Today, on International Women’s Day, we feature stories about inspirational women as told by members of the McGill community.
The submissions are diverse, coming from students, staff and faculty, and celebrating everyone from researchers to relatives (lots of moms!), athletes to artists, and students to supervisors. But, this diversity is tied together by the common threads of love and admiration.
The women featured here have had a profound impact on the lives of others. They have taught invaluable lessons from classrooms and kitchens, from prison and palliative care. All of those lessons come in the form of lives well-lived and well-loved.
By Tammy Lynda Cree Program Administrator, International Masters for Health Leadership
I want to put a spotlight on my colleague, supervisor and dear friend, Elizabeth Branco. Liz has been an important part of my life since I began my McGill career, but since 2020, she has really become a pillar of strength for me.
Like many, the pandemic hit my mental health in a very detrimental way. Liz was always there to listen to me and provide an important outsider’s perspective to whatever I was facing at the moment. During a particularly dark period, she encouraged me to seek out help, not stopping until I finally realized that I needed help. I think what Liz helped me the most with, is realizing that there is no shame in reaching out for help and taking the time you need to get better. I can’t help but wonder how wonderful the work environment would be if everyone had a supervisor like I did.
Saying thank you is far too little to express how I feel. I am a better employee and overall person now because of her support. But more importantly, my daughter still has her mother around because someone cared enough to convince me to get help. Thank you, Liz!
By Vanessa Racine, Administrative Coordinator, Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative
Someone that comes to mind for me is Skawennati. Skawennati is a Mohawk multimedia artist, best known for her online works as well as Machinima that explore contemporary Indigenous cultures, and what Indigenous life might look like in futures inspired by science fiction.
Her work is very inspirational to me and I would not have imagined myself continuing my education in Indigenous Futurism had I not met her through the Knowledge Holder Series that was held by Indigenous Studies. She Falls for Ages, a futuristic re-telling of Sky Woman, continues to be an inspiration for re-envisioning Indigenous identity as we move forward in a digital age.
By Allison Gonsalves, Director, Science Education Laboratories
The person who has most impacted my life over this past year is Professor Nadia Chaudhri, a neuroscientist in the Department of Psychology, Concordia University. I did not know Prof. Chaudhri personally but I did get to know her in a way through her Twitter account, and I followed her journey through the last few months of her life as she received palliative care for ovarian cancer.
Prof. Chaudhri’s Twitter presence was uplifting and life affirming, and her journey prompted me to reflect deeply on my own mortality and purpose in academic life. She taught me (and many others) so much about what it can be like to have a good death, and how to live with a terminal diagnosis by reflecting upon, experiencing and relishing life, right to the end.
She also manifested the kind of academic career I truly hope I can have, putting compassion and care for her students and colleagues first, and still pursuing her science with a passion. At the end of her life, she chose to spend her time fundraising to support under-represented students in neuroscience, establishing the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award, which you can still donate to. She also spent time raising awareness for ovarian cancer and the DOvEEgene (Developing and Validating a Novel Molecular Screening Test for the Early Diagnosis of Cancer of the Endometrium, Tubes and Ovaries ) initiative. https://rimuhc.ca/whru-doveegene
Her life and death were nothing short of inspirational, and I feel very lucky to have been among the many who were touched by her remarkable life.
Xingong Li – my mom
By Zi Wang, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry
My mom inspires me to dream big and follow my true calling. Every day she inspires me in the way she lives her life. She has a big heart, and she taught me that the smallest acts of kindness can go a long way. My mom has always been my role model and my best friend.
By Kathy MacLean, Manager, Communications and Planning, Macdonald Campus
Let me tell you about a few inspiring women.
They are the women who care for younger and older members of their extended families while holding down full-time jobs.
They are the work-from-home mothers who fought to ensure that their children stayed healthy and well-adjusted over the past two years.
They are the women who work two jobs, scrimp, and save to make ends meet.
They are the former colleague who has dedicated the early years of retirement to caring for a friend in need.
They are the family friend, a retired teacher, who, throughout her long career and own generosity, ensured that less fortunate kids had food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs.
We are all blessed to have these women in our lives.
Julia V. Burnier
By Prisca Bustamante, PhD Candidate, Department of Pathology
It is with great honour to name my supervisor Dr. Julia V. Burnier as a woman who inspires me. Dr. Burnier is a junior scientist at the Cancer Research Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.
Her research focuses on understanding the dynamic molecular changes during tumor progression and metastasis by using non-invasive approaches. Dr. Burnier’s goal is to develop sensitive and accurate prognostic biomarkers as well as identify novel targeted therapeutic strategies. Working with Dr. Burnier has been one of my most rewarding experiences, she always seeks to realize the full potential of all lab members, motivate us to give our best effort, and facilitate opportunities for our professional and personal development. She has also created a safe and inclusive workplace where she fosters collaboration among us.
Altogether, I would like to express my appreciation and recognition to Dr. Burnier on this International Women’s Day.
Diana Grier Ayton
By Daniel McCabe, Editor, McGill News Alumni Magazine
One of the inspiring women I encountered in my life was the person who first hired me to work at McGill – Diana Grier Ayton.
Being the associate editor of the McGill Reporter was my first full-time “grown-up” job and I was unsure of myself for the first few weeks, but her confidence in me helped me to build up my own confidence. She was kind and supportive and a lot of fun to be with. She had a knack for hiring good people, people who weren’t always obvious picks with sparkling CVs. That might have had something to do with her own background. She didn’t complete her university studies and she had little editorial experience when she was hired at the Reporter. She was an administrative assistant for a prominent cardiac surgeon at the Montreal Children’s Hospital – not an unimportant job, to be sure, but not one that gave her the chance to make the best use of her creative talents. Someone gave her that chance and she ran with it, winning a pile of awards for her work as the editor of the Reporter, and then the McGill News.
I’ve had the opportunity to freelance for several publications over the years, and I can honestly say that Diana is the best editor I have ever worked for.
By Elsbeth Heaman, Professor, Department of History and Classical Studies
It was my privilege and luck to have been taught by Nancy Partner, one of McGill’s all-time great historians, very recently retired. Her historiography courses were an opening door. Her advice on how to read meaning into formal and informal narrative structures, how to parse rhetoric and genre and intellectual context, seemed to make the entire field of history legible and inviting, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Hayden White and Paul Ricoeur. She made everything more interesting. I cannot say how much she enriched my intellectual life, except to say that I’m just now publishing a book – on Hume and historiography, carried into Canadian history – that began as a term paper for her class.
The women of the Daryanani family
By Darshan Daryanani, President of the Students’ Society of McGill University (2021-2022)
Happy Women’s Day! I am honoured to have been raised and surrounded by such inspirational women. I would like to take this opportunity to honour the Daryanani women:
To my beloved mother,
There aren’t enough words in the world to thank you for all you’ve done for me. You loved me and cared for me as I grew from nothing. From nothing, you raised me into the man I am today. For all the times I never said thank you, I thank you now more than ever. Thank you for your strength, love, laughter, and most of all, your hope.
To my strong sisters,
Thank you for being my best friends – not only by default, from birth – but by choice. Thank you for all the traveling, adventures and endless inside jokes, and being the people that I know I can always count on. Thank you for teaching me to lift each other up instead of putting each other down. We lift each other when our days are grey and shine much brighter when we’re together.
By Karina Morales Romero
Yolanda Cisneros (my grandmother) has taught me some of the most important lessons in life without realizing it, this is because she has rarely needed words to share them; it is through her actions that I’ve come to decipher them.
My grandmother was born in Puruándiro, a small town in Mexico, she only received a basic primary education and at a young age married my grandfather. Neither of them received higher education, my grandfather managed to return to high school as an adult but later had to drop out of his degree to support his family. Meanwhile, as a mother of three children, my grandmother worked multiple jobs, she cooked, cared for her family, and loved those around her. I admire her ability to weather adversity, many years later she would tell me: “You must fight for your happiness, fight to be happy.”
My grandmother leaned into religion to find her strength, this was her source of hope and resilience, it was what enabled her to imagine brighter days during the darkest of times. And she fed her source with tremendous dedication every single day of her life. She became an active member of her religious community, learned, and taught everything she could, and treated those around her with the same love and compassion I still see in her.
To this day, she faces a harsh recovery from her most recent back surgery. Her patience and positive attitude through this process are a testament to her spirit. On this Women’s Day, I want to give her a rose for everything she has done for my family, I wouldn’t be here without her.
Ma petite mamie
Par Julie Bramond, Chargée de cours en français langue seconde, Langues et communication interculturelle, École d’éducation permanente
Je ne pourrais évoquer ma passion pour mon métier de professeure sans évoquer celle qui en est la cause : ma grand-mère. Ma grand-mère a passé sa vie – littéralement – à l’école, puisque, abandonnée dans un orphelinat à 3 ans et n’ayant jamais trouvé de famille, elle y demeura pour devenir, à sa majorité, éducatrice scolaire. Elle n’a pas eu une vie facile mais elle a toujours fait preuve de résilience, de joie et surtout d’un humour incroyable. Son amour pour mes frères et moi était infini et profond.
Elle m’a fait découvrir les mots et la langue au travers d’histoires qu’elle inventait et dont j’étais l’héroïne. Elle me racontait que les lettres du dictionnaire sortaient la nuit pour vivre de fantastiques aventures, car le jour, elles étaient prisonnières de leur définition. Dès lors, elle a fait naitre en moi cette passion indescriptible des mots et de leur transmission.
Elle vous aurait d’ailleurs dit que j’ai appris à lire en la regardant jouer au Scrabble et, qu’à 3 ans, je lui demandais déjà : « mamie, est-ce que je peux jouer au petit crabe? », la prononciation de ce jeu étant encore bien difficile pour moi à cet âge.
Elle ne m’aura, malheureusement, jamais vue devenir professeure de français, mais je sais qu’elle en aurait été particulièrement fière. Elle m’aurait traitée passionnément de « tricheuse » lors de nos parties de Scrabble, prétextant qu’avec mon métier, c’est normal de gagner.
À chaque rentrée, je pense à elle, à tout l’amour qu’elle m’a donné mais surtout à cette magnifique passion qu’elle m’a insufflée.
By Heidi Strohl, Digital Design Manager, Digital Communications
I grew up in the U.S., where access to healthcare is a privilege. In addition to being a nature lover, avid gardener, kid-costume seamstress, and delightful cook, my mom was a nurse – and she was everyone’s resource for health advice. One night, a neighbour of ours had an accident and came to the kitchen with his arm covered in blood. Mom fixed him up, and when his stitches were ready to come out, she took care of that too. By then, I knew my mom was pretty cool.
When I was in high school, she went back to school to get her MBA. We graduated the same year, and she went on to become CEO of a health care group that serves un- and under-insured people in the area where I grew up. She and her team have opened multiple clinics and support health services in local schools, making access as easy as possible for folks who need it. They also organize and fund initiatives that support overall health – like mental health services and delivering healthier food options to low-income families – to prevent common health issues before they need to be treated. Mom is one of those rare people who can sustain an incredible vision (and a smile) while attending to the five million fiddly details needed to get the job done. I’m so proud of her!
By Shondra Mings, Equity Education Advisor, Anti-Oppression and Anti-Racism Education
It’s hard to fathom someone you’ve never met being such an inspiration, but Gwendolyn Mings name and face is one that I’ve had etched in my memory since I was a small child. I’d see pictures of her and be reminded of the women around me that I loved and adored. She left this earth too soon to see her own babies grow up let alone meet her grandchildren, but she has never been forgotten and her spirit lives on.
Gwendolyn Mings was my grandmother who had a deep love for her family, a passion for music, for helping those in her community and was a nurse that cared for many. She lived a simple life that focused on the things she loved best, her family and God. While she came from humble beginnings, she instilled such strong values in her children and I feel like I in some ways have been able to know her through her daughter, my mother Karen Mings who stands as a testament to her love, kindness and generosity. Her life and spirit will forever be an inspiration to me and a constant reminder to focus on the simple things that make life bright and beautiful.
The U.S. women’s soccer team
By Stephanie Wereley, Communications Officer, University Advancement
As a soccer fan, I was very excited by the recent success of the U.S. women’s soccer team in their legal battle for equal pay! I saw them play a semi-final game in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium back in 2015 – they went on to earn their third FIFA World Cup title – and I followed their financial discrimination lawsuit. I was happy to see them not only win their case late last month, but to earn broad media coverage while doing it. I hope more national and international sports associations take note.
By Ingrid Birker, Redpath Museum Public Education Program
This year I really want to highlight a former McGill student named Niloufar Bayani. Before her graduation in 2009 she was involved with several summer internships and courses at the Redpath Museum. For instance, attached photo shows the back of her head while excavating the Triceratops skull as part of the McGill Vertebrate Paleontology Field Course in 2005. In the summer of 2008 she worked as a research assistant on invasive species in the St. Lawrence river with McGill biologist Anthony Ricciardi.
She was arrested by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards in February 2019 with eight other environmental activists tracking the endangered Asiatic cheetah. She is still in Evan prison and could face the death penalty.
I have not been able to find any recent updates but here is her wiki page.
I did not really know Niloufar but I feel her impact daily. This photo of the back of her head (above) was something I saw daily. It just shows me how precious life is and how suddenly it can change.
I feel like she is OK, and I certainly hope so, and I believe in the essence of hope, as Jane Goodall says in her 2021 book: “People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I’m not going to do anything about it,” she notes. “This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement. Many people understand the dire state of the planet – but do nothing about it because they feel helpless and hopeless.”
She adds that achieving a lasting sense of hope requires four components: attainable goals, realistic pathways to pursue them, confidence that we will succeed, and confidence that others support us. Goodall emphasizes that hope is a survival trait that every child possesses
My mom, Jutta
By Laura Reumont, U1 physics
Few people I admire as much as I do my mom. I seriously cannot imagine showing the courage she did when she was my age. She left the home she grew up in all her life to find freedom in a country much farther away, with basically no support. She pursued a job that turned her into a globe-trotter and in doing so gifted me an incredible childhood travelling the world. Much of who I am — the education I’ve received, my values, my strength of character — I owe to my mom. I love her so much and will look up to her always!