Earlier this month, the annual Forces AVENIR gala in Quebec City celebrated outstanding students from Quebec high schools, CEGEPS and universities. Among the honorees were a pair of McGill student-led initiatives, NeuroSymposium and Empower McGill, both of which garnered top spots, and a $4,000 cash prize, in their respective categories.
Forces AVENIR recognizes, honours and promotes the commitment of students in projects that contribute to the development of socially conscious, active and responsible citizens. The program rewards students from Quebec with grants totaling $114,000 for finalists and award recipients.
In the Science and Technology category, the University’s NeuroSymposium initiative took top prize. Spearheaded by three graduate students from McGill (Laura-Joy Boulos, Alexa Pichet Binette and Robin Sawaya) and two graduate students from UdeM (Elsa Tremblay and Philippe-Antoine Beauséjour), NeuroSymposium looks to foster inter-university knowledge transfer in the field of neuroscience, a field in which Quebec has established itself as a global research hub.
Held on June 15, at the Grande Bibliothèque, this year’s NeuroSymposium included lectures, three-minute pitches, poster presentations and panel discussions on neuroscience and society. The event attracted more than 300 participants from the field neuroscience, but also from a number of other spheres, such as biology and psychology.
Based on the assumption that knowledge transfer is beneficial for all, NeuroSymposium looks to promote neuroscientific collaborations and to encourage a cross-pollination of ideas among young researchers from different fields.
“We want to bring together the community of neuroscientists from across Quebec and we want to open this community to the rest of the society; so in a way what we are doing is building bridges among people of our field and between different fields. Inter and intra,” says Laura-Joy Boulos, who is completing her PhD in neuroscience. “But really the main aim is to center our discussions around the brain and to provide a space for young neuroscientists and anyone interested in the brain in general to think freely, constructively and to imagine new projects that involve all the knowledge we have accumulated concerning this fascinating part of the body.”
While Boulos and her colleagues didn’t undertake the ambitious NeuroSymposium initiative with visions of glory in mind, the Forces AVENIR award was a much-appreciated boost. “[The award] means something that there is never enough of in our field (or anywhere else probably): recognition,” she says. “It feels so good to know your work is validated and appreciated. It gives us strength to move forward, it feeds our motivation… and our budget of course. We are really grateful.”
In the Mutual Aid, Peace and Justice category, Empower McGill came out on top.
Empower McGill is a student-run initiative working to promote disability inclusion in the workplace by recognizing the positive relationship between a diverse workforce and the overall success of a business. Empower McGill organizes the Disabilities in Business Conference, which highlights the mutual benefits stemming from the development of an environment that adopts a respectful and proactive attitude towards disability inclusion in the workplace.
“What many people don’t know is that over one in ten adults experience barriers in their daily activities as a result of a disability,” says Katie Whitmore, Director of Speaker Relations at Empower McGill who is pursuing a major International Development while minoring in Political Science. “Disabilities affect more people than one might think, and it’s important to recognize that the term ‘disability’ includes a wide spectrum of cases, ranging from physical, to mental and hidden disabilities.”
The Empower McGill team consists of nine students from varying fields of study. The team handles everything to do with the organization of the conference; from logistics, marketing and corporate relations to finance, internal and speaker relations.
“Our goal is to facilitate the initial connection between employers looking to diversify their workplace, and students with disabilities that will soon be entering the workforce. We want to educate students, employees and employers alike about the implications of disabilities in business,” says Whitmore. “Finally, we hope to create a dependable and secure platform, where students and participating firms can connect, share and learn from and with others.”
For Empower McGill, winning the Forces AVENIR prize is, hopefully, a springboard to bigger and better things.
“[This prize] is incredibly important to us, because it means that others also realize that this is an important area which needs more attention. Obviously funding is important, but even more so is the awareness this award brings to the topic of disability inclusion in the workforce,” says Whitmore. “We hope to use the platform presented to us by Forces AVENIR to educate as many people as possible on the prevalence of disabilities, the opportunities they create, and the challenges they present both in and out of the workplace.”