Paying it forward

Inspired by the professors who helped him when he was a PhD student in Germany, Dr. Hans-Joachim (HJ) Wieden decided from the moment he arrived at the University of Lethbridge, he would pay it forward by similarly helping students. Not only does he give personally to the Supporting Our Students (SOS) campaign, but he also developed a co-curricular symposium that is now supported by the campaign.

In 2007, Wieden initiated the Chinook Symposium in Chemistry and Biochemistry after realizing that students in his department had very limited opportunities to share their work with their peers.

What started as an annual poster competition now has three external judges and an $1,800 prize pool, with $300 for first-place posters and $150 for second place in four different categories. Participating in the Chinook Symposium has become a real career booster for the students.

While he facilitated the competition, Wieden credits his department colleagues for their enthusiasm and financial support.

"We raised $15,000 inside the department, so we now have money to run the contest for the next ten years," says Wieden.

The Symposium also provides a great opportunity for scientists and students to interact with each other, helping to build a vibrant research and training community. Now supporters of the SOS campaign can direct their money towards the initiative as well.

By now, you've probably heard of the SOS campaign, where faculty and staff can direct their own money to support student scholarships and bursaries. SOS has raised more than $1.5 million since its inception in 2005.

For Wieden, the opportunity to involve undergraduate students in research projects provided a major attraction to Lethbridge.

"One of the reasons I came to this university was because of the huge involvement of undergraduates in research," says Wieden.

If Wieden's name seems familiar, it's because you may have heard it often. In 2010 he won a Distinguished Teaching Award and one of three Students' Union Teaching Excellence Awards. He also leads the University's busy International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) undergraduate research team, which regularly places alongside schools like Yale, Harvard and MIT in the world's premiere synthetic biology competition.

Every year, Wieden employs several students in his research lab, and says that scholarships like those supported by SOS are key to helping students acquire that often-transformative early lab experience.

"We need more scholarships so we have students getting to choose to go into research labs in the summer instead of flipping burgers," he says.

This story first appeared in the March 2013 issue of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.