May 23, 2019 - 9:30am
Luu Gaahlandaay (Kevin Borserio) and Alexis Deighton MacIntyre will receive Distinguished Alumni Awards during VIU’s June 2019 convocation ceremonies.
Two Vancouver Island University (VIU) alumni who have leveraged their education for the benefit of society in the areas of language preservation and the cognitive science of music will receive Distinguished Alumni Awards this June.
Luu Gaahlandaay (Kevin Borserio), a Malaspina College transfer student, will receive a Professional Achievement Award during the afternoon convocation ceremony on Monday, June 3, and Alexis Deighton MacIntyre, a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies alum, will receive an Early Achievement award during the Tuesday, June 5 ceremony starting at 10 am.
As Director of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP), Borserio has spent more than two decades providing the gentle leadership and linguistic mastery needed to propel SHIP from a community language program to an internationally recognized blueprint for language and culture revitalization. Together with the Haida Elders who are the program’s language professors, Borserio has spent more than two decades helping them create a legacy that includes a Skidegate Haida dictionary with more than 26,000 words; resources for schools, including 85 children’s books; an archive of stories and words; more than 280 CD-ROMs; and an app with 2,000 words and 500 phrases available to anyone with an Internet connection.
“Everything flows from a language and without it a culture, a way of life, is lost,” he says. “For many of the Elders, this has been a healing process, helping them recover from the trauma of residential school, where their language was taken away. To share the work of restoring and revitalizing their language has been an incredible privilege. I’ve been able to witness the Elders’ strength. They’ve grown to be my heroes and family.”
Borserio attended Malaspina College from 1979 to 1981, before transferring to the University of Victoria to finish his Bachelor of Education. After graduation, he moved to Haida Gwaii to teach secondary school. In 1998, he started in his current role as Director of the SHIP program.
Les Malbon, a VIU Sport, Health and Physical Education Professor, says the program is a benchmark in Indigenous pedagogy and serves as a model for other nations desiring to retain, grow and share their heritage with others.
“During his tenure he has become both honoured and much loved for his deep care of the elders and their cultural traditions,” says Malbon. “He has not only embraced the Program Director role, but in fact, through adoption (Ts’aahl Eagle Clan) has become part of the Skidegate Haida Nation, which is of the highest honour within the Nation.”
MacIntyre grew up in Nanaimo and studied jazz guitar at VIU, graduating in 2012 with a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies. While at VIU, the linguistics and anthropology electives she took led her to question the disciplinary boundaries that separate the arts from the sciences. After stints working at the Nanaimo and Victoria conservatories of music, she followed her husband to Ontario, where her curiosity about the cognitive science of music – or how the human brain perceives, processes and produces music – led her to Dr. Jessica Grahn’s Neuroscience and Music Lab in the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University. As a research assistant, she helped with projects ranging from measuring how people from different cultures feel and move along to rhythms, to refining the use of music to help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their walking movements.
“What I really like about this field of research is that it underscores how interrelated music, language and other human abilities are,” she says. “Who would have imagined, for instance, that there is a connection between having a poor sense of rhythm and dyslexia? I hope this wave of new research demonstrating the important of music and dance, for example, to other areas of human performance such as literacy will give people pause for thought when it comes to supporting and funding the arts in our schools.”
With her curiosity fully piqued, MacIntyre moved to the UK to pursue a master’s degree in music and science at the University of Cambridge, fully supported by a Canada Cambridge Scholarship. Now as a doctoral candidate in cognitive neuroscience at University College London, she’s researching speech rhythm, seeking to more accurately characterize speech rhythms so that researchers can better understand what is going wrong when an injury or disorder affects a person’s ability to produce or perceive speech in real time.
“I credit the foundation I received at VIU with my sense of academic confidence today,” she says. “A music education is more than simply learning to play an instrument. We gained skills in public presentation, small and large-group collaboration, research and analytical thinking, critical assessment and evaluation, as well as computer and recording equipment literacy.”
“Alexis’s studies and research in the neuroscience of music, as well as her many awards, recognitions and achievements over the past seven years, present a colourful and shiny feather in the cap of both our institution and her hometown of Nanaimo,” says Sasha Koerbler, a VIU Music Professor. “We hope that her path, inspired and nurtured by music, raises confidence in all our future graduates to pursue career options that embrace a variety of disciplines.”
Watch VIU’s convocation ceremonies live by going to the VIUniversity Facebook page. To view a full list of the honorary awards being distributed this June, please visit the Honorary Awards page.
Jenn McGarrigle, External Communications Advisor, Vancouver Island University