Celebrating women of excellence

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By: DalNews

Dalhousie had particular cause to be proud of some of its outstanding faculty this week.

On Wednesday, 19 women were honoured during the 25th Annual Progress Women of Excellence Awards held at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax. Among them were Dal’s very own Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, and Sherry Stewart, professor of Psychiatry, Psychology/Neuroscience and Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University and the founding director of the Centre for Addictions Research at Dal (CARD).

The two faculty members, celebrated in the awards’ “Education and Research” category, were joined by six other recipients who are Dal alumni.

The awards were presented by the Canadian Progress Club Halifax Cornwallis, a charitable women’s foundation that is dedicated to helping those in need in the HRM. The event also doubled as a fundraiser in support of Phoenix Youth, a non-profit community-based safe haven homeless youth.

“I feel very honoured to have been chosen to receive this among the other women who did,” says Dr. Stewart. “One of my colleagues in the Psychology department, Christine Chambers, won it in the past, and she’s a very outstanding researcher, so I knew that it wouldn’t be easy and that the competition would likely be difficult.”

Saluting excellence

Both Dr. Stewart and Dr. Whitman were recognized for their work in education and research and boast extensive experience and accomplishments.

A Nova Scotia native, Dr. Stewart completed her undergraduate degree at Dalhousie and went on to pursue graduate school at McGill University, where she focused her research on anxiety sensitivity and alcohol abuse in young people. She returned to Dal in 1993 for a faculty position and continued her research on substance use, abnormal behaviour, mental health and addictive disorders. Her grant-funded research has been instrumental in improving understanding, prevention and treatment in her fields of study. In addition to her recent award, Dr. Stewart has gained local, national and international recognition for her work and is regarded as one of the top two most productive clinical psychology professors in Canada.

For Dr. Whitman, her professional career began with the opportunity to work with Ambassador Stephen Lewis on the OAU Rwanda Genocide Report. Equipped with a PhD in International Law and Human Rights, Dr. Whitman went on to work with UNICEF on various projects including gender, peace building and children in armed conflict, was hired by the former President of Botswana to lead research for the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, and spent four years at the University of Botswana lecturing in political science. Shortly after returning to Canada in 2006, she became deputy director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dal and later the executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative which physically moved to the university in January of 2010.

Despite their numerous successes, both women remain humble and focused on what’s next. Dr. Whitman is working with Dallaire Digital Ambassadors to shape online dialogues around children in armed conflict and will be traveling to New York in December to launch an e-learning course that has been developed with the UN Institute for Training and Research. The initiative also recently visited the U.S. State Department to share its work on child soldiers.

“I think what pleases me the most is that I don’t see it as an award for ‘Shelly Whitman’; I see it as an award for my office and for our work,” says Dr. Whitman. “One of the challenges is that we’re known around the world, but in Halifax, people don’t even realize that there’s this world-class initiative housed right here.”

At the same time, Dr. Stewart is equally busy. Alongside a team of researchers, she recently launched Dal’s Caring Campus Initiative that aims to reduce alcohol and drug misuse among first-year university students. She also has three upcoming research projects to fill her time: one which has received pilot funding from Dalhousie and two which are under review for grants.

“When I talk about the success that I’ve had in research, one of the things that’s really good about Dal is the quality of students that we have,” Dr. Stewart says. “We can’t do good research without students who help us in the lab, help us have the exciting ideas and contribute their own past experiences to the kind of work that we’re doing. It’s really the great students that we have at Dalhousie, and we’re very lucky.”

Outstanding alumni

In addition to Dr. Stewart and Dr. Whitman, six alumni were honoured at the awards. (As noted, Dr. Stewart, BSc’87, is also an alum.) They are:

  • Christa Brothers (LLB’96), litigation partner with Stewart McKelvey
  • Ann Mellema (MBA’96), director, programs governance with Irving Shipbuilding
  • Mary Vingoe (BA’76), freelance director and playwright
  • Vicki Grant (BA’82), writer
  • Elana Liberman (LLM’04), owner/CEO of Cyclone Studios Inc.
  • Dr. Elaine Gordon Cragg (DDS’69), doctor of dental surgery and past recipient of the Dalhousie Alumni A. Gordon Archibald Award.

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