bringing justice, especially for Aboriginal people.”
A single mother to a 13-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, Allen has successfully juggled the demands of law school with the responsibilities of motherhood. She also serves as an appointed board member of the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board in the Northwest Territories.
“I gave up a lot to go to law school, but I think it will prove to be worth it,” says Allen about her future.
She will attend a graduation ceremony for Aboriginal students at UBC’s First Nations Longhouse on May 24. Although her grandmother won’t be there, Allen knows what she would do.
“She’d smile and give me a hug.”
UBC grad Jessica Church balances dentistry with equestrian vaulting
If you asked your dentist what he or she did on the weekend to relax, you might expect a humdrum list of activities: a movie, a long walk in the park, dinner at a nice restaurant followed by flossing.
Not if your dentist is Jessica Church. The equestrian vaulter spends her downtime doing handstands, splits and somersaults on a horse that canters at a speed up to 26 kilometres an hour.
“When I vault it’s almost therapeutic,” says Church. “You get exercise, fresh air, and bond with an animal.”
Often described as gymnastics on horseback, competitive vaulting features as many as three athletes on horseback performing lifts and inversions, all while the horse runs in a circle.
Church took up vaulting six years ago and has competed in international competitions with Cheam Vaulters/Freedom Acrobatics. She also coaches the Fusion Vaulters. She says the physicality of the sport balances out the intense academic demands of dentistry. It’s also helped her develop her skills in her chosen field of pediatric dentistry.
“My coaching and communications skills come in handy when treating young patients,” she says.
And if you thought Church is the only dentist-vaulter out there, guess again. It turns out she’s in good company.
“The current and multi-time world champion female vaulter is a dentist,” says Church. “And another vaulter has just accepted her admission to UBC Dentistry and starts in the fall.”
Note to editors: Photos of featured graduates are available for download here