Outstanding student researchers recognized with Governor General’s Gold Medal

Three Waterloo graduate students breaking ground with innovative research projects University Relations The University of Waterloo is recognizing three graduate student researchers who have made a significant contribution in their respective fields with the award of a Governor General’s Gold Medal.

The Governor General’s awards are presented to outstanding students at different academic levels. Bronze medals are awarded to promising secondary-level students. Collegiate bronze is awarded to diploma-level students. Silver medals are awarded at the undergraduate level.

The Governor General’s Gold Medal is reserved for master’s and PhD students who have completed innovative research projects and whose work demonstrates exceptional promise. The award is conferred each year at the spring convocation ceremony.

This year, two Governor General’s Gold Medals for PhDs go to Dr. Shehryar Khan and Dr. Jackie Zehr, and one award goes to master’s graduate Kendra Fortin.

Dr. Shehryar Khan

Dr. Shehryar Khan (PhD ’23, MASc ’19, BASc ’18)árecently completed a PhD in mechanical and mechatronics engineering, under the supervision of Dr. Norman Zhou and Dr. Elliot Biro. Khan was a recipient of the NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship (2020-2022) and the Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship (2022-2023).

He has published some 20 original research papers in top-flight journals on topics including laser welding, laser cladding, weld-brazing, liquid metal embrittlement of Zn-coated steels and advanced dissimilar joining of Mg- and Al-alloys.

Before beginning his PhD, Khan completed both an undergraduate and master’s degree at Waterloo.

"I’ve been at the University of Waterloo as a student for close to ten years and I have so many fantastic memories," he says. "One of my fondest memories as a Waterloo student was being involved in the development and teaching of an interdisciplinary course called The Wicked Problem of Climate Change. The course examined aspects of climate change and the wicked problems it presents to humanity from diverse disciplinary perspectives, such as applied sciences, humanities, social sciences and health sciences."

Khan’s keen interest in teaching and learning and interdisciplinary approaches are sure to serve him well as he begins the next stage of his academic career. He says that a postdoctoral program is on the horizon, where he will look forward to continuing his innovative research.

Asked if he has any advice for other students interested in pursuing graduate level degrees, Khan offers a philosophical take.

"My supervisor introduced me to a quote by Rabbi Hillel that struck a chord: ’If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?’"

"I would ask students to take the advice in this quote in the opposite order of how it has been given," Khan continues. "Start by recognizing that now is the time for your success. Focus all your energies on what is in your control in the moment, and stop worrying about the past and the future, which are out of your control."

Dr. Jackie Zehr

Dr. Jackie Zehr (PhD ’23) recently completed a PhD in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences. Her research focused on biomechanics, and specifically on the pathways of microscopic damage that lead to debilitating low back injuries. Zehr worked under the supervision of Dr. Jack Callaghan.

"I chose to study at the University of Waterloo because of the rich history of excellence in the field of spine biomechanics and the world-class expertise of my supervisor," Zehr says. "I was further attracted by the resources and commitment to foster interdisciplinary research and a training environment that emphasized both technical and professional development."

Zehr says that her fondest memories of her PhD studies were the relationships she formed with colleagues, including an important network of mentors, collaborators, lab mates and friends. She says this network was a significant aspect of her graduate school experience and development as a researcher.

"Graduate school goes by quicker than you think," Zehr says. "So, cherish the opportunity to build friendships, try new things and develop your research interests. Be curious and explore research questions that involve adjacent disciplines and are beyond your immediate comfort zone."

The next steps for Zehr will be completing an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary. Her research will focus on the pathways of loading-induced growth and repair in musculoskeletal tissues, specifically cartilage.

Reflecting on her time at Waterloo, Zehr is effusive in expressing gratitude to her colleagues and all the people who helped her along the way.

"My research and success as a doctoral candidate would not have been possible without my supervisor, Dr. Jack Callaghan, who provided an exceptional training experience and always encouraged me to rise to new heights. I am sincerely grateful for all that he has taught me."

Kendra Fortin

Kendra Fortin (MA ’22, BA ’20) recently completed a master’s degree in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies. Her thesis, "Sacred memories, decolonial futurities," examined the relationship between tourism, religion and settler colonialism. She completed her research under the supervision of Dr. Bryan S. R. Grimwood.

In addition to demonstrating how theological inquiry can be useful for understanding tourism experiences and land relationships, Fortin’s research contributes to actions of reconciliation, decolonization and Indigenization in both religious and post-secondary educational settings.

"My journey at the University of Waterloo was a bit of a winding road," Fortin says. "During first year, I transferred out of my original program and found my home in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies. Then in fourth year, I worked as a research assistant with Dr. Grimwood. I found my passion for critical research that challenges taken-for-granted assumptions and compels readers to reconsider their understandings of spirituality, land and relationships."

Along with her research portfolio, Fortin also works at Waterloo’s Department of Athletics and Recreation as a fitness, dance and martial arts coordinator. She is passionate about continuing her research and eventually bringing her skills and experience back to the Bruce and Grey counties of Ontario, the area where she grew up.

Asked about her fondest memories of her time as a Waterloo student, Fortin reminisces about taking a course in ecotourism and communities that involved a week-long experiential learning opportunity in Haliburton.

"Myself, 13 of my peers, the teaching team and what I can only guess to be ten-million blackflies participated in camp activities at Kandalore Outdoor Centre, visited a wolf sanctuary and embarked on a two-day canoe trip," Fortin says. "The community and learning that emerged in this course is unmatched to any other course I took at Waterloo."

Regardless of where her journey takes her next, Fortin says she knows that will always have a home at Waterloo.

"If or when I decide to pursue my PhD, I need only knock on Dr. Grimwood’s door," she says.