Six women recognized as 2021 University of Waterloo Co-op Students of the Year

Monday, March 21, 2022

Collage of Waterloo's 2021 co-op student of the year award recipients with faculty colours in the background

By: Namish Modi (he/him)

From providing engaging social media coverage for non-profit organizations, to demonstrating initiative by developing an iOS app, to helping secure an important federal grant, Waterloo’s Co-op Students of the Year shined in 2021.

“To announce six outstanding women as our students of the year during the month when International Women’s Day falls is particularly special,” says associate provost of Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE), Norah McRae. “In another challenging year, these bright women stood out, whether it be virtually or in-person. As a result, they will excel in the future workforce and in representing Waterloo.”

The following six women performed exceptionally on their work terms, and CEE was proud to announce them as Co-op Students of the Year during a March 21 virtual ceremony.

Faculty  Winner Honourable mention
Arts Ingrid Kaffka Jillian Eden Franz
Engineering Sarah Odinotski Nimisha Saxena
Environment Emma Schuster Riley Jauniaux
Health Madison McBay Maisha Adil
Math Laura Bumbulis Anant Maheshwari
Science Camille Huo Jonathan Hsu

The ceremony also honoured Problem Lab winners:

Faculty Winner
Health Paige Hall
Health Emily Lam

“It goes without saying the quality of our co-op program is thanks to our fantastic students,” says Ross Johnston, executive director of Co-operative Education. “And the student voice is so important to us as we think about how to continue to improve our programming to provide meaningful work-integrated learning experiences that help students prepare for their future careers.”

Amid rising numbers of cases in a devastating second and third wave of COVID-19, a University of Waterloo Pharmacy student played a part in pandemic recovery.

Faculty of Science – Camille Huo (Pharmacy)

Camille Huo headshotAs COVID raged throughout Ontario, Camille Huo, a second-year Pharmacy student, helped coordinate the vital rollout of COVID vaccines during her Winter 2021 co-op term. During her work term at Toronto East Pharmasave at Michael Garron Hospital, Huo helped schedule the important vaccine rollout while simultaneously managing dose inventory. She also helped prepare syringes for the pharmacist.

“I feel like these couple of years have probably been the best years to be a pharmacy student,” Huo says. “It felt very fulfilling, even though I’m still just a student in Pharmacy, not a pharmacist quite yet. It was amazing to able to play a big role in the vaccine rollout during the pandemic. I felt like I was able to put my skills to use and really contribute to society, even while just on co-op.”

Following her work term, Huo continued to work part-time at Pharmasave. She got her injection certification at the end of May and later performed injections on patients throughout the year. This included COVID vaccines and flu shots.

For her outstanding performance, CEE recognizes Huo as the Co-op Student of the Year in the Faculty of Science.

Due to the nature of the role, Huo says it was a bit scary to be working in-person amid the second wave of COVID-19. However, she felt it was a nice change of pace as school classes were fully online.

In addition, Huo, the communications director for Waterloo’s Society of Pharmacy students, played a major part in working on a patient presentation and a handout on pain management in children following tonsillectomy surgeries. The handout was child-friendly and included pictures and a scale with faces to represent how much pain the child felt.

“Since children can’t really do the number scale, they can point to which face they feel like represents their level of pain,” Huo explains. “I do think it was well-received and a really good tool for the pharmacy that they can continue to use.”

Huo, who started her academic career pursuing Honours Science at Waterloo, was immensely proud of being named a Co-op Student of the Year.

"I feel so grateful, I know there’s a lot of co-op students in the Faculty of Science. To win Co-op Student of the Year makes me feel very recognized for all the tasks I was able to accomplish at Pharmasave. I’m also grateful to represent the School of Pharmacy."

Camille Huo | Pharmacy student

"I feel like sometimes we’re a little low key and forgotten, especially since we’re on a satellite campus. To be able to represent Pharmacy students that also go through the co-op process, it feels very rewarding.”   

Faculty of Arts – Ingrid Kaffka (English Rhetoric, Media and Professional Communication)

Ingrid Kaffka headshotAs Red Canari’s first-ever co-op student, Ingrid Kaffka made an impression on a startup cybersecurity organization.

For her outstanding co-op term as a marketing associate in Spring 2021, Kaffka is the Co-op Student of the Year winner in the Faculty of Arts.

While working remotely, Kaffka played the lead role in securing funding from the Government of Canada to support the company’s entry into the United Kingdom market. As part of the project, Kaffka performed high-level market research about the cybersecurity industry in the UK and created a 20-page proposal to help the company secure a $30,000 grant for the expansion.

Some of Kaffka’s other major responsibilities included managing Red Canari’s social media platforms. She showed initiative by using Canva to develop compelling social media graphics. The organization’s social media presence increased by 388 per cent in the first month of her term.

“I think one of the things that I did the most was just take initiative and really just became a leader in my role,” says Kaffka, adding that she enjoyed the level of autonomy given by her supervisor.

Kaffka developed case studies, brochures, website landing page copy and infographics for six different industries and ten different services. She was also responsible for conducting extensive research for the company to hire a third-party vendor to recreate the Red Canari’s website.

"My soft skills and a few hard skills that I’ve learned throughout my co-op experiences have helped me obtain each of those positions."

Ingrid Kaffka | English rhetoric, Media and professional communication student

Kaffka is currently working as a policy analyst at Environment and Climate Change Canada. She encourages Arts students to try distinct roles and various kinds of positions— even those they don’t have much experience in. 

Faculty of Engineering – Sarah Odinotski (Nanotechnology Engineering)

Sarah Odinotski headshotFor her innovative contribution to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Waterloo, Sarah Odinotski is the 2021 Co-op Student of the Year for the Faculty of Engineering.

During her Spring 2021 work term, Odinotski worked in-person with Dr. Mahla Poudineh to develop a hydrogel-based microneedle biosensor for pH measurement.

Odinotski was able to optimize the microneedle fabrication process and demonstrate that her sensor can measure the clinically relevant pH ranges.

"The goal of our research was to incorporate this conductive polymer inside because it would allow us to sense something going on inside your body in a minimally invasive manner. It does this without any sample pre or post processing, without expensive lab equipment or any long wait times," says Odinotski.

Odinotski says the most important skill she developed was "learning how to translate technical research into something communicative - into something that everyone can understand.” She also completed a literature review to find the best aptamer for cortisol measurement and develop a protocol for electrode functionalization. In addition to designing and performing experiments, Odinotski oversaw writing a manuscript to present the data and provide accessible flow to the reader.

"To win the Co-op Student of the Year award is a great honour, and it is a great encouragement. It means I’m doing something right."

Sarah Odinotski | Nanotechnology Engineering student

Faculty of Environment – Emma Schuster (Environment, Resources and Sustainability)

Emma Schuster headshotWhen she first began her university career at Waterloo, Emma Schuster was not interested in the co-op program. Just one year and one co-op term later, CEE is recognizing Schuster as a 2021 Co-op Student of the Year in the Faculty of Environment.

In her Winter 2021 work term, Schuster excelled as a social media coordinator working remotely for Habitat for Humanity Ontario Gateway North (OGN), an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity Canada.

“It was really fulfilling to work for a non-profit, and I didn’t realize how much it was going to affect me I until I started to do it,” Schuster says.

“I started to realize everybody around me was very interested in making life easier for other people and making the world better for their communities.”

Schuster’s performance on a small team of six made her invaluable to the non-profit organization. Thanks to Schuster, Habitat for Humanity OGN now has significant data and a full year of social media posts that help raise awareness for the organization. Schuster helped develop an effective “overhaul” of their social media presence.

In addition to her social media responsibilities, Schuster did extensive research to help develop a Territorial Acknowledgement for OGN to use on their website, in meetings and at public events. OGN’s coverage area, which extends throughout Northern Ontario, has a high population of Indigenous people and many of the homes they build lie on treaty land.

"For Habitat, part of its mission is to provide safe and affordable housing.
To feel like we were doing that in a way that was beneficial to every community we were serving; it was important to acknowledge the history of the land we were building on to continue our community-based work."

Emma Schuster | Environment, Resources and Sustainability student

Faculty of Health – Madison McBay (Health studies)

Madison McBay headshotFor a second straight year, Madison McBay is being honoured by CEE. At the 2020 awards, McBay was an honourable mention for Co-op Student of the Year for the Faculty of Health. For her Spring 2021 work term with TAMVOES, CEE is honouring McBay as the Co-op Student of the Year winner for the faculty.

“It’s a very rewarding process,” says McBay. “It is exciting to have your achievements recognized on that stage.  I think it shows and proves to other students that they should apply more than once.”

McBay has worked with the startup family health management organization, TAMVOES, during previous work terms and her academic terms. In Spring 2021, McBay became a senior president and co-founder of TAMVOES. Following graduation this year, she is joining the organization in a full-time capacity.

In Spring 2021, McBay managed the development of an iOS app for TAMVOES. The app, through increased accessibility and awareness of the platform, resulted in 200 per cent growth in global users. The iOS app follows the web application McBay worked on in 2019 as a co-op student. The app allows users to gain access to health information on the go.

Through the project, McBay developed a wide range of knowledge that helped her onboard new technical staff and shift the app development to be more in-house—which resulted in lower expenses.

"My involvement was really from a project management perspective. I was able to bring together the ideas and the modules, give explanations on the features and how they
should function."

Madison McBay | Health Studies student

McBay also participated in pitch competitions and meetings with funding organizations to help TAMVOES secure $275,000 in funding.

Faculty of Math – Laura Bumbulis (Combinatorics and Optimization)

Laura Bumbulis headshotLaura Bumbulis hadn’t completed much science-related work since taking Grade 11 biology.

That changed in 2021 as Bumbulis played a key role in improving efficiency at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) during her co-op work term.

For her performance during her co-op term in Spring 2021, Bumbulis is the Faculty of Math Co-op Student of the Year award winner.

As a bioinformatics analyst, Bumbulis worked with the Pancreatic Cancer Translational Research Initiative (PanCuRx).

The goal of the program is to investigate mechanisms of tumour growth and identify genetic and biologic markers that can guide precision medicine for a specifically aggressive type of cancer called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC).

"The people that I've had a chance to work with through my co-op terms, a lot of them are just really passionate about helping make the world a better place," says Bumbulis, “Even just reading the news over the last couple of years, it's made me realize that being able to help people is something that's going to be key for any job that I pursue in the future."

Bumbulis analyzed the usage of a tool the organization uses for sample tumour analysis. The tool was later removed from the pipeline, which helped save the organization critical time. She learned how to analyze cancer genome sequencing of tumor samples from patients with pancreatic cancer.

As part of her position, Bumbulis examined mutational signatures related to UV exposure, cigarette smoking and certain biological processes. Identifying these signatures helps to determine how cancer develops.

She also worked individually to revamp the algorithm that identified these mutational signatures and adapted it to new signatures that were recently discovered.

"That was a really gratifying project to be part of, because it was on the cutting edge of cancer research and had the potential to directly impact patients’ health outcomes."

Laura Bumbulis | Combinatorics and Optimization student

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