Danika Serafin and Katie Timms will be the 2020 valedictorians at the University of Northern British Columbia.
They will each give a brief speech during the virtual convocation celebration on June 26. Their presentations are intended to signify a moment of celebration and respect to all those who have made the journey through classes, papers, projects and exams to the culmination of that hard work, their degree.
Serafin is graduating with her Bachelor of Science – Nursing degree. Serafin grew up in Fort St. John and Vernon but has now called Prince George home for more than four years.
She applied to UNBC’s School of Nursing after working for four years as a Red Seal Metal Fabricator welding and fabricating sawmill equipment in Salmon Arm. Serafin found herself getting more excited to perform first aid in the shop than fabricate sawmill equipment and thought if she was accepted into the program, she was meant to change paths.
Serafin felt a strong community connection to Prince George as soon as she stepped foot in the city. That community connection remains today.
“UNBC may have been the initial reason I moved to Prince George but the community has easily convinced me to stay,” she says. “Prince George is inspiring… it is the definition of people helping people.
“No one will go without if they call upon the community for help. I have never felt so comfortable in a city before. Even when I first moved here I felt supported and welcomed by all community members.”
Serafin describes her time at UNBC as a passionate fan of the women’s and men’s Timberwolves basketball teams, cheering way too loud at their home games in the Charles Jago Northern Sport Centre with face paint on along with late nights studying in the library and enjoying the views on her drive to campus every day.
“I will remember the late nights spent at the UNBC library with my fellow students cramming for midterms and final exams,” she says. “I will remember the nursing lab and the passionate instructors who went above and beyond to help you succeed. I will remember driving to campus everyday looking for deer and moose! I will remember the UNBC student community and how we have always come together to support one another.”
Serafin’s passion for nursing was inspired by her mother, who is also a nurse. Thrilled that she was accepted into the demanding program, she dove right in, taking five classes per semester, challenging herself to set new personal and academic goals along the way. She enjoyed learning from her fellow classmates and the diversity in courses offered in the north.
Despite a heady academic schedule, she not only found a passion for nursing, she discovered a passion for helping others around her.
She sought opportunities and volunteered for every Healthier You Expo, Adventures in Healthcare and School District 57 Health Science Day.
“My passion for nursing brought out the natural leader in me,” she says. “After hours you could always find me volunteering in the skills lab, or hosting study groups to support my colleagues. It was rewarding to be part of others successes.”
That passion deep inside her led Serafin to spearhead the creation of the Spare a Pair Community Society. Since 2017, she has co-ordinated monthly walks downtown to distribute basic essentials to marginalized individuals on the streets of Prince George.
“It attracted other UNBC students to become involved, break down the stigma and interact with the most vulnerable,” she said.
Three years later, she has spoken at multiple UNBC leadership classes, Rotary club meetings and the British Columbia Nurses’ Union Northern Conference to spread the word about Spare a Pair and the power of people helping people.
During her degree, Serafin has had the privilege of working as a care aid for two boys with muscular dystrophy, working as a Registered Care Aid in multiple long-term care homes in Prince George and working under the Ministry of Children and Family Development as a high risk Residential Youth Care Worker. She later worked as an employed student nurse in Fort St. John within the Intensive Care Unit.
In her second year of the program, she received the Dean’s Leadership Award where her leadership style was described as empathetic, courageous and genuine. In 2019, she was awarded the UNBC Community Leadership Award for her street work with Spare a Pair and her efforts to build connections and break down barriers in the community.
“Working in the north highlighted to me the importance of leadership and teamwork, as not all resources are readily available,” she says.
Upon being named Valedictorian for the Class of 2020, Serafin says it means there is no “cookie cutter mold” that you need to succeed and that obtaining a Red Seal in a trade did not put her further behind, that it actually helped her grow and gain the skills she needed to succeed in the nursing program.
“Being selected as valedictorian really validates that the time I took over the past four years to support my fellow students inside and outside the classroom did not go unnoticed,” she says. “I am so honoured to have been selected to speak on behalf of my fellow students. I hope that I can articulate the dedication, resilience and tenacity that our 2020 graduates displayed this year.”
Serafin is staying in Prince George due to that strong community connection. She plans on working at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. on the internal medicine unit as a Registered Nurse. She eventually wants to obtain additional training to advance to the Intensive Care Unit.
“UNBC has prepared me for the work force outside of the four walls of the institution,” she says. “UNBC provided me with the learning experiences and opportunities I needed to struggle, strive, and grow and to ultimately work on the floor as an RN.”
Serafin will give a short speech during the virtual College of Arts, Social and Health Sciences Ceremony at 9:30 a.m. on June 26.
Timms is graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (honours) and Biology.
She grew up in Prince George and attended UNBC to stay close to her family and community after high school. She was also drawn by the small size of the university, the smaller classes and the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate student.
Timms says her double major allowed her to undertake research in breast cancer and herbicides with Dr. Sean Maurice (a UNBC senior lab instructor and UBC Northern Medical Program assistant director of histology affiliate senior instructor) and Dr. Lisa Wood (assistant professor biology, ecosystem science and management, forest ecology and management). That variety is something she enjoyed the most.
“They have taught me so much about what it means to be a researcher and scientist, and I’m so grateful for it,” she says.
Timms believes her research experience and academic leadership have been the most important aspect of her time at UNBC. She has made contributions to the field of molecular biology research with her work with Dr. Maurice on a breast cancer project. She has published a review paper and presented her findings at UNBC Research Week and the graduate conference the past two years.
In biology, she worked alongside Dr. Wood and her research on the herbicide glyphosate. Timms’ findings on the threats of glyphosate to berry-producing plants were presented to UNBC faculty, students and the public and are in the process of being published
She’ll remember the relationships she formed with staff, faculty and her peers the most about her time at UNBC.
“My mentors, particularly Dr. Maurice, helped me grow so much and gave me invaluable skills and confidence,” she says. “I will remember the friendships I made with my peers and all the emotional support and wonderful memories they’ve given me.”
In 2018-19, Timms embarked on a role in research leadership as one of the first UNBC Research Ambassadors. She helped organize presentations and discussions for high school and undergraduate students about the value of research and how to get involved. She enjoyed teaching and helping other students improve their writing the last two years, serving as writing tutor at the Academic Success Centre, and a Biology 123 and 124 teaching assistant in 2019-20.
Her leadership extended outside the academic arena too.
Timms held a leadership position in the UNBC community as a board member of the Prince George Public Interest Research Group (PGPIRG) where she helped organize events such as the activist poetry night and film screenings.
She was the main organizer for an event focused on raising awareness around sweatshops and workers’ rights. She volunteered with compost collection for several years and helped out at the PGPIRG garden.
During one summer, she worked with the David Douglas Botanical Garden Society to organize a series of gardening and growing in the north workshops for PGPIRG, both on campus and around Prince George. She also volunteered as a judge at the Central Interior Science Exhibition for the past two years.
Timms is “honoured and ecstatic” to be selected as valedictorian for the College of Science and Management (CSAM) graduating class.
“I’m happy that my experience at UNBC has been well-rounded enough that I can represent the CSAM graduating class and I hope to remind everyone of all their hard work and what they have accomplished,” she said.
Timms plans to begin a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies this fall at UNBC and then advance to either a PhD or a degree in scientific illustration.
“My degree has allowed me to move on to graduate school, and has given me the confidence and skills I need to hopefully be successful,” she says.
Timms will give a short speech during the virtual CSAM Ceremony at 2:30 p.m. on June 26.