#MORPH2018 Keynote Speaker
Vanessa Vakharia is the founder and director of The Math Guru, a super cool boutique math & science tutoring studio in Toronto. She has her Bachelor's of Commerce, Teaching Degree, Diploma in Graphic Design and Master's in Math Education. She specializes in teenage engagement in mathematics education, with a focus on encouraging young women to pursue STEM related fields as well as reinventing media representations of females as they intersect with math. She travels globally, engaging audiences with her workshop “Imagining a World Where Kim Kardashian Loves Math,” encouraging teenagers, teachers, and EVERYONE to re-interpret and re-invent traditional stereotypes of what it means to be a “math person.” She is also a founding member of Goodnight, Sunrise, a rock n roll band where she plays the keytar and belts lead vocals. Yes, she totally wants to be a rock star, who wouldn’t? Mindy Kaling is her idol and Vanessa believes that she should be yours too.
Panel & STEM Talks Speakers
Click the + sign to learn more about each of these AMAZING #womeninSTEM and #girlsinSTEM!
RIHAM ABU AFFAN
Riham Abu Affan is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying Molecular Genetics and Global Health at UofT. She is currently involved in functional protein design research intended for therapeutic purposes for East Coast Fever. She is also interested in health policy and the way health systems can be better designed to serve different populations specifically through health technology. Merging her artistic and scientific backgrounds, she’s been a marketing director in science-advocacy and technology-related groups, using her graphic design skills to create visuals. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering with children, writing, illustrating and practicing photography.
DR. EMILY AGARD
Dr. Emily Agard earned an Honours Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences from Queen's University in Kingston, and a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Toronto. She taught biology at York University and the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus before joining Ryerson as an Associate Professor. Currently, as Director of SciXchange at Ryerson University, she is passionate about making science accessible, engaging and inclusive of all groups. In her spare time, Dr. Agard also enjoys music, travel, sports and photography. She plays steelpan and loves dancing in various fusion styles. She has travelled to countries in 6 continents and loves immersing herself in different cultures. She often attends Raptor games and the occasional Seahawks game in Seattle. She has recently completed a Certificate in Photography Studies.
Keeley Aird is the co-founder of STEM Kids Rock, a not-for-profit kid-run organization that goes out into the community with free science outreaches. Last year, they did over 50 free events and since their inception, STEM Kids Rock has engaged and inspired over 100,000 children. In addition, Keeley is an advocate for inclusion and is a member of the Special Olympics TFC Soccer Unified Team and a Guinness Book World Record Title Holder!
Shannon Anthony is a lawyer with extensive experience providing human rights advice to North American corporations. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 2008. She brings to the human rights role her educational background as well as her law practice experience, first as an employment law associate at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP, followed by six years in private practice as a labour and employment lawyer under partner Ms. Laura Williams and more recently as the sole in-house labour and employment counsel to a large manufacturing company. She has been responsible for the efficient and effective implementation of human rights policy and compliance projects for various Canadian and U.S. operations of every size. She also has extensive experience experience conducting and reviewing workplace investigations, human rights, accommodation and diversity issues.
Dr. Tahani Baakdhah
Dr. Tahani Baakdhah (MD, MSc) is a PhD student at the University of Toronto studying how the stem cells built our retina during development, the mechanism by which the light sensing cells inside the eye enable us to see this beautiful world and how we can regenerate these cells in case of disease or injury. She is passionate about science communication and enjoy communicating her research with public through crafts and crochet.
Zorry Belchev is a third-year PhD student in the Gilboa lab at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest. With both of her parents being mathematicians, she was exposed to the idea of pursuing a STEM field carreer at an early age. In school, she delved into all of the sciences and her keen interest in the way people think, remember and forget, and the way memory forms the basis of our conscious experience and identity, led her to specifically pursue Psychology. After high school, she completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Simon Fraser University, and worked as a research assistant in the Memory and Cognition lab at the University of British Columbia before beginning her graduate studies. She then completed her masters degree in the Memory and Cognition lab at the University of Calgary. Seeking a more clinical research focus, she began her PhD at the University of Toronto in 2015, specializing in Cognitive Neuroscience. She is now working on developing a targeted spatial navigation training intervention to help offset damage to the hippocampus, an area of the brain important for memory and navigation, following traumatic brain injury.
Zaynah Bhanji is a 14 year-old high school student at The Woodlands Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario. She is very interested in artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Zaynah is part of a program called The Knowledge Society, which is Canada's leading innovation program for youth aged 13-17. The Knowledge Society exposes students to technologies that are growing at an exponential rate, like genomics, the blockchain and brain machine interfaces. Zaynah has met and connected with industry leaders in AI, as well as world class entrepreneurs, including the head of machine learning at Vevo, the co-founder of Element AI, which is a company that is a leader in the field, and the founder of Wind Mobile. She also spoke at the Toronto Machine Learning Summit about natural language processing to AI experts. Zaynah is currently working on developing a neural network in Python and an augmented reality game using ARKit.
Vanessa Bianchi is a PhD candidate in her fifth year of study at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. She received a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Human Biology prior to starting graduate school in 2013. She currently works for Dr. Rita Kandel at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto. Her research aims to use cells and tissue engineering strategies to develop new biological therapies for repairing damaged cartilage tissue. Her research has been presented at numerous national and international conferences and she has won awards for her presentations and abstract submissions. Her research achievements have also been communicated through publications in peer-reviewed journals. Vanessa has worked with mentorship programs at the University of Toronto as well as with organizations such as Let’s Talk Science to inspire the next generation of youth to enter careers in science. She strongly believes that more needs to be done to encourage young women to be confident when pursuing male-dominated STEM careers.
Jennifer Chan is a master's student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her research looks at physiological and psychological stress and mental health in police and military officers. Using physiological data such as cortisol, heart rate, and respiratory responses, she focuses on how to improve officers' stress management when exposed to dangerous situations. Improving overall situational awareness allows officers to make better use of force decisions, and increases their safety while on-duty.
Judy Chen is currently an undergraduate student studying health sciences with a focus on mathematics and biomedical sciences at McMaster University. She has always had a deep interest in the intersection between mathematics and biology. She has been involved in research relevant to these fields by spending the last two summers exploring the statistical and epidemiological approaches used in clinical research at Princess Margaret Hospital, as well as spending a portion of last summer getting acquainted with the coding aspect of computational biology by building simple neural networks for genetic analyses purposes. In her spare time, she enjoys reading bioethics papers, cooking, and going for jogs.
Natalie Duarte is a fourteen year-old who is very passionate about science, specifically aging, genomics and brain machine interfaces. She has done research on a variety of cool topics and loves talking about them with other students.
Lina Elfaki is a master’s student at the University of Toronto’s (UofT) Institute of Medical Science at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute. She is exploring the use of targeted gene therapy for aortic aneurysms. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto where she majored in Physiology and Health and Disease. She is also the Vice President of Outreach for the Women in Science and Engineering, UofT chapter, an organization that aims to encourage young women to pursue STEM careers. Recently, she led the 1st Empower YOUth Conference that connected almost 100 high school students from Toronto with women in STEM at various points of their career. With her passion for mentorship, she is also involved with several non-profit organizations to guide the youth of the GTA.
Sophia Emerson is an undergraduate student in her final year of a Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering program at McMaster University. After assisting in a lab in her second year of university, Sophia discovered her passion for research. She decided to continue pursuing work in research and development, and spent her next summer working at Estée Lauder on the development of Mac lipsticks. The following summer, Sophia went to Boston to work with the Harvard-MIT division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) on the creation of a new minimally invasive skin biopsy technique. She is currently working at McMaster on the development of low cost sensors for detection of contaminants in water samples, and she hopes to carry this work into her Master’s degree next year.
Maureen Ford, Program Manager, Talent Innovation, has demonstrated leadership, project management, organizational change management and application management services expertise acquired in both corporate and not-for-profit organizations. She manages the ICTC initiatives that connect employers to newcomer ICT professionals who are employment-ready after completing ICTC’s IWES bridge training program. IWES is a workforce-solution bridge training program that prepares and assists newcomer ICT professionals to secure employment and continue their career in Canada’s Digital economy. ICTC is a not-for- profit national centre of expertise for the digital economy. Through trusted research, innovative talent solutions, and practical policy advice, ICTC fosters industry economic development and consumer engagement in a global market. For more information visit www.ictc-ctic.ca
Christina Gallucci is a Research Assistant with the Kunin-Lunenfeld Centre for Applied Research and Evaluation (KL-CARE) at Baycrest Health Sciences, where she evaluates a number of solutions – including innovative technologies – to see how they impact the quality of life of older adults. Having earned her Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology (Cognitive Neuroscience and Gerontology) from the University of Toronto, her career has focused on merging art and science. Working with words, Christina examines how life experiences are shaped or changed in response to a specific tool, program, or intervention. She collaborates with her team to develop creative ways to explore and tell individuals’ stories and share their experiences. She was also involved in academic publishing for several years, where she worked with scientists to help them communicate their research findings clearly and effectively using words and creative graphics. She is eager to share how art and science are linked when designing research studies and communicating scientific findings to various audiences.
DR. NICOLE GERVAIS
Dr. Nicole Gervais is a postdoctoral fellow in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Toronto. She is co-funded by the Alzheimer's Association and Brain Canada Foundation to study the role of ovarian hormones in contributing to women's increased risk for Alzheimer's disease. Specifically, she is looking at how the drop in ovarian hormone levels during menopause contribute to changes in memory, sleep and brain health. Nicole obtained her PhD in 2014 at Concordia University, where she studied how estrogens influence memory of female rats. From 2014-2016, Nicole worked with monkeys at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, looking at how estrogens influence sleep, working memory, and the brain. She has a strong interest in understanding how sleep and cognition change across the lifespan, and the role played by hormones in influencing our cognitive abilities and how we sleep. She studies these factors in three species: humans, common marmosets, and rats.
Laura Gravelsins recently received her Honours Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto in 2017, and has returned to University of Toronto for her master's degree in Psychology at the at the Einstein Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Gender, and Health. She enjoys doing research, and strongly values the Einstein Lab's interdisciplinary approach to answering important questions about the way we think, feel, and act. Broadly speaking, Laura is interested in improving our understanding of the complex relationship between hormones and cognitive performance. Her current research focuses on investigating learning and memory in women taking oral contraceptives. Outside of the lab, Laura is a don at Victoria College, where she helps first year university students transition into university life, and assists undergraduate students with personal and academic challenges. In her spare time, she enjoys thrifting, playing ice hockey, and spending time with friends and family.
Joan Haggarty is a Design Leader at IBM in Watson Customer Engagement. She has a Bachelors and Masters degree in Computer Science. She has worn many hats over 20 years of developing software at IBM: writing technical documentation, developing code, designing user experiences and interfaces, and user research. She has managed teams in development, design, functional test and technical services consulting. Joan is passionate about getting young people excited about STEM and in 2017 founded the IBM STEM4Girls Teen Tech Club in Markham where teenagers and mentors can learn and share about science and tech in a casual environment.
After raising over a million dollars to help underrepresented entrepreneurs launch their tech startups in Canada, award-winning entrepreneur Tamar Huggins realized the importance for girls and children of colour to see positive reflections of themselves within the tech industry. In 2015, Tamar launched Tech Spark - a technology and design school committed to empowering girls and children of colour through innovative technology programming. Despite being told a black woman would never accomplish this, Tamar raised 6-figure investments for Tech Spark, has educated over 350 youth across Toronto and is on track to educate 20,000 youth and 10,000 teachers in North America by the year 2022. Tamar hopes to inspire youth with her story of overcoming racial and gender biases within the tech industry and share her passion to change the faces of those who create the technology we use everyday.
Dara Lo is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto uncovering the different ways that cells age and die. Understanding how this works will help treat diseases where we’d like the cells to die (i.e. cancer), as well as to treat diseases where we’d like to prevent the cells from dying (i.e. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s). Dara studies ageing and cell death by using the humble yeast cell, similar to the kind that makes bread rise, as a simple model of cell biology. Yeast cells are easy to work with in the lab, and they share all of the same cell biology that can be found in each of our cells! Dara is passionate about giving people a sneak peak inside the cell to highlight just how beautiful and complex the cell can be, as well as how much we have left to discover.
Dr. Shelley lumba
Dr. Shelley Lumba joined the Department of Cell and Systems Biology at the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor in September 2016. The goal of the Lumba lab is to develop strategies to combat a devastating plant parasite called Striga hermonthica. The UN considers Striga to be a leading cause of poverty in Africa because Striga infestations cause huge losses in yield for subsistence farmers. The Lumba research program is supported by NSERC and was recently awarded an NSERC Accelerator Supplement, which recognizes highly innovative research programs with strong potential to become world-leading in their field. Shelley completed her undergraduate, PhD and post-doctoral studies at University of Toronto. She serves on international plant research committees and boards. As a first-generation Canadian and a visible minority woman, Shelley understands the challenges in pursuing an academic career in STEM particularly in achieving a faculty position. She is committed to sharing her experiences by mentoring female students from all backgrounds to pursue careers in science. Shelley leads a mentorship program for female graduate students in Biology at UofT. Contact the Lumba Lab - https://www.lumbalab.com
DR. MALVIKA NAGRATH
Dr. Malvika Nagrath is a graduate dentist (Prosthodontist) from India. While working with various dental materials as a Prosthodontist, she became interested in Materials Science and ended up doing a masters in Biomaterials in the USA. The understanding of different prospects of materials research intrigued her to delve deeper and improve her skills by pursuing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. In short, one can say that she has metamorphosed from a dentist to a professional researcher. Her personal philosophy is to "go with the flow" and learn from your experiences...no experience is bad...it either gives you a reward or something to learn from!
Stephanie Porfiris is a grade ten student at Bayview Glen. As of October 2017, she has been a member of The Knowledge Society, a program designed to introduce young people to highly advanced topics, such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Since November 2017, Stephanie has been researching brain machine interface, the science of linking the human brain to an external device, such as a computer or a prosthetic limb. Stephanie hopes to encourage more girls to enter the developing world of STEM. In the future, Stephanie hopes to continue exploring new fields, such as the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, through The Knowledge Society.