Promising student researchers shine on national stage

May 16, 2006 - 5:00pm

Malaspina University-College students continue to shine on the national stage.

Skye Creba, Owen Stechishin and Derek van Pel are Malaspina’s first students to receive Canada Graduate Scholarships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

“It’s the top award offered by the Canadian government for students entering graduate school,” said Dr. Chris Foote,  Malaspina's NSERC Liaison Officer. Each student receives $17,500 for one year, with the possibility of extension for two years. However, far beyond this significant financial award, the prestige is priceless.” 

The three students graduate from Malaspina in June with Bachelor of Science degrees in Biology and Chemistry.

“The Faculty of Science and Technology is extremely proud of Owen, Derek and Skye,” said David Drakeford, Dean of Science and Technology programs at Malaspina. “The Canada Graduate Scholarships reflect their hard work and dedication. Their achievement reinforces Malaspina’s belief in the value of undergraduate research as a key element of the teaching and learning process.”

Biology professor Dr. Tim Goater said Owen, Derek and Skye “are exceptional students” and their success demonstrates that Malaspina students can compete with Canada’s most promising young scholars.  “News of their Canada Graduate Scholarships represents a huge milestone for Malaspina, not to mention the Biology and Chemistry departments,” Goater said.

As fourth-year students, Creba, Stechishin and van Pel were required to complete a major undergraduate research project under the supervison of a faculty member.  The students further honed their pure and applied research skills working in Malaspina’s multi-million dollar Applied Environmental Research Labortaory (AERL) at the Nanaimo campus. Under the guidance of Chemistry professors Drs. Erik Krogh and Chris Gill, the students are involved in multi-year studies relating to environmental sciences and chemical analysis.

This summer, van Pel, Stechishin and Creba also received NSERC Undergraduate Summer Research Awards valued at $4,500 each, plus $2,500 from the Malaspina Foundation, and are employed in the AERL until August. It’s van Pel and Stechishin’s second summer in the AERL, and Creba’s third.

Creba works with Dr. Gill on an air toxicology study measuring a specific molecule in wood smoke. Last year, she presented some of her research findings at the Western Canadian Universities Chemistry Research Conference, and won “best presentation award”, beating students from some of Canada’s top universities.

“It’s a huge privilege to work in the AERL and gain such incredible experience,” said Creba, who plans to attend medical school. “This kind of research experience is often impossible to get at the undergraduate level in larger universities. As well, we’re producing publishable, peer-reviewed science that’s often not tackled by students until they are well into their graduate studies.”


Stechishin, 21, plans to attend graduate school at the University of Calgary, and then obtain a PhD in neuroscience. Originally a graduate of Ballenas Secondary School in Parksville, Stechishin choose Malaspina because “it was close to home, I liked Malaspina’s small class sizes and knew I would have opportunities for hands-on research.” He's worked with Dr. Krogh for two years on a study concerning the formation of harmful by-products during the chlorination of drinking water.


van Pel, also 21, works with Krogh on a study concerning properties of organic pollutants that determine their fate and distribution in the environment. In September,  he leaves his home-town university college and heads to the University of British Columbia to pursue graduate work in molecular biology and biochemistry. van Pel hopes to fast-track into the PhD program.


Krogh and Gill have employed more than 50 students as full and part-time research assistants since the AERL opened in 2003. “It’s incredibly gratifying to see the success of students like Owen, Skye and Derek,” said Gill. “Their  work in the AERL is relevant, innovative and significant on the national and international level.


“We’re quite proud of the cutting edge science carried out by these Malaspina students. Their high quality work and hands-on research provides them with substantial advantages in their current studies and for future research and employment. We’re going to miss them when they leave Malaspina, but there’s no doubt these students will enjoy promising scientific careers.”

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