Aspiring brain surgeon to receive Alumni Horizon Award

May 28, 2012 - 1:00am

A Vancouver Island University graduate who aspires to become a brain surgeon will be awarded the Alumni Horizon Award at VIU’s spring convocation ceremony at Nanaimo’s Port Theatre next week.

Owen Stechishin will receive the prestigious award which recognizes the outstanding achievements of Vancouver Island University alumni early in their careers (within 10 years of receiving a credential from VIU).

Stechishin is currently pursuing his MD at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.

In August 2011, he successfully defended his PhD thesis: “Molecular therapeutics for glioblastoma brain tumor stem cells” under the supervision of Dr. Samuel Weiss, Director of the University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine’s prestigious Hotchkiss Brain Institute. Glioblastoma is a highly invasive and aggressive type of brain cancer.

Stechishin’s research involved looking into cutting-edge neurosurgical and molecular approaches to examine how certain cells in brain tumors function as stem cells that make these aggressive brain cancers resistant to therapy. He also looked at the potential of new chemotherapy drugs targeting these tumor stem cells in treating brain cancers.

“We believe that Owen’s dedication to his subject, academic achievements recognized by numerous awards, success in scientific research, and dedication to becoming a brain surgeon represent significant achievements,” says Dr. Tim Goater, VIU Biology professor. “For someone who only completed his Bachelor of Science five years ago, Owen’s achievements are extraordinary.”
Originally a graduate of Ballenas Secondary School in Parksville, Stechishin choose to complete his undergraduate degree at VIU because it was close to home.

“He was one of the Biology department’s shining lights and was recognized for his outstanding academic abilities with numerous awards,” adds Goater.

Stechishin won two Undergraduate Student Research Awards from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) allowing him to work in the Applied Environmental Research Lab at VIU’s Nanaimo campus where he gained valuable hands-on research experience. He worked on a study concerning the formation of harmful by-products during the chlorination of drinking water.

Upon graduation from VIU in June 2006 with a Bachelor of Science, Major in Biology degree, Stechishin won the Silver Governor General’s Academic Medal for a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 9.95 out of a possible 10. He was one of VIU’s first students to receive a Canada Graduate Scholarship worth $17,500 from NSERC.

“Owen seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do, and immediately used this scholarship to begin the second stage of his career, pursuing his PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Calgary,” adds Goater.

While pursuing his PhD, Stechishin was recognized for his exceptional academic achievement with several awards and scholarships including the 2008 Cooper Award, given to the graduate student at the University of Calgary with the highest mark in each of the Neuroscience graduate level courses.

Stechishin, who will attend the June 4 convocation ceremony, says he feels “very honored” to be chosen for the VIU Alumni Horizon Award.

“My undergraduate education at VIU has definitely played a key role in my career,” he says. “VIU offers a very strong Bachelor of Science program that did an excellent job of preparing me for my PhD and MD studies.

“The opportunity to be directly involved with research as an undergraduate through the Biology 491 research thesis and the AERL was an integral part of my educational career. These research opportunities fostered my interest in pursuing a career in medical research and gave me a significant advantage in my successful applications to MD and PhD programs as well as national graduate studentship award competitions.”

VIU President and vice-chancellor Dr. Ralph Nilson says the University community is extremely proud of Stechishin’s achievements.
“Owen’s hard work, dedication and significant accomplishments reinforce VIU’s belief in the value of undergraduate research as a key element of the teaching and learning process,” says Nilson.

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