July 26, 2023

Violet King’s legacy lives on through recipients of inaugural award

Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Student’s Union award 6 exceptional UCalgary students with 2023 Violet King Engaged Scholar Award
Top, from left: Yvette Ysabel Yao, Victory Abraham, Senait Yohannes. Bottom, from left: Pelumi Adeosun, Misgana Abraha, Tolu Adewole.

Violet King’s legacy lives on through six UCalgary students who have been awarded the Violet King Engaged Scholar Award jointly presented by the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the Student’s Union. The award’s name honours the remarkable life and work of trailblazing Calgarian, and the first Black woman lawyer in Canada, Violet King Henry. She served as a student leader at Crescent Heights School in the Hillhurst-Sunnyside community and at the University of Alberta, on the executive of the Arts and Science Club, the Blue Stocking Society, and as vice-president of the Students' Union.”

The scholarship recognizes the unique barriers, challenges, victories, and lived experiences of Black, racialized and Indigenous students at the University of Calgary.

“The Violet King Engaged Scholar Award was created to recognize the contributions and financial needs of Black, racialized and Indigenous student leaders,” says Dr. Malinda Smith, vice-provost and associate vice-president research (equity, diversity and inclusion) and a co-creator of the award.

“Like its namesake, this award celebrates students as engaged scholars who draw on their knowledge, research, and lived experiences both to achieve academic excellence and engage in action to ameliorate wicked social, environmental, and ethical problems. It also recognizes that opportunity structures and access to higher education for talented students can be impeded by financial constraints.”

“This scholarship was made possible through the Quality Money program, a program that has tremendously helped enhance the students' experience on campus by funding initiatives that truly matter to students such as mental health, open educational resources and much more,” says Semhar Abraha, former VP academic for the Student’s Union and co-founder of the award.

“This award has served as a powerful platform for underrepresented students to receive the recognition that they deserve. I believe this award will unlock new doors of opportunity for each deserving recipient, paving the way for their future success.”

The selection committee was pleased to receive more than 100 high-quality and inspired applicants, which resulted in the decision to increase the number of awardees from four to six. For Interim Provost Penny Werthner, the number of applications indicates the strong community focus that members of our campus community possess.

“The number of quality and strong applications we received is a true testament to the dedicated and talented students we have at the University of Calgary,” says Werthner. “Not only are these exceptional students academically, they are committed to working with their community and influencing meaningful change through passion and dedication, making them changemakers and trailblazers in their own right.”

The award is open to Blackracialized and Indigenous students from any UCalgary faculty, entering into their second, third or fourth year of study. Each winner is awarded $5,000 toward their studies. Winners will be formally celebrated at the EDI Awards in March 2024.

2023/2024 Violet King Engaged Scholar Award winners

Misgana Abraha.

Misgana Abraha

Misgana Abraha

Misgana Abraha is a fourth-year Bachelor of Chemistry and Biology student in the Faculty of Science, and will be entering the Werklund School of Education following the completion of her degree. Abraha is a first-generation post-secondary student whose journey from war-torn Sudan to Canada exemplifies resilience and determination. Her unwavering passion for promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion has been the driving force behind her academic and professional career. As a volunteer mentor with the Eritrean Canadian Community Association, Abraha mentored Eritrean high school students who were newcomers to Canada.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, she provided valuable translation services in English, Arabic, and Tigrinya to non-English-speaking Eritrean women seeking support from the Calgary Immigration Women’s Association.  Abraha recently received the prestigious PURE award and is currently halfway through a 16-week summer work studentship.

She is also currently working under the neurologist Dr. Morris Scantlebury, MD, in the field of paediatric epilepsy at the Heritage Medical Research Building. The research involves examining the underlying mechanisms of infantile spasms, and she aspires to contribute to the growing body of knowledge and bring about tangible improvements in the lives of those living with infantile spasms.

Her commitment to promoting equity and inclusion has also led her to pursue academic research alongside Canada Research Chair Jennifer Adams, PhD, where she is working to reduce barriers for Black students pursuing careers in STEM-related fields. Abraha aspires to become a teacher following graduation from UCalgary.

Pelumi Adeosun.

Pelumi Adeosun

Pelumi Adeosun

Pelumi Adeosun is a law and society co-op student at UCalgary, with a passion for advocacy and inclusion for Black immigrants and women that has been enhanced through internships, research, and service projects throughout her undergraduate career. Alongside her strong academic record exists an active involvement in student leadership.

At UCalgary, Adeosun actively cultivates an environment of belonging on campus through her extracurricular community engagement. She acted as the vice-president of the Nigerian Students’ Association this past academic year and has undertaken numerous peer mentorship roles as a student in the Scholars Academy Program.

Her campus and community involvement has earned her several prestigious awards, including the Government of Alberta’s Lois Hole Humanities & Social Sciences Scholarship in 2021, and the Laurence Decore Award for Student Leadership for two consecutive years.

This summer, she will be working with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP as an avenue undergraduate legal Intern in their Calgary office. Looking toward the future, after graduating from law school she intends to use her legal expertise to continue supporting underserved communities.

Senait Yohannes.

Senait Yohannes

Senait Yohannes

Senait Berhane Yohannes is a born and raised Calgarian of Eritrean descent. She possesses an undergraduate degree in criminal justice from Mount Royal University and is entering her final year in the UCalgary Law School. Prior to embarking on her post-secondary studies, she spent many years working in remote oil and gas locations in northern Alberta and British Columbia.  

As an executive member of the UCalgary Black Law Students Association, first as vice-president of administration and as the current co-president, she continues to lead a growing community of Black law students, bringing networking opportunities, mentorship, grants, and events to its members.  

Yohannes works for Calgary Transit and is also working a summer term at Stikeman Elliot LLP where she has officially accepted an articling offer. She is a recipient of the Alberta Provincial Judges Association Chief Judge Gail Vickery Award and is this year’s recipient of The Foundation Scholarship and the Frances Hartogh Diversity Outreach Scholarship from the Foundation for Natural Resources and Energy Law. Yohannes will be completing her fall semester of law school in Oslo, Norway.

Tolu Adewole.

Tolu Adewole

Tolu Adewole

Tolu Adewole possesses a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is a fourth-year nursing student who has a passion for social justice and working with underrepresented populations. Having lived in both Canada and Nigeria, Adewole has become inspired to dismantle and influence change in health-care systems that sustain and promote health inequities.

As a nursing student, she has actively engaged in research activities related to nursing and the health-care field. Adewole is currently participating in a research project that helps nurses to practise their skills in verbally de-escalating agitated patients. She is also working on a project to develop a guide and best practices in aiding nurses to find and feel veins in patients with different skin tones and colours.

Adewole’s goal is to positively impact the lives of others and contribute to equitable health care through research, innovation, and advocacy. She is eager to lend her talent and knowledge in the future, working globally to change health outcomes and inequities through resourcing allocation, health programming and policy, and working with governments to build comprehensive primary health-care settings in areas lacking resources and infrastructure.

Victory Abraham.

Victory Abraham

Victory Abraham

Victory Abraham is an Ethiopian and Eritrean fourth-year law and society student at the University of Calgary. She is also pursuing a mental well-being and resilience certificate. Abraham plans to become a lawyer, further exploring her passion for criminal justice, social justice and advocacy, and race-based data. 

Abraham maintains secure relationships in all her community involvements to see Calgary's communities succeed. She aims to elevate university students through her role as the co-president of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Students Association. Abraham demonstrates leadership in her work and volunteering which includes tutoring, program planning and facilitating, and mentoring Black youth and children in Calgary. Her exceptional experience, motivation, and tenacity stem from her immigration story and being the first in her family to pursue law. 

Abraham is honoured and inspired to receive this scholarship, as Violet King is an exceptional and motivating figure. With this award, she will continue her community and academic engagement.

Yvette Ysabel Yao.

Yvette Ysabel Yao

Yvette Ysabel Yao

Yvette Ysabel Yao is a medical student at the Cumming School of Medicine. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of California-Berkeley, where she received bachelor's degrees in molecular and cell biology (honours) and public health (honours). Growing up in the Philippines, Yao witnessed the harsh realities of living in a medically underserved community. These experiences motivated her to be the first in her family to pursue a career in medicine with a focus on addressing the health-care gaps prevalent in underserved communities.

Having experienced the challenges of adjusting to new cultures and health-care systems, she has taken on diverse roles to contribute to the fields of global and newcomer health. At Berkeley, Yao volunteered as a Tagalog health interpreter and spearheaded the introduction of preventive health curriculums to vulnerable populations in the Philippines through the Hygiene Heroes group.

As a medical student, she co-founded the Calgary Asian Medical Students Association to advocate for newcomer health and serves as a national officer of research exchange for the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. She is also the Federation of Medical Women of Canada representative for her class and is a neurology system editor for the Calgary Guide.

For more on the Violet King Engaged Scholars Awards, please visit the website.

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