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3 Incredible SFU Convocation Stories



Amelia Cooper – She lives with Osteogenesis imperfecta—a condition often referred to as brittle bone disease—but the disability was no deterrent to her completing a degree. She is graduating with a bachelor of arts in environmental geography. Amelia grew up in Cloverdale and attended Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School.

Amelia Cooper

Disability is no deterrent to completing her degree

You can’t miss her bright red wheelchair, but the first thing you’d notice about Amelia Cooper is her smile. The Simon Fraser University graduand will be wearing it prominently on June 7, when she celebrates the completion of her bachelor of arts degree majoring in environmental geography.

Cooper, 26, expects it will be the first of many achievements. Living with Osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition often referred to as brittle bone disease, she set the bar not lower but merely a little further away to work at her own pace.

The disease makes her bones fragile and prone to breaking or wearing down. Scoliosis has additionally affected her spine. Earlier, as a 15-year-old teen, she braved rounds of radiation treatment in a successful battle with brain cancer.

Despite myriad health conditions Cooper was determined to get a university degree. Now she is eying a career as a geographic information systems (GIS) technician. The job involves a digital mapping technique that links computer-generated maps and databases. The technology integrates data for analyzing a variety of geographic measures.

Given her drive to succeed and her positive approach, Cooper has been something of a fixture on campus, where she immersed herself not only in studies but in campus social life as well.

“It has been an interesting time at SFU, between my studies and with being involved in student life,” says Cooper, who used Dragon software to type her essays, slowly but precisely, and was an avid member of the Geography Student Union.

Cooper grew up in Cloverdale and attended Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary school. She completed her first few years of post-secondary studies at nearby Kwantlen Polytechnic University before transferring to SFU, studying primarily in Burnaby.

She also finds time to work part-time as a human resources coordinator for BC Partners in WorkForce Innovation, a recruitment pilot project to help B.C. employers meet workforce needs and connect people with diverse abilities to employment opportunities.

Cooper expects her interest in mapping will serve her well as she further looks to advance into environmental consulting. And with a boyfriend who aims to become an actor, the future could land her anywhere.

“It’s exciting to think about what comes next,” she says. “Right now my opportunities are wide open.”

Alexa Nelson

Promising undergrad researcher fast tracks to PhD program

Alexa Nelson – A real academic and research superstar. Alexa bypassed a master’s program is now pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at UBC. She graduated last October, but, this convocation, she is receiving the Governor-General’s Silver Medal for achieving one of the highest CGPAs among all SFU undergrads. Alexa received a graduate scholarship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a four-year doctoral fellowship from UBC. She is a Delta resident.

Alexa Nelson – A real academic and research superstar. Alexa bypassed a master’s program is now pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at UBC. She graduated last October, but, this convocation, she is receiving the Governor-General’s Silver Medal for achieving one of the highest CGPAs among all SFU undergrads. Alexa received a graduate scholarship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a four-year doctoral fellowship from UBC. She is a Delta resident.

Alexa Nelson knew in high school that she wanted a career in cellular research, but discovered a second passion during her undergraduate years at Simon Fraser University—teaching.

Now, she has her career sights set on becoming a professor and establishing her own research lab.

She’s already well on her way. After completing a bachelor of science last summer, she bypassed a master’s program and is now pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at UBC.

Her exceptional SFU cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 4.28 out of a possible 4.33, coupled with her strong research training, ensured her fast track to the PhD program.

Her academic prowess has earned her a Governor-General’s Silver Medal for achieving one of the highest CGPAs among all SFU undergrads. She’ll accept the medal at this June’s convocation.

She also received a graduate scholarship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and a four-year doctoral fellowship from UBC.

At SFU, Nelson completed three undergraduate research courses, an independent study/research semester, and a research semester funded with an Undergraduate Student Research Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Working in professor Gordon Rintoul’s lab, she studied a mitochondrial disease in primary human cells. For her PhD dissertation she is continuing to study mitochondria by looking at mitochondrial calcium signaling, which is involved in cellular death, communication between neurons, and cellular energy.

By studying the fundamental science underlying cells, she hopes to make new discoveries about the brain that could eventually contribute to battling diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“The brain is among one of the least-understood systems,” she says. “I gravitated towards that because there’s lots to learn.”

Not surprisingly, Nelson devoted most of her time to studying in order to power through her degree in four years while maintaining stellar grades.

“It took a lot of self-motivation and devotion,” she admits, “but the resources were there. Everything at SFU is set up for student success.”

In the midst of her degree program she did find time to tutor Surrey students in Grades one through university, a job she acquired through SFU’s Work Integrated Learning department.

That’s when she discovered a love of teaching and began to consider a career in academia.

“As valuable as the academic knowledge I’ve gained at SFU is, I’ve also learned the importance of collaboration with colleagues, students, and the public. I hope in the future to not only contribute to our understanding of cells and the brain, but to also share and teach what we are learning.”

Jessica Peare

Enterprising mechatronics student flying high

Jessica Peare – A “high-flyer” in the classroom and beyond. Jessica is a licensed pilot and cofounder of Artemis Technologies, a startup that uses drone technology to help farmers and vintners monitor their crops more efficiently. Artemis was developed through SFU’s Technology Entrepreneurship program. She is also former captain of SFU’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team.

Jessica Peare – A “high-flyer” in the classroom and beyond. Jessica is a licensed pilot and cofounder of Artemis Technologies, a startup that uses drone technology to help farmers and vintners monitor their crops more efficiently. Artemis was developed through SFU’s Technology Entrepreneurship program. She is also former captain of SFU’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team.

Simon Fraser University mechatronic systems engineering graduand Jessica Peare is a high-flyer—in the classroom and beyond. A licensed pilot and lifelong fan of all things aviation, Peare took off on her first solo flight five years ago at age 17.

“I was nervous the first time, but I kept my cool and followed each step,” says Peare. “The moment you lift off, it’s amazing. That feeling never gets old.”

She parlayed this passion and aviation expertise into several successful projects at SFU.

The former captain of SFU’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle team, she also co-founded Artemis Technologies, a startup company that uses drone technology to help farmers and vintners monitor their crops more efficiently.

Developed through Technology Entrepreneurship at SFU, a business incubator that teams mechatronics and business students with mentors and clients, Artemis Technologies was one of six finalists in the 2016 Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize.

“You work so hard at something, and to see those efforts being recognized is an amazing feeling,” says Peare of the competition, which rewards entrepreneurial excellence at SFU.

As if launching a business wasn’t hard enough, she also took seven courses in the same term and maintained a 3.7 grade point average out of a possible 4.33.

Her hard work did not go unnoticed. She received the 2015 BC Technology Scholarship from the BC Technology Industry Association and several open scholarships from SFU. These awards, in addition to two paid co-op work terms, allowed her to graduate debt-free.

This summer, Peare will start job-hunting. She’s especially interested in aerospace or automotive engineering roles in San Francisco. But first, she’s taking a well-earned break and hopes to spend time flying with her dad, who is also a pilot.

“My parent raised me to believe that who I was – girl or boy – wasn’t going to stop me from being what I want to be,” says Peare.

A volunteer with the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association kids’ program, she hopes to instill this same belief in other young women and girls, as females still comprise only a tiny minority of pilots and engineers.

“I would tell girls: you can be absolutely anything you want in this world, and if anybody wants to tell you different, prove them wrong,” Peare says, “because you will.”


As Canada’s engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement. SFU was founded 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far.

Today, SFU is Canada’s leading comprehensive research university and is ranked one of the top universities in the world. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 35,000 students, and boasts more than 135,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.

Surrey604 is an online magazine and media outlet based in Surrey, BC. Through writing, video, photography, and social media, we secure an intimate reach to the public. We promote local events and causes.


Surrey’s Sullivan Heights Secondary opens new expansion for incoming students



Sullivan Heights expansion
The expansion adds breakout rooms, lifestyle labs, a science super lab, an outdoor basketball court, and so much more. ( / Surrey Schools)

Students at Sullivan Heights Secondary will be learning in 28 new classrooms this school year. Construction on a four-storey, $34.3-million expansion has finished and is ready to welcome students for the fall semester. 

“Our board is so excited to welcome Sullivan Heights students into this new addition,” said Laurie Larsen, chair of the Surrey Board of Education, in a press release. “Students and families in the community have been waiting patiently for this additional space, which will allow staff and students to move out of a portable and into a bright, open, and engaging learning space.”

The expansion includes a new outdoor basketball court alongside a gym and a connector to the existing building, so there is a shared main entry and admin workplace. There are also additions to align with 21st-century learning objectives like breakout spaces, education preparation areas, lifestyle labs, a science super lab, large multi-purpose spaces that can be used by the community after hours, and a group of computer labs organized to maximize collaboration and innovation.

Sullivan Heights expansion

The new outdoor basketball court ( / Surrey Schools)

This new space brings the total number of classrooms at Sullivan up to 68, the most of any school in the district, and will provide seating for up to 1,700 students. 

The expansion has been needed for a while—the school had a capacity of 1,000 students but enrolled 1,646 students in October 2021.

The high school was using 14 portables to accommodate all the students, but those will now be removed. 

This expansion will also allow Sullivan to move away from the staggered scheduling system it was forced to adopt to accommodate the growing number of students. 

In the same press release, principal David Baldasso said, “This 700-seat addition means that we are no longer on an extended day, students and staff will more easily be able to collaborate, and extracurricular activities are no longer impacted by the length of the day. These new modern learning spaces such as the tech lab, maker spaces and foods labs will also allow us to offer more choice and opportunities to students for years to come.”

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Surrey Libraries Offers Access to O’Reilly eBooks and Videos



Surrey Libraries is excited to announce the addition of O’Reilly eBooks to its list of online resources. This platform offers over 35,000 eBooks and 30,000 hours of video courses on technology, business, design, science, engineering, travel, hobbies, health and more, all free with a Surrey Libraries card!

O’Reilly has books and videos for makers, gamers and tinkerers. There are more than 100 hobbyist titles including a STEAM Lab for Kids and The Lego Build-It Book, Volumes 1 & 2. More than 900 books from the “For Dummies” series are included, as well as over 150 titles on job-seeking and career development.

The resource also has technology learning paths like SQL Fundamentals – SQL for Data Analysis and Database Design, case studies like “Pinterest’s Journey to the Cloud,” and countless hours of video instruction on topics like Microsoft Azure Fundamentals, Linux Fundamentals, or Amazon Web Services.

O’Reilly is one of many online resources Surrey Libraries offers its members. No library card? No problem! Sign up for a card online or visit any one of ten branch locations.

We’re excited to welcome you back to our branches! Check our website for information on hours and available services and what we’re doing to keep everyone safe.

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Canada’s Top Digital Marketing School Partners with MNBC to Launch Scholarships



online scholarship

Métis Nation BC and Jelly Academy collaborated in order to provide growth within New Collar Employment for Indigenous people and together provided 20 scholarships to Jelly Academy’s digital marketing course. Thanks to this partnership, there will be more Indigenous people with the skills and know-how when it comes to online and digital marketing. 

The Indigenous skills training that have previously been available have typically focused on great blue collar jobs such as construction and trades, but this collaboration provides a chance to diversify the available training for Indigenous people with a new focus within varying industries.

Increased demand for digital marketing

Online marketing has had a huge rise in demand especially since COVID-19 and the increased job opportunities opening up in Canada. Indeed reports that by February 2021, jobs in media, marketing, and communications jobs had clicks higher than the economy average per posting, which is why having the necessary skills and training will give job seekers an advantage. Additionally, Indeed reported 28.9% job growth for digital advertising during a forecast period of 2019-2024. 

Jelly Academy has been operating for 5 years with over 600 grads with a successful hiring rate. Over 82% of grads who come with an existing employment get a raise or promotion within 6 months of graduating the course and over 94% of grads who are students or without employment get a job within 4 months of graduation. This is due to in-depth training within the course as well as the additional skill-enhancing certifications provided through Jelly Academy. 

The program focuses on equipping students with the certificates that hiring managers from agencies and individual brands are looking for. Jelly Academy grads will leave the course with evergreen Hootsuite, Google, SEMRush and Facebook certifications that each have transferable skills.

While these additional certifications can be taken online through providers such as Udemy; data shows about 96% of Udemy students don’t finish a course whereas an official curriculum from Jelly Academy will aid students in completing relevant courses.

By providing these new scholarships for a course that has a successful hiring rate, it allows for further career opportunities for Indigenous members of Métis Nation BC.

Jelly Academy was created by industry expert, Darian Kovacs, in order to have a course that provided the foundation in digital marketing. The course is taught by other industry professionals who provide clear understanding in online marketing topics such as social media, PR, SEO, Google Ads, Google Analytics, and Facebook Ads. Learn more about Jelly Academy here.

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Surrey Students Awarded Scholarships, New Scholarship Created By Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation.



CLOVERDALE, BC: In June 2020, while the world came to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Cloverdale Rodeo & Country Fair postponed, one of the things that didn’t stop was the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation annual scholarship. Seven grade 12 students from across the city of Surrey were awarded $1000.00 scholarships for post-secondary education by the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation.

“As a Board we collectively agreed to proceed with awarding scholarships during the pandemic, whether there was a rodeo or not, because people are in a time of financial need more than ever, and this is not a time to hold back, but to give and lend a helping hand”, says Foundation Chair Nicole Reader.”

The recipients, all of whom were part of the graduating class of 2020, will use their $1000.00 scholarships for a variety of post secondary institutions across British Columbia.

The 2020 Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Foundation recipients:

  • Vincent Labador – Johnston Heights Secondary
  • Nisha Niijar – Fleetwood Park Secondary
  • Aashna Thapar – North Surrey Secondary
  • Natasha Kalinic – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
  • Alexander Thornton – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
  • Taya Suttill – Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary
  • Skye Graham – Clayton Heights Secondary

“Each of these graduates are incredibly deserving of these awards,” says Foundation Chair Nicole Reader. “The entire community should be proud of these young people.”

The foundation adjusted its scholarship criteria, so applicants did not require having previous volunteer experience at the Cloverdale Rodeo in order to be eligible, as long as they had volunteer experience with another organization.

The Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation will also be awarding scholarships this year under its new criteria. The application deadline for the 2021 scholarships is Friday, May 21st, 2021.

Scholarship applications can be found here.

Not only has the Cloverdale Rodeo Youth Initiative Foundation continued to support the youth community throughout the pandemic, but the organization has also been provided the opportunity to establish an additional scholarship through its organization called The Isabella Olson Scholarship Award “Rising Above”.

The “Rising Above” scholarship was established in loving memory of a Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary student, Isabella Olson, on behalf of her loving family. Isabella was an extraordinary and inspirational young individual who strived to ‘Rise Above’ the various obstacles she faced while always remaining determined to succeed.

To honour Isabella’s legacy a $2,000.00 scholarship has been created to recognize an inspiring Lord Tweedsmuir grade 12 student who is “Rising Above” obstacles, whether personal, mental health, bullying, or family related complications.

A student who has the determination to continue doing well in school, who may participate in school activities community services and/or may have work experience.

“Isabella’s inspiring spirit was a source of strength to all who knew her, and it is our esteemed honour to be able to present this award and assisting inspiring students in achieving their dreams, says Foundation Chair Reader.”

The application deadline for the 2021 Isabella Olson Scholarship Award “Rising Above” is Friday, May 21st, 2021.

Scholarship application can be found here.

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Fossil Discovery Deepens Snakefly Mystery



Fossil discoveries often help answer long-standing questions about how our modern world came to be. However, sometimes they only deepen the mystery—as a recent discovery of four new species of ancient insects in British Columbia and Washington state is proving.

The fossil species, recently discovered by paleontologists Bruce Archibald of Simon Fraser University and Vladimir Makarkin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, are from a group of insects known as snakeflies, now shown to have lived in the region some 50 million years ago.

The findings, published in Zootaxa, raise more questions about the evolutionary history of the distinctly elongated insects and why they live where they do today.

Snakeflies are slender, predatory insects that are native to the Northern Hemisphere and noticeably absent from tropical regions. Scientists have traditionally believed that they require cold winters to trigger development into adults, restricting them almost exclusively to regions that experience winter frost days or colder. However, the fossil sites where the ancient species were found experienced a climate that doesn’t fit with this explanation.

“The average yearly climate was moderate like Vancouver or Seattle today, but importantly, with very mild winters of few or no frost days,” says Archibald. “We can see this by the presence of frost intolerant plants like palms living in these forests along with more northerly plants like spruce.”

The fossil sites where the ancient species were discovered span 1,000 kilometers of an ancient upland from Driftwood Canyon in northwest B.C. to the McAbee fossil site in southern B.C., and all the way to the city of Republic in northern Washington.

Archibald at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park
Archibald at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park

According to Archibald, the paleontologists found species of two families of snakeflies in these fossil sites, both of which had previously been thought to require cold winters to survive. Each family appears to have independently adapted to cold winters after these fossil species lived.

“Now we know that earlier in their evolutionary history, snakeflies were living in climates with very mild winters and so the question becomes why didn’t they keep their ability to live in such regions? Why aren’t snakeflies found in the tropics today?”

Pervious fossil insect discoveries in these sites have shown connections with Europe, Pacific coastal Russia, and even Australia.

Archibald emphasizes that understanding how life adapts to climate by looking deep into the past helps explain why species are distributed across the globe today, and can perhaps help foresee how further change in climate may affect that pattern.

“Such discoveries are coming out of these fossil sites all the time,” says Archibald. “They’re an important part of our heritage.”

Archibald fieldwork at Mcabee

About Simon Fraser University

As Canada’s engaged university, SFU works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change.

We deliver a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. We connect research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems.

With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities—Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey—SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 37,000 students. The university now boasts more than 165,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.

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