Three Students Named Vanier Scholars

May 11, 2009 - News Release

Three University of Guelph PhD students have received inaugural Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships, the most prestigious doctoral awards in Canada. Worth $50,000 a year for up to three years, the scholarships are awarded to the world's leading students from Canada and abroad.

Tal Avgar, Sherilee Harper and Tristan Pearce were among the 166 recipients announced recently by Gary Goodyear, minister of state (science and technology).

The highly competitive awards were created by the federal government in 2008 to attract and retain world-class doctoral students. Nominees are evaluated by multidisciplinary peer-review committees and selected by a group of world-renowned Canadian and international experts.

The scholarships are administered by Canada’s three federal research granting agencies — the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).Once at capacity, the program will support up to 500 new students annually.

"I am proud and honoured to have been chosen as one of the first scholarship recipients," said Avgar, an integrative biology PhD student who received an NSERC-supported award. He is working with Prof. John Fryxell and is studying movement patterns, habitat selection and range delineation in woodland caribou.

"My goals are to provide decision-makers with predictive tools for caribou conservation while promoting a mechanistic cognitive approach to the study of animal movement," said Avgar. "The Vanier award will go a long way in providing me with the time and resources I need to pursue these goals."

With her CIHR-funded award, Harper plans to investigate the potential impacts of climate change on surface drinking-water quality and infectious gastrointestinal illness in Inuit Nunaat. She'll be advised by population medicine professor Scott McEwen and adjunct professor Victoria Edge of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

"It's wonderful to know that CIHR recognizes the importance of this specific area of research, as well as this particular approach to health research," says Harper. "II am very excited about the opportunities this award presents. The department and its collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada provide a rich and vibrant learning environment, allowing me to continue developing the skills and abilities that will help me make meaningful contributions to the health field."

Pearce calls his SSHRC-supported award "an ultimate honour." Working with geography professor Barry Smit, he will be studying the transmission of environmental knowledge and land skills among Inuit in adaptation to climate change. As an associate researcher with U of G's Global Environmental Change Group, Pearce has been conducting research in Ulukhaktok, a small coastal Inuit community on the west coast of Victoria Island, analyzing the vulnerabilities of the people and their livelihoods to climate change.

"Being named an inaugural Vanier Scholar gives me the opportunity to pursue my doctorate research in the Canadian Arctic to its full potential and an opportunity to help advance adaptation planning for climate change in the Arctic and Canada."

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982/

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