Office of Aboriginal Initiatives
FROM PASSION TO PURPOSE: Personal Growth through Lab Experience
By Paige Sillaby
Melissa Ireland, Aboriginal Student Support Coordinator, Waterloo campus, firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-884-1970 ext. 4190
What are your results when you type your name into Google images?
If you type in “Kristy Dockstader” you’ll find dozens of 3D images of dissected Cuscuta flowers taken by Kristy.
Dockstader is a third year biology student and NSERC undergraduate research award recipient at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo Campus. She comes to Laurier from the small town of Belmont and is a band member of the Oneida Nation of the Thames, which is a southwestern reserve outside of London, Ontario. Although she has never lived on reserve, Kristy identifies herself as Oneida and proudly shares her experiences. “I didn't grow up on the reserve and was never very in touch with my heritage, but since coming to Laurier, I've met so many great people and learned so much about my heritage. I feel like every day is a chance for me to learn something new!”
Kristy’s interest in the natural world around her is what led her to the fascinating field of biology. From a young age, she always wanted a microscope and chemistry set for Christmas, but, sadly, never found one under the tree. Now that microscopes are available to her on a regular basis, she is excited about the opportunities she has to work with the many different varieties of optical instruments, in her course work.
Kristy says her parents encouraged her to pursue postsecondary education. Wilfrid Laurier University is close to Kristy’s home, a key reason for her choice. Kristy describes the small class sizes in first year as making a difference in her overall success because it made it easy for her to talk to professors and ask questions in class. The open door policy that most professors have with students is something unique about the small campus atmosphere.
While attending university, Kristy receives support from her band the Oneida Nation of the Thames, which she accesses through the education offices of the Southern First Nations Secretariat. Having this support has been helpful to Kristy who is doing well at post secondary because of her ability to focus her attention on her studies. On campus, Kristy has accessed support services from Melissa Ireland, the Aboriginal Student Support Coordinator at Laurier’s Aboriginal Student Centre. Kristy has worked with Melissa to access resources on how to achieve academic success, peer tutoring, personal support, academic and bursary/ scholarship awards. It was her connection with the Aboriginal Student Centre and Laurier Office of Research Services that first introduced Kristy to NSERC, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. This program offers university students summer research opportunities, and fosters innovation by encouraging Canadian companies to participate and invest in postsecondary research projects. To be approved for NSERC, students must achieve high academic standing in their program of study and find an appropriate supervisor. This is the second summer that Kristy has worked in Dr. Mihai Costea’s lab with the help of an NSERC USRA grant. Last year, she studied the morphology and evolution of some unknown structures found in the flowers of Cuscuta, a a group of parasitic plants that attack numerous agricultural crops. The legislation of most countries, including Canada, places Cuscutas on quarantine lists. This year she has helped in a project about the biodiversity of a group of Cuscuta from Mexico. Her results will contribute to the publication of two articles, which are now in preparation.
“This is absolutely remarkable for an undergraduate student”, says Dr. Mihai Costea, an Associate Professor, Biology at Wilfrid Laurier University. “Kristy’s example of laboratory and field research provides an excellent school of thought and skills that are universally useful. Conducting a research project requires planning, organization, implementation, analysis, and presentation/communication, which are steps required by any position with a certain degree of responsibility in today’s society. It is unfortunate that more undergraduate students are not offered this chance to grow professionally and, perhaps, discover a lifetime vocation.”
Kristy’s favorite part of working in the lab is using the microscopes because they allow her to see things from a fresh and remarkably fascinating perspective. “The NSERC program has contributed to my understanding of what opportunities are offered in my field and because of my research in lab with professors, I have built connections with them that make them more approachable in lectures” says Kristy. With her newly discovered passion for lab research, her intention after her undergraduate degree is to go on to pursue a Masters in Biology, which is something she had not considered before her NSERC experience.
Kristy firmly believes accessing post-secondary education was the best possible choice for her and is grateful for the supports she’s received with Southern First Nations Secretariat, Laurier’s Office of Research Services and Laurier’s Aboriginal Student Centre. “I feel blessed with all the opportunities I’ve been given. My advice would be that if you have the opportunity to go to postsecondary, make the most of it, because not everyone does. People want to see you succeed!”
For further information
Southern First Nations Secretariat: http://www.sfns.on.ca/
Laurier’s Office of Aboriginal Initiatives: www.wlu.ca/aboriginal
If you are an Aboriginal Student interested in the NSERC USRA program, contact Melissa Ireland at email@example.com