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Top of their class

Meet the Spring 2024 Governor General medal winners

May 30, 2024 — 

Graduating from any program is an incredible accomplishment; today, we’re highlighting six students who did so at the top of their class. They have been awarded Governor General’s Academic Medals for outstanding achievement at their level of study. Let’s meet them before they cross the stage during Spring Convocation.

Joel Gardner

Governor General’s Gold Medal (Ph.D)     
(for outstanding performance at the graduate level)

Doctor of Philosophy: Agricultural Food Sciences 

While studying native bees in Itasca State Park for his master’s degree, Joel Gardner saw an opportunity to improve research on these important insects. Gardner crossed the Canada-U.S. boarder to study under Dr. Jason Gibbs in a niche field – bee taxonomy.

“Because pollinators are so important, a lot of research gets done on bees, but the researchers involved in that work are typically more ecologically-focused,” says Gardner.  “They don’t know how to tell a Lasioglossum deludens from a L. microlepoides, yet telling the difference is critical or else their results will be wrong.  What they usually do then is ship their bees to taxonomists and hope they have time to identify them …  I hope I can keep describing and naming those species and writing keys to aid identification, so we can get rid of this “taxonomic bottleneck” hindering bee and pollinator research!”

While at UM Gardner worked in molecular labs for the first time, picking up new skills and learning cutting-edge techniques in just two years.

Gardner also collaborated with a researcher from Germany which lead to the discovery of seven new species of bees from the Yucatán peninsula. Gardner’s efforts were also cited in several ecology-focused papers, including one highly-cited on the importance of rare bees to pollination.

Outside of UM, Gardner led bumble bee surveys at FortWhyte Alive, helping the public catch wild bees, and identify the species. The results of these surveys were the first detection of Bombus impatiens in Manitoba, and the finding of low but stable numbers of the threatened Bombus occidentalis in the park.

Reflecting on university years, Gardner offers some important advice: “It’s easy to get burned out if you’re only working for what you think will get you a good career in the future.  The key is to take enjoyment and pride from the work itself.”


Lily Pankratz

Governor General’s Gold Medal (Master’s)            
(for outstanding performance at the graduate level)

Master of Arts: Arts 

After receiving her undergraduate degree at UM, Lily Pankratz was inspired to pursue graduate studies as a way to continue research in the community. Clinical psychology, she says, “felt like the perfect fit to bridge research and clinical work to improve mental health services.”

During her time, she was involved in several research projects including one that examined the impacts of COVID-19 in the ICU. The research team interviewed healthcare providers, families, and patients during early phases of the pandemic, shining a light on the difficult experiences so many Canadians faced revealing important implications for hospital policies.

Beyond her studies, Pankratz volunteered for Justice for Women, a university led anti-sexual violence community organization. She was also the clinical psychology student representative, and the graduate student representative for department council, executive council in psychology.

She plans to continue graduate studies with a PhD focusing on an intervention for individuals experiencing chronic pain, with a long-term goal of developing, piloting, and eventually providing this service to Manitobans.

Her advice for those entering post-secondary: “Join the club, email the professor, attend the workshop. It can be so daunting to come to university, especially if you do not know anyone, but when you start building connections, you will slowly meet new people, receive mentorship and support to help you along your academic journey.”


Jasmin Lee Tang

Governor General’s Silver Medal
(for the undergraduate student who achieves the highest academic standing in a Bachelor degree program)

Bachelor of Science – Major

Jasmin Lee Tang has had a lifelong fascination with the origins and maintenance of all forms of life. Some of her fondest memories as a kid are of trips to the zoo and botanical gardens; her favourite childhood book was a Canadian Medical Association guide on children’s illnesses. So, it seemed only natural for her to pursue a degree in biological sciences.

Tang continues to be drawn to both the human and earthly sciences, explaining: “My ambition is to contribute to improving humanity’s ability to look after itself and/or our fellow species. Whether this means becoming directly involved in Canada’s healthcare system or conducting studies to inform policies on the world’s current climate crisis, I remain optimistic and determined to help bring about positive change.”

While at UM, she received an Undergraduate Student Research Award to work in Dr. Jeffrey Marcus’ lab using molecular genetics and genomics techniques for studying the evolution of butterfly colour patterns. She was also employed as a public health program assistant with the Manitoba government.

Tang encourages current undergraduate students to enjoy the present moment. “It’s much more rewarding to take things at your own pace and embrace the journey of self-discovery. Undergraduate students are often granted an exceptional amount of freedom to explore potential career paths before fully entering the workforce! Completing your degree requirements doesn’t need to feel like a sprint to the finish line.”


Logan Hiebert

Governor General’s Silver Medal 
(for the undergraduate student who achieves the highest academic standing in a Bachelor degree program)

Bachelor of Arts 

An aspiring law school student, Logan Hiebert chose to make her undergraduate degree one that would not only benefit her end goal, but one she would thoroughly enjoy.

“My love and passion for English literature and the study and analysis of it is unparalleled, so the choice was clear,” she explains, adding that her time in UM’s English department was “life-changing”. She credits the professors there, particularly Dr. David Watt and Dr. Michelle Faubert, for her growth as both writer and student, learning how to love learning and express herself in her own voice.

Alongside her studies, she volunteered coaching soccer at her former high school and participated in a variety of intramural sports and rec league volleyball and soccer.

She offers these words of wisdom to current undergraduate students: “Approach school with an open mind that is open to criticism and accepting of less than perfect grades, but maintain a commitment to using every resource available that will help you achieve your goals. Enjoy yourself! Having fun will not impede your ability to succeed!”


Callum Fortin

Governor General’s Bronze Medal
(for the undergraduate student who achieves the highest academic standing in the Diploma in Agriculture program)

Diploma in Agriculture

Hailing from a family farm in Souris, Manitoba, Callum Fortin always knew he wanted to pursue agriculture. The skills he acquired at UM will help him and his brothers continue the family business for generations to come.

Initially nervous to leave the farm during the busy season, he quickly realized he was surrounded by likeminded students and experts who would provide excellent support throughout the journey.

Through the diploma in agriculture program, Fortin made many connections in Manitoba’s farming community and is motivated to become more involved upon graduation including joining commodity boards, doing research on farm trials and educating through programs such as Ag in the Classroom.


Stacey Urban

Governor General’s Bronze Medal
(for highest standing in a diploma program of at least two years other than diploma Agriculture)

Diploma Dental Hygiene

A self-described lifelong learner with a curious attitude, Stacey Urban chose a career in dental hygiene as a way to create a positive impact and help people – something she experienced first-hand as a student.

One of her most meaningful assignments saw her and a classmate travel to Churchill, Manitoba for their community health course. There, they provided oral health information to community members, presented in the classrooms, and performed dental screenings for children in the local school. The experience instilled in her a passion for community-based dental hygiene care.

In the future, she aims to use her collaboration skills to advocate for people with limited access to oral health care, prioritizing person-centered care and practicing cultural humility.

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