Celebrating Co-Op Excellence

Yesterday I joined a packed room of students, staff, faculty, and industry partners as we celebrated the successes of more than ninety undergraduate students and their co-op employers during the 21st Annual Co-op Awards ceremony. The event included five student awards, and two employer awards.

As part of the event, I also had the distinct pleasure of co-presenting with Dr. Jason Ernst the Ian Pavlinic Memorial Award for Innovation / Co-op Student of the Year Award to undergraduate student, Keefer Rourke. Keefer, one of the lead developers on the eNuk health and environment monitoring app, spent an eight month co-op term last year working with Jason and the folks at Left in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. He clearly left an incredible mark while he was there. For those interested, I’ve included my remarks from the ceremony below.

In addition to celebrating Keefer’s success, I also got to celebrate the success of undergraduate Math & Stats student, Brandon Edwards. Like Keefer, I have been fortunate to have Brandon in my lab since his first year. And for the second year in a row, Brandon’s co-op employer nominated him for the Co-op Student of the Year Award. This came as no surprise to me, given the effort he puts into everything he does. I was particularly pleased to see that his co-op employer, the Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada, received the National Co-op Employer of the Year Award based on Brandon’s nomination. It was also great to hear Dr. Smith speak so highly of Brandon and the work that he achieved in such a short time while working with his team.

Congrats again, Keefer and Brandon. To say that I’m incredibly proud of you both would be an understatement.

I made the following remarks during the ceremony to celebrate Keefer’s award.

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Dan Gillis; I’m an Associate Professor in the School of Computer Science, and I have had the distinct privilege of working with Keefer for the past three years.

I remember very distinctly the first time I met Keefer. It was in the middle of his first semester at the University of Guelph, and he had opted into giving a presentation at the Guelph Coding Community. For those unfamiliar with the Guelph Coding Community, it’s a bi-weekly event organized by and for students. The general idea is that students who are interested in tech and computer science have a space to gather, and geek out. Often this means they present some of their non-academic projects, talk about recent developments in computer science, gaming, or other nerdy things.

Anyway, Keefer opted to give a presentation on an anonymous social media platform that he and a friend had developed. I won’t lie when I say that I sat in the audience captivated by what he was saying. He spoke intelligently, confidently, and in such a manner that he immediately separated himself from his peers.

My first thought was “who the hell is this kid?”

My second thought was “I want to work with this guy”

After his talk, I called him over and asked him to set up a meeting so that we could chat about his goals and ambitions.

To my great fortune, Keefer joined my lab in the winter of 2017. Since then, Keefer has led the development and implementation on key components to the eNuk health and environment monitoring program for the Inuit Community of Rigolet. He has become an essential player in a research program that combines computer science, public health, social science, Inuit leadership, and community engagement, and that includes undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral researchers.

And somehow, he’s continued to excel as a student. Beyond his academic success in the classroom, and despite a busy research schedule in my lab, he has found the time to present at numerous conferences – in several cases as an invited speaker. He has also found time to contribute to the School of Computer Science; taking part in outreach events and volunteering opportunities.

For all of his efforts, it probably comes as no surprise that he has received numerous scholarships and honours – including the Jay Majithia Award in Computer Science, and the Michele & Maria Vannelli Scholarship for academic excellence and leadership.

Beyond this, he also was awarded a $10,000 prize after he won an international competition put on by Major League Hacking to explore ethics in technology.

Keefer, I am not surprised that you have won this award. You are an exceptional student. More than that, you are an exceptional human. Thank you for caring, for looking beyond a computer, and for using your incredible skills to make the world a better place. I feel incredibly lucky to have you in our lab. I can’t wait to see what you do when you start your PhD 😉

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