No ordinary school day!

Grade 11 student shares unique learning opportunity with alum outside the classroom.

Nicole Park, Class of 2004, was among the six alumnae panelists who joined us for Trafalgar Castle School’s I-Think discussion back in December where she shared her experiences and the path that has led to her exciting career in research.

Nicole’s interest in cancer research began at the age of nine when a cousin was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. “A few years later I happened to look down a brightfield microscope and saw for my first time, human chromosomes in metaphase,” said Nicole. “I was so inspired and truly felt my passion for genetics ignite at that moment.”

For the past ten years, Nicole has been actively working toward becoming an educator and leader in cancer research completing a Bachelor of Science Honours in Molecular Genetics at Queen’s University in Kingston; a Masters degree in Pathology at Western University in London; and is now completing her Doctoral studies with Dr. Peter Dirks, a pioneer in the brain cancer stem cell field at the Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto. Upon completion of her PhD, Nicole will apply for a post-doctoral fellow where she will work to establish herself as an independent cancer researcher. After a couple of post-doctoral positions, she plans to apply for an assistant professor position at a university.

Nicole’s passion and personal experiences really resonated with Grace, a Grade 11 student who had been learning about molecular biology and genetics in her classes at Trafalgar. Coupled with her existing interest in research and medicine, Grace took the time to speak with Nicole following the panel discussion and the idea of a site visit evolved.

“It was really inspiring to see alumnae share what their Trafalgar experience meant to them and to learn how this experience influenced their career path,” said Grace. “They were all wonderful role models and great examples of the power of women in the workforce.”

On what would have otherwise been a regular school day, Grace recently commuted downtown to the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning, a brand new state-of-the-art facility in Toronto, where Nicole conducts her research along with all the researchers for Sick Kids.

“It was so cool to have a current Trafalgar student shadow me for the day,” said Nicole. “It felt as though I already knew Grace – as if the Big Sister/Little Sister program was in full effect! I think the experiences that we share as Trafalgar students are so unique and special that it really unifies us in an eternal way.”

They began their day with an overview of Nicole’s research on glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive adult brain cancer. Her research aims to better understand the biology of glioblastoma and normal brain stem cells to ultimately improve treatment options for patients fighting this devastating disease. Following the research overview, Grace donned a lab coat and entered the Tissue Repair Room with Nicole where they spent the next two hours exploring glioblastoma cells from two different patients. In their experiment, they introduced a well-known stem cell pathway drug into the culture media to see how the cells responded.

“The idea is that by stopping the pathways in the cells that promote stem cell behaviour the cells will become mature cells and no longer divide,” said Nicole. “Once the drug was added we put the cells onto a plate so that I can measure the difference in the number of cancer cells treated with or without the drug a week from now.”

 

Pictured above is the image Nicole and Grace observed under the microscope of glioblastoma cells from a patient who had undergone surgery to remove the cancer from the brain.

“The entire day was incredible and well beyond my expectations,” said Grace. “One of the highlights for me in the lab was that I was actually able to apply some of what I had been learning in class to a real-life lab setting.”

Next on the day’s agenda was a short walk to the University of Toronto for a seminar on molecular biology where Grace sat in on a presentation by two students who shared their own research and experiences.

Back at the lab, Grace’s visit culminated in a one-hour session with Nicole’s mentor, Dr. Dirks, Staff Neurosurgeon at Sick Kids, specializing in the surgical treatment for childhood brain tumours and brain vascular malformations.

Throughout their discussion Dr. Dirks talked about some of his own research, highlighted some of the greatest discoveries in neuroscience in general, and shared a number of resources for Grace to go away with to explore on her own.

“Dr. Dirks shared his passion for research and explained how it offers him new ways to do what he does in surgery every day, but also stressed that everything in the lab is sparked by your own interests, so you have to truly love what you do,” said Grace.

Grace, who plans to pursue a career in the Life Sciences, set out for the day hoping to gain some insight into the world of research and found herself in a boardroom; university lecture hall; world-renowned lab; and sitting down with one of the leading researchers in pediatric neurosurgeons. Not bad for her first day at ‘work’!

When Nicole was asked about her experience as an alumnae mentor, she had this to say: “A truly important aspect of this collaboration was the ability for me to give back to Trafalgar in some way. I am here today because of my experiences at Trafalgar. To inspire and lead a current Trafalgar student, in a way, completes the circle for me. It was there where I found my inspiration for the sciences and developed leadership skills through opportunities unique to Trafalgar. What I would say to any alum considering this is simply: DO IT!!!! It’s one day to potentially make a huge impact on someone’s life. And what better opportunity than to inspire one of our own.”

Alumnae interested in mentoring a student for a day may contact Rhonda Daley, Director of Advancement and Alumnae Relations at daley.rhonda@trafalgarcastle.ca.

Meghan Patrick, Class of ’05, is one step closer to superstardom!

After eight weeks of intense competition KX96 has crowned Meghan Patrick, Class of ’05, as the winner of the 2013 KX96 Super Star Search.

The competition, which began October 3, saw more than 60 performers take the stage at The Corral in Oshawa. Contestants performed two songs each and were given a score out of 100 based on singing and performance including stage presence and appearance. The contestant with the highest combined score was declared that night’s winner and was awarded a position in the finals held on December 5.

Singing Boys from the South by the Pistol Annies in round one and one of her originals, titled Tightrope, for round two, Meghan rocked the stage with nine other finalists who belted out songs by the likes of Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band, Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood.

“We had an awful lot of good talent last night,” said Pete Walker, KX96 Super Star Search host. “I think what probably sets Meghan apart most is her passion and presentation.”

Following the winning announcement, Meghan wowed the audience one last time with her amazing talent singing Jolene by Dolly Parton.

“I want to thank everyone who came out to support me tonight”, said Meghan. “This has been an amazing competition with such great talent and I’m so excited to have been chosen as this year’s winner.”

As the 2013 KX96 Super Star, Meghan has been awarded the grand prize of a recording session with Canadian Country Music Association’s award-winning producer Mike Francis and feature airplay on KX96 radio.

“This spring or summer, Meghan will meet with Mike Francis and Steve Kassay, our program director to pick a song to record with airplay of that song to begin some time late summer or early fall,” said Walker.

Congratulations Meghan! Your Trafalgar family is very proud of you and will all be tuning in to KX96 to hear your song!

Ashley Meek, Class of ‘03

Ten years after leaving the walls of Trafalgar Castle School, alumna Ashley Meek, is a sterling example of being the change you want to see in the world. Graduating in 2003 as part of the double cohort, Ashley went on to study Psychology and Health Studies at Queen’s University.

 

In 2009, she visited a Ghanaian village where she volunteered as a teacher at an orphanage-school complex. “I witnessed the positive impact that comprehensive, participatory initiatives can truly have on communities and conversely, the long-term damage that poorly-planned development projects can leave behind,” said Ashley.

This experience prompted her return to Canada to further pursue her studies in international development. She enrolled in the Master of Social Work programme at York University with a focus on international development, followed by a postgraduate certificate in Project Management for International Development at the Humber School of Business.

Determined to make a difference, Ashley vowed she would only work with organizations that bolster the strength of communities without ignoring the obstacles of deeply entrenched injustices. Today Ashley finds herself back in Africa interning with the African Medical & Research Foundation (AMREF) in Nairobi, Kenya. As Africa’s leading health development organization, AMREF focuses on ensuring access to good health for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in Africa through the implementation of innovative and sustainable solutions to critical health challenges.

“When living abroad, the experience of new foods, exotic animals and historical landmarks are always exhilarating however, it is the privilege to know the extraordinariness of ordinary people that has most impacted my journey,” said Ashley.

Through a Canadian International Development Agency-funded internship, Ashley is working as a programme officer for a six-month mission. Her role involves project development, grant proposal writing, and documentation. In addition, she is working at the Dagoretti Child in Need Centre where she is piloting a drama therapy project using popular education techniques and incorporating improv theatre, movement and dance into group counseling sessions. “Now that I work with youth, I have come to understand that the best thing you can equip young girls with is a belief in themselves,” said Ashley.

Upon reflection of her time spent at The Castle, Ashley had this to offer: “The biggest impact Trafalgar had on my life was the freedom to be myself. The stimulating, supportive environment allowed me to explore my ideas without restriction, to be exposed to new cultures and opportunities and to develop an unshakeable sense of self-confidence; a characteristic that can take some women a lifetime to achieve.”

A project Ashley helped design was recently entered into the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenge Explorations funding contest and is showcased as a video. The system for determining who will proceed to the next round is dependent upon audience votes. Help Ashley and AMREF prevent illness and the unnecessary loss of lives and vote on their proposal today.

Ashley hopes her next contract will bring her to South America and aspires to one-day work as a project manager and eventually as a programme manager.


Alumna creates smiles through international mission

Ten days, more than 35 international medical professionals, 117 surgeries, one mission: Operation Smile.

Kallista Hammer, Class of ’10, recently travelled to Peru to take part in the UVoice program designed for university students interested in taking part in medical missions. There, she was responsible for gathering patient stories and photos throughout a 10-day international mission with Operation Smile.

In addition to her mission’s writing assignment, Kallista had the opportunity to log medical records, observe surgeries, and assist with follow-up patient care. She also helped the nurses carry the children back to the recovery room and keeping them company until they awoke from surgery. One case in particular made a lasting impact. “Ariana is a five-month old baby who had her cleft lip repaired,” said Kallista. “One of the most heart-wrenching sounds is the sound of an infant screaming after surgery but when her mother came in, Ariana’s cries stopped and were replaced with a huge smile. The mother held her baby tight and said ‘thank you for fixing her’.”

Operation Smile, an international children’s medical charity, provides safe, reconstructive surgery and related medical care for children born with facial deformities such as cleft palates. “I really wanted to join a club that would give me opportunities in the medical field,” said Kallista.

She first became involved with Operation Smile three years ago when she attended a Club Fair while in her first year at Boston University. She is now president of the Boston University Club Operation Smile where she is in charge of organizing fundraising events, volunteer management and hosting meetings. “Trafalgar is where I gained a true appreciation for volunteering,” said Kallista. “I also owe much of my confidence to Trafalgar. There, I was able to develop leadership and speaking skills that have come in handy throughout my time at university.”

Kallista is going into her fourth and final year at Boston University and is studying Behavioural Biology with plans to apply to dentistry for next year.

Jenny Taylor offers insight and advice after graduating from Humber College at the top of her class


Jenny Taylor, Class of ’11 had the full attention of Grade 9 and 10 Drama students when she returned to Trafalgar Castle School recently to conduct a workshop aimed at building confidence and learning how to shine in an audition.

The workshop began with introductory warm-ups and rhythm exercises designed to make the students feel more comfortable and connected. The students were then lead through a step-by-step professional audition process and learned all about wait times; taking turns; greeting the casting director; properly slating and profiling; picking up lines from the page; and general business etiquette.

“The girls did an especially great job of picking up lines off the page and connecting with the reader,” said Jenny. “They were very confident and present when they entered the room and I was really impressed with their poise and ability.”

In addition students explored the differences between film and theatre acting and had an opportunity to conduct video reviews of their auditions.

“The insight Jenny offered was astounding,” said Grade 10 student Laura Ramirez. “She is a great speaker and offered valuable knowledge on the do's and don'ts in the acting profession.”

Jenny’s love for the stage blossomed early, when in Grade 7 she debuted as Babet in Trafalgar’s production of Les Miserables with just two lines. Jenny graduated as Anne in the 2011 production of Anne of Green Gables. One of her fondest Trafalgar memories is when the cast and crew would all stand and hold hands in a circle and pass the squeeze around before each show. “It always made me cry. That last time on stage as Anne was particularly bittersweet and awesome.”

Jenny has just graduated at the top of her class from Humber College’s two-year Acting for Film and Television program with the School of Creative & Performing Arts and credits much of her college success to Trafalgar. “As much as film is different from the stage, Trafalgar prepared me very well,” said Jenny. “The encouragement and support from my drama classes, drama festivals, house plays and productions really fueled my passion and fire for acting. Otherwise I doubt I would have had the courage and confidence to pursue my dream.”

Jenny has several agency leads and is looking forward to launching her career in film.

Making a splash at Dal


Swimming competitively since the age of seven, Meghan Toswell, Class of ’12 headed down to the east coast of Atlantic Canada to study Health Promotion at Dalhousie University with hopes of continuing her swimming career with the Dalhousie Tigers Women’s Varsity Swim Team.

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Dr. Armita Rahmani, Class of 1990


I was born in Tehran in 1974 just before the revolution. One night in 1978 I remember being very frightened. My mother had gathered us into her bedroom and we were to sleep there. She got us up in the middle of the night and we were told to be very quiet. Everyone was afraid. We got into a car and drove to the airport, arriving in Geneva.

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