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A glimpse inside the top minds of the Class of 2018

Star graduating students reflect on their experience at Concordia University
May 31, 2018

An entire class of Concordia students is just a few short days away from joining the university's alumni community.

From June 11 to 13, more than 5,600 graduates will receive their degrees, diplomas and certificates from the university, alongside 11 new honorands.

Eight university valedictorians and two winners of the Governor General’s Academic Medals will join them onstage at the 2018 spring convocation ceremonies taking place in Place des Arts.

Last week, we heard from 10 spring grads. This week, we present further insights from our newest valedictorians and academic medal winners.


Emma Alguire

Member of the Institute for
Co-operative Education

Alguire was extremely active in student life through her involvement in student associations, case competitions and mentorship programs. As an intern with CEED Concordia, she spent three months in Northern Uganda supporting a training program for local teachers.

Three keys to a good education:

  • A balance of theoretical content and practical application.
  • Faculty and staff who are strongly invested in the success of their students. This support is core to student growth, especially when students encounter difficult times.
  • Opportunities for holistic development beyond the classroom. Some of the most valuable learning happens through student leadership positions, internships and interdisciplinary experiences.

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • We aren’t machines who can run endlessly; burnout is real! Eat well, get sufficient sleep and make time for things you enjoy outside of your studies.
  • Your network can help you just as much as your education once you graduate. Put effort into maintaining those relationships, finding mentors and keeping those who support your success updated with your goals.

Next great goal:

  • Obtain the Certified Human Resources Professional designation, build a career that helps others and finally, travel to Southeast Asia.

Advice for future grads:

  • Some of the wisest words I’ve ever heard: comparison is the theft of joy. Find inspiration in the success of others but create your own path rather than simply following others.


Frances Zsurka

Computer Science and Software Engineering

Zsurka was particularly interested in studying how to represent, manipulate, and validate data, as well as elegant software design in general. Outside of their studies, they founded the Concordia University Tea Enthusiast Association and the Biosignal Systems student club.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Practice makes perfect! Get hands-on as often as you can.
  • Make enough time for sleep and recreation. It is vital for staying healthy and efficient.
  • Go beyond the curriculum for deeper understanding and inspiration.

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • Try new things with an open mind. Some of my favourite courses and activities were the ones I least expected to enjoy.
  • Pace yourself if you feel like you’re burning out. Slow down, spread out your workload, and get advice on where to best focus your attention.

Next great goal:

  • To keep improving full-stack web development skills in order to bring complex application designs to life, such as my comprehensive time management and personal organisation system. As a hobby, I’m also exploring building microcontroller-based lighting systems.

Advice for future grads:

  • Life can take many unexpected turns. Stay introspective and true to yourself, and you will find a way no matter what.


Yitzchok Ahisar


Ahisar was raised in an orthodox Jewish home and did not have any kind of secular schooling or a traditional high-school education before enrolling at Concordia. He participated in several research projects at the university, including work on cancer therapeutics, cellular aging, and vesicular transport in yeast. With a combined GPA of 4.24, Ahisar will attend medical school at McGill this fall.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Know thy friends: Having someone there for support is absolutely crucial for successful learning.
  • Know thy teacher: Attending office hours will make all the difference in the quality of your education.
  • Know thyself: Honestly appreciating the limits of our understanding helps us to properly contextualize the relatively little which we do learn.

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • Academic accomplishment does not occur in a void, and the fabled lone genius sitting in an isolated laboratory has contributed nothing more than a lesson in wasted potential. Collaboration is what drives progress.
  • Grades are not always representative of lessons learned, for better or for worse, and it is important for each of us to find a metric by which to evaluate our growth.

Next great goal:

  • To become a good physician, heal people and constantly learn from both colleagues and patients.

Advice for future grads:

  • Recognize that accomplishments are not singularly our own; they are built on the work and knowledge of those who came before us, and facilitated by the sacrifices made by loved ones, teachers, and friends. By the same token, we are also a part of other people’s stories, and we must shoulder that responsibility accordingly.


Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards

Theatre Performance

After completing a degree in pure math, Stone-Richards realized she missed acting and decided to come to Concordia to study theatre performance. Fluently bilingual in English and French, she is looking forward to acting on stage and on screen in both languages while living in Montréal.

With experience in realism and a penchant for absurdism, post-dramatic theatre and clown, Sophie-Thérèse aspires to write and produce her own work (in both languages). During her studies, she traveled to Germany for a theatre exchange through Concordia International.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Sleep enough.
  • Be honest about how much time you need to put into mastering something, then make sure you give yourself that time.
  • Find professors who inspire or support you and take their classes.

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • My degree is what I make of it, so Concordia has really taught me to nurture self-motivation.
  • Changing my mind and starting over is not only okay, but more common than you think: So many students switch majors (seriously). If you're struggling or don't like what you're doing, don’t settle!

Next great goal:

  • I will be performing at the Montreal Fringe Festival in June. Beyond that my next great goal is acting professionally in French both on stage and on screen.

Advice for future grads:

  • Talk to past grads or upper-year students. Find out what you don't know and are missing out on in terms of university resources. Validate what is useful and ask for what is missing. There are so many student associations offering cool workshops and project grants. Get as much out of your time as a student as you can.


Iyad Alghamdi

Industrial Engineering

Alghamdi was a member of more than five student associations. He received the TKE Top Scholar Award and was on the ENCS dean's list for academic excellence.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Invest the right amount of time in academics, but also on other activities to keep you busy and motivated. Studying is key, but working out, socializing and going out also keep your mind clear and active.
  • Always understand why. Having a good understanding of why a class is relevant is key to wanting to learn more, and key to appreciating the topic.
  • Teamwork is primary for a good education. This not only makes tasks easier to accomplish, but also encourages learning and healthy competition between peers.

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • Getting to know new cultures makes you grow. We are lucky at Concordia to have a multicultural environment where it's easy to make friends from all over. Capitalize on the opportunity and get to know different areas of the world.
  • Being different is AWESOME! Don't hide in the shadow and agree with everyone. Express your opinion and discuss different subjects. At Concordia you're encouraged to express who you are. If you do, you might discover something new about yourself.

Next great goal:

  • Pursue a graduate degree in industrial engineering and start my own business. I hope to have an impactful and fulfilling career where I can be a leader and mentor others on their journeys.

Advice for future grads:

  • I encourage new students to get out of their comfort zones, Join an association that aligns with your passion. There are endless clubs, ranging from research-based associations focused on data analytics (Data Intelligence Society of Concordia) to fun, sporty societies (Concordia Dodgeball League). You only go through this experience once — take advantage of this time to meet people and have new experiences.


Mark Underwood

School of Community and Public Affairs
Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability

Underwood applied his passion for sustainability to his position as coordinator of Sustainable Concordia. He helped develop Concordia’s Sustainability Policy as well as the Sustainability Action Plan. He was also heavily involved in food security initiatives and worked with the Dean of Students on the Spark! Campaign, which looks at student engagement outside the classroom.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Patience: it won’t all happen at once. Be kind to yourself.
  • Perseverance: try, fail, learn and try again!
  • Active learning: take your studies outside the classroom and experiment with what you’re learning!

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • We’re all in this together.
  • It’s all about relationships.

Next great goal:

  • Take one of these vacations everyone keeps talking about…

Advice for future grads:

  • Your greatest asset will always be empathy. As much as you can, get involved in your community and discover other disciplines.


Shannon Campbell

Liberal Arts College

Campbell has always been drawn towards reading and the role of language. She is especially interested in the Classical period, with a focus on Latin language and poetry.

As IT coordinator and assistant to the outreach coordinator for the Concordia chapter of the African Caribbean Student Network (ACSioN). Campbell participated in organizing events and planning the association’s budget. She also took care of promotional material and communications with members and the executive board.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Experienced and knowledgeable professors who care
  • Exposure to things outside your particular field or area of interest
  • Curiosity and the drive to always be learning

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • No matter what your background is, if you put in the effort and take the time to try, there can be no end to your progress and personal growth.
  • Higher education does not have to be a dull and austere, it can be vibrant and stimulating.

Next great goal:

  • Spend the next year working on personal research while I study for the GREs in order to apply to PhD Classics programs, preferably at Columbia or Brown to do work on Latin and Sanskrit.

Advice for future grads:

  • Always try to find a balance in all that you do, and never stop laughing.


Rudy Grow


Grow served as the president of the Commerce and Administration Students' Association (CASA) of JMSB. He also worked as a research assistant and sat on Concordia's Senate.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Ask questions. Keep digging and clarifying until you fully understand.
  • Get involved. Meet people outside of the classroom and make a difference in student life.
  • Stay hydrated. Hydration is crucial before (and after) exams.

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • Your network is your net worth. Get to know as many people as you can, whether they be classmates, professors, or people outside the school. You never know who will be in the interview room with you in the future.
  • Challenge yourself. Embrace the opportunity to try new things and never be afraid to say yes.

Next great goal:

  • To be 39, retired from corporate work and teaching high-school math in Hawaii.

Advice for future grads:

  • Never stop learning. We often take for granted the most obvious things around us — so never stay satisfied with what you think you know.


Nadia Naffi

Governor General’s Academic
Gold Medal

Nadia Naffi was a Concordia Public Scholar for 2017-18, and winner of the 2017 SSHRC Storytellers national competition. She won the President’s Media Outreach Award and was Graduate Research Communicator of the Year (2016-2017) having given over 30+ media interviews and appearances in the news.

Through her research, Naffi has identified a rigorous theoretical framework to study host societies affected by the influx of Syrian refugees. She has also developed a methodology to engage in conversations with youth from host societies about controversial issues related to the social inclusion of refugees, and identified a five-step model called “Get Ready to Act Against Social Media Propaganda” which can be used in youth education. Naffi is an assistant professor in the Department of Education.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Inspiring supervisor
  • Interdisciplinary experience
  • Global and diverse network

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • An inclusive and supportive environment such as Concordia’s makes the whole difference.
  • To succeed, you need to be bold, daring and proud of all your milestones.

Next great goal:

  • To identify paths to human interventions and mobilize ethical artificial intelligence to counter intolerance and hate speech.

Advice for future grads:

  • Your voice matters — make it heard!


Alessia Di Paolo

Governor General’s
Academic Silver Medal
Mathematics and Statistics
Member of the Institute for Co-operative Education

As a member of Co-op, Di Paolo attended numerous networking events, which helped her learn about the actuarial industry and build a strong network. She also completed four internships in her field.

During her senior year, Di Paolo mentored first-year students and shared her internship experiences in formal and informal settings. In 2016, she was selected to represent Concordia at an international student summit held by the Society of Actuaries in Chicago.

Three keys to a good education:

  • Curiosity — you can never ask yourself too many questions. Demonstrating curiosity is the key to expanding your knowledge.
  • Commitment — Get the most out of your education. It should become a priority in your life.
  • Perseverance — don’t give up when you face challenging situations. With hard work and perseverance, you can truly overcome any obstacle.

Two lessons learned at Concordia University:

  • Treat obstacles as opportunities to learn, they are part of your personal journey and often teach you valuable life lessons.
  • Personal development begins at the end of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to undertake projects that may appear difficult at first, stepping beyond your comfort zone can lead to incredible growth. 

Next great goal:

  • Become a fellow of the Society of Actuaries, the highest professional designation that actuaries can achieve.

Advice for future grads:

  • Never stop believing in yourself and in the qualities that make you unique. Let your passion, creativity, individuality and determination shine through and you can achieve any goal you set for yourself!

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