Faculty of Health Sciences Young Alumni Award

Young Alumni Award

About the Award

  • Awarded for the first time at Homecoming 2013 during the FHS Homecoming Brunch
  • Intended to recognize contributions made both while a student at Western and those that have continued or developed once outside the walls of the academy

Who is Eligible?

  • A recent Faculty of Health Sciences graduate 35 years of age and under

Nomination Procedure

  • Nominations will be submitted to the Faculty of Health Sciences Dean's Office
  • Instructions for submitting nominations will be posted once nominations are being accepted

Previous Award Winners

2021: Jacob Taylor

Jacob graduated from Western in 2010 with a Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc) degree. He also holds a master's degree in Education, specializing in First Nations Policy Leadership, and a certificate in Organizational Leadership from Western.

An excerpt from the letter of nomination, submitted by Andrew Johnson, Interim Director, School of Health Studies:

Jacob is noteworthy for both his innovative business practices and his tireless advocacy within his community. In 2014, he partnered with Jonathon Araujo to establish a First Nation owned and operated firm (the Pontiac Group) that aims to advance economic development initiatives. An early success for his economic development firm was in the brokering of an agreement between the Wahgoshig First Nation and Delshen Therapeutics, a licensed cannabis producer. Wahgoshig was the first Indigenous community in Canada to sign a community benefits agreement with a cannabis company. In exchange for an investment in Delshen, the community received a First Nations seat on the Delshen Board of Directors, job-specific education and opportunities, and funding for a community drug and alcohol prevention and rehabilitation program. Since this initial deal in 2015, Jacob and the Pontiac Group has brought in 48 additional First Nations investors. He notes that he is “building this into an Indigenous-branded company” with the Pontiac Group being “an Indigenous voice in the cannabis space.” These efforts build business capacity within First Nations communities, and helps to move these communities away from paternalistic money structures. Jacob describes this deal with Delshen as “an economic engine for community well-being.”

Some of Jacob’s business ventures are exceptionally timely, and very high profile. For example, the Pontiac Group has built a fleet of 10 “Sparrow drones” that are capable of delivering medical products (e.g., COVID testing kits or test samples) to isolated First Nations communities across North America. These drones offer a safe and economical alternative to helicopter delivery of supplies to communities such as Moose Factory, which is located on an island in the middle of a river (and therefore largely inaccessible in the fall and the spring). The Pontiac Group has also established community drone projects for Indigenous communities on Georgina Island and Beau Soleil, and is partnering with Air Canada Cargo and Drone Delivery Canada to get test kits and eventually vaccines into remote communities.

As impressive as these innovations are, from a business perspective, Jacob’s impact within First Nation communities is significantly larger when considered from a health policy perspective. Jacob hasworked with Indigenous leaders from across Canada to challenge cannabis stigma that may have been shaped by colonization and Catholicism. He has also brokered deals with companies like Steep Hill to facilitate cannabis testing and analytics to products sold in First Nations communities. Jacob noted that “through our partnership with Steep Hill Canada, First Nations people will have a key role in the regulatory process of bringing legal cannabis to Canada.”

I had an opportunity to speak with Jacob about his accomplishments, in mid-November. He considers the biggest win from his work to be in procurement. Gouging on personal protective equipment prices is particularly pervasive within Indigenous communities. The Pontiac Group created a subsidiary, Pontiac Supply, that has worked out PPE supply chains for Indigenous communities. In particular, they have created a virtual platform that will be friendly to the Indigenous entrepreneur, and a significant improvement over the platform that is used by the Canadian government. In addition to increasing the availability of life-saving supplies to Indigenous communities, he is looking to foster greater entrepreneurial development within Indigenous communities.

I honestly can’t imagine a better ambassador for the Faculty of Health Sciences.

2020: Aden Hamza and Melissa Kargiannakis

Aden Hamza

An excerpt from the letter of nomination, submitted by Victoria Smye, Director, Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing

Ms. Hamza completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) with distinction at Western University, Arthur Labatt School of Nursing in 2011, remaining on the Dean's Honour List for all four years. Upon graduation from the BScN program, Ms. Hamza attended the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, where she was enrolled in the Duke Program on Global Policy and Governance - Humanitarian Track Course, that included a 1-week intensive course on Humanitarian Action and completion of an internship at the Sphere Project in Geneva Switzerland. During this period, she was tasked with identifying opportunities for growth and collaboration with regional partners, and developed action plans for future use.

Ms. Hamza then completed a Master's of Science in Nursing (MScN), also from Western University, in 2019. Her thesis dissertation entitled, Women's Experiences Receiving Humanitarian Aid, was a qualitative research study - and an outstanding piece of work. During the Master's program Ms. Hamza co-authored an article published in the 'Patient Experience Journal' entitled, Nursing transfer of accountability at the bedside: partnering with patients to pilot a new initiative in Ontario community hospitals (2018). She also was a Teaching Assistant and a Research Assistant. Ms. Hamza worked as a Registered Nurse at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) in general surgery (2011-2015) and since that time has worked in the Emergency Department.

Ms. Hamza was a Canadian National Youth Delegate to the Royal Commonwealth Society of Canada from 2015-2018. During this period, she was one of two national delegates selected to represent Canada at the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF). The CYF is a forum where youth representatives from Commonwealth countries finalize recommendations and action plans to submit to Heads of Government of the Commonwealth prior to their meeting. During this forum, Ms. Hamza met honourable dignitaries such as the Hon. Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat Kamalesh Sharma. She engaged with youth leaders from Papua New Guinea to the Bahamas. Ms. Hamza also met Prime Minister Trudeau and was able to share with him a message of hope for continuing youth engagement and empowerment. The main priorities arising from these recommendations focused on investing in youth entrepreneurship, supporting deradicalization in communities, creating real opportunities for youth engagement in policy and decision-making and supporting innovation to address climate change.

There is little doubt Ms. Hamza sets an inspirational example for future young alumni. Either past or present, she has been more involved in committee work in her short career than many achieve in a lifetime. She continues to contribute to her community- locally and globally. In 2008, Ms. Hamza worked as a Volunteer in New Orleans for Habitat for Humanity, on part of a team to build homes following a major hurricane, and helped homeowners resettle. From 2008-2010, she was a committee member of the Youth in Action Advisory Committee (where she evaluated and assessed youth project applications for funding by the United Way). In 2012, Ms. Hamza was a London Youth Councillor, elected by local citizens to represent and advocate for youth at the municipal level and to incorporate a youth perspective in city planning. Then, in 2013 she was a committee member of the Governor General Youth Engagement Roundtable Organizing Committee, where she facilitated a roundtable discussion with youth and community stakeholders on youth engagement, and by 2014, was involved as a Steering Committee member on Northeast Community Conversations (London, ON), where she facilitated discussion of groups of 10-20 participants on focused topics such as spirituality, youth action, mental health, and social change. Finally, Ms. Hamza is a member of the Youth Empowerment Committee, where she participates in planning, organizing and implementing events and workshops aimed at understanding the needs of African Canadian Youth here in London, Ontario. In 2016 she joined the Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI), Honor Society of Nursing, Iota Omicron Chapter and was subsequently selected by STTI to be a United Nations Youth Representative; indeed, she is quite an impressive leader.

In both of 2014 and 2016, Ms. Hamza earned Recognition of Excellence for Teaching through the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western University. In 2015, she earned the Yaphet Robinson Human Equality Award, through the Congress of Black Women - an award presented to a young individual who has shown an extraordinary commitment to human rights and the dignity of all persons in the London Ontario community. That same year Ms. Hamza was a Research Grant Award Recipient, followed by a Scholarship - the Dr. Joan Lesmond Memorial Scholarship, recognized through the Registered Nurses' Foundation of Ontario. This scholarship was introduced in 2012 for those graduate students whose work demonstrates the value of diversity within the field of Nursing.

Melissa Kargiannakis

An excerpt from the letter of nomination, submitted by Nadine Wathen, Professor, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University

Melissa received her Master’s in Health Information Science in 2015, and her BHSc in 2013. In 2015, she did Western proud as one of three Canadians to receive the Queen’s Young Leaders Award. A picture of Melissa meeting Queen Elizabeth to receive the honour has place of pride in my office.

Her immediate post-Western roles included Research Director of Academic Medical Research in Sault Ste. Marie, a Studio Y Fellowship at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District, and the Ontario Public Service. However, Melissa’s passion is entrepreneurship, and, building on an idea generated during her graduate work at Western, she founded skritswap: a Silicon-Valley Venture-Capital backed Canadian start-up that uses AI to replace jargon with plain, everyday language. As skritswap’s CEO, Melissa was one of only four founders worldwide selected to participate in the Women's Startup Lab in California in 2016 and has pitched around the world including at the League of Extraordinary Women in Silicon Valley in 2018.

This year Melissa won the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada and Women of Influence, Canadian Women Entrepreneur One to Watch Award. In 2018, skritswap won the Top 20 Most Innovative Companies in Canada. She has spoken as a keynote and on panels alongside executives from Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM, at the Vault in San Francisco, at Google in New York City, and beyond. In addition to leading skritswap, Melissa sits on two boards in the USA: the Center for Plain Language Board of Directors and the sxswEDU Launch Advisory Board.

In sum, Melissa exemplifies what we hope to inspire in the MHIS program and is making a worldwide impact with her innovative work and her commitment to women in entrepreneurship. That said, she is still grounded enough to come back to Western to give a guest lecture to the students sitting in the same chair in which she in a mere four years ago – something she did for my HIS class this week, rerouting from Norway to do so.

2019: Leigh Vanderloo

Leigh received her doctoral degree from Western University in Health Promotion in November 2016, her master’s in 2014, and her undergraduate Health Sciences degree is 2012. Since completing her studies, she has gone on to make important contributions to the field of health promotion in Canada.

During her doctoral program, Leigh's research was devoted to measuring, understanding and encouraging physical activity participation among young children and her continuing work has outstanding potential to improve and impact the health and wellness of the Canadian population, both in the short- and long-term. Her work has informed the development of the Canadian Physical Activity Report Card For Children and Youth.

At the time she received the award, Leigh was serving as the Knowledge Translation Manager at ParticipACTION and as a postdoctoral fellow at SickKids. She was responsible for leading the dissemination of the report card (mentioned above) and her work has made a tremendous impact on the social climate for physical activity in Canada.

2018: Jacob Sulkers

Jacob Sulkers received a Master of Clinical Sciences (Audiology) degree from Western in 2011 and since graduating has committed himself to making a difference in the daily lives of his clients and their families by providing them with support and expertise as they cope with the impact of hearing loss and disorders. 

After Jacob completed his degree at Western, he returned to his home province of Manitoba and now works as an audiologist at the Central Speech & Hearing Clinic at the Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg. As part of that clinic, he provides audiology assessment and intervention services to clients, children and adults, as well as their families to help them cope with the impact of hearing loss and disorders. Of particular note, he has been instrumental in getting Manitoba’s cochlear implant and Universal Infant Hearing Screening programs off the ground, and in concert, contributed to the community by increasing public awareness of cochlear implants and early hearing loss detection. He appreciates the opportunity to help people in a way that truly impacts every aspect of their lives.

Being part of a team that positively affects a person’s sense of hearing can be profoundly moving for not only that person but also family and friends. Accordingly, he is involved in not only addressing the sense of hearing, but also helping children, adults, and their families fully engage with the world. Additionally, Jacob has continued to support Western since graduating. That is, over the years he has been very active in providing observation opportunities for Manitoban applicants to the School of Communication Sciences and Disorder’s (CSD) MClSc programs, thus assisting with attracting well-prepared applicants to Western.

When asked why he chose Western, Jacob stated, “I wanted to work with and learn from the best clinicians and researchers in my field. Western offered academic and real-world experiences that could not be found elsewhere.”

2015: Gina Uppal

AWARD CITATION (as read by FHS Dean Jim Weese)

This year’s recipient of the FHS Young Alumni Award exemplifies all of the desired attributes – and then some.

Gina Uppal entered our Faculty in 2010 as a highly accomplished student. She earned a number of scholarships including the prestigious President’s National Scholarship. These scholarships are reserved for the very best and brightest students and at the time, only six of these awards were allocated to the nation’s top students. She applied and was accepted into the Scholar’s Elective Program at our University. This program is designed to provide the most elite students with value added research experiences and individual project time with our top professors. Gina thrived in this program as well. She was a regular member of the Dean’s Honour Roll each of her undergraduate years and I have had the pleasure of introducing her at awards celebrations that recognized her academic accomplishments.

She enriched her undergraduate experience and preparation through her extensive involvement in many co-curricular activities. She served in student government, she held a number of key elected positions in the Faculty of Health Sciences Student Council, including serving as the Vice-President of Student Affairs. I have always found her to be a caring, committed and articulate young woman and role model, with unlimited leadership potential. She demonstrated a strong sense of social responsibility in everything that she did, including participating in Western’s Alternative Spring Break Program where she joined a number of other committed students and travelled to Costa Rica where she participated in a number of travelling health care clinics to deliver service to those in need. She continues to help us promote the Faculty to prospective students and their parents during our Open House events.

Naturally I was very pleased when upon graduation she was one of 20 Canadian students selected to participate in a Fulbright-Killam Fellowship in Washington, D.C. As expected, she excelled in that program as well, earning a GPA of 3.91. While in Washington she accepted an internship with the Centre for Health Market Innovators, further enriching her experience and preparation.

Since leaving us Gina has served as the Scholars Programs & Academic Outreach Coordinator in the Student Success Center – helping students enrich their post-secondary experience through workshops, leadership initiatives, and one-on-one counseling

She was 1 of 8 people selected for the Fellowship with the Ontario Non-profit Network – to help her better understand the non-profit sector and giving her the opportunity to gain experience working with senior advisors on policy & systems change working groups. She was also selected to participant in exclusive program in New Your Starting Bloc Social Innovation Fellow – in New York

The past two summers she has traveled to the New York Institute to support incoming fellows by facilitating workshops and reflection events.

She’s been a leader in the Innovation Works program – the first social innovation shared space in London where she and her colleagues create and execute strategic programming, events, and campaigns to support an innovative, fun, and forward thinking culture within Innovation Works.

And she has also worked with the London Food Bank and London Poverty Research Council  - demonstrating her commitment to equity and inclusion – and underscoring why she is such a good choice for this award.

It is my pleasure and privilege to introduce this year’s recipient of the Faculty of Health Sciences Young Alumni Award, Ms. Gina Uppal

2014: Jannah Wigle

Read about Jannah in Health Sciences Matters magazine.

  • Western Degrees Received: BHSc ’08
  • Was presented the award for her work in Africa implementing maternal and newborn health programs

AWARD CITATION (as read by FHS Dean Jim Weese)

This year’s recipient of the FHS Young Alumni Award has dedicated herself to improving human health around the globe since leaving Western in 2008 with a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree. As a student leader, she was heavily involved in Students’ Council initiatives and helped found the FHS Dream Team, which is dedicated to funding the wishes of children facing life-threatening illnesses.

She has held positions with the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation and the World Health Organization, and earned a master’s degree from the London School of Economics. More recently, she spent three years working across Africa to improve maternal health and newborn survival rates. And if that wasn’t enough, just this month she enrolled at the University of Toronto and is pursuing a PhD in social and behavioural health sciences.

It is my privilege to introduce this year’s recipient of the Faculty of Health Sciences Young Alumni Award, Jannah Wigle.

2013: Tom Cheung

Read about Tom in Western News.

  • Western Degrees Received: BHSc ’07, MD ‘11
  • At the time of the award was an Emergency Room doctor with London Health Sciences Centre
  • Created the Health Sciences Dream Team in 2007 in partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a way of making a difference in the lives of children facing life threatening illnesses
    • The first wish granted by the HSDT sent a young teen boy to Hawaii for vacation and a deep sea fishing adventure
  • Engaged in research investigating the “Power of a Wish” and how it helps patients cope and enjoy life to the fullest
  • A “Volunteer Wish Grantor” meaning that he makes a contribution out of his own pocket
  • Served as “Head Soph” for Health Sciences O-Week 2006, which got him a seat with FHS Students’ Council, and thus a platform to present the idea to student council