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Dr. Agnes Coutinho receives Community Service Award

Dr. Agnes Coutinho with Swoop and three students

From students to alumni and faculty, many people in the University of Guelph-Humber community have warm memories of attending their first Science Rendezvous.

In the time since the free all-ages science festival — which celebrates the wonders of studying science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) — began running at Guelph-Humber in 2017, Science Rendezvous has impacted and united the university community across all years and fields of study.

There are recent graduates like Alyssa Alcantara, who served as a student volunteer this past year and used the opportunity to develop her marketing, organizational, and communication skills. There are also current Kinesiology students like Angel Do, who said her work as an organizer, presenter, and national Science Rendezvous representative gave her invaluable leadership experience and confidence. And there are also faculty like Kinesiology Program Head Dr. Leslie Auger, who has vivid memories of bringing both her children and parents to enjoy Science Rendezvous over the years.

Stories like that are what Kinesiology Assistant Program Head Dr. Agnes Coutinho had in mind when she was originally inspired to organize the inaugural Science Rendezvous at Guelph-Humber.

Having first experienced the student-led Science festival as a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Coutinho thought that the community-focused event would be a perfect fit for Guelph-Humber.

“I saw it as a great opportunity to take the learning that happens in the classroom at the University of Guelph-Humber and share it with the broader community, while also giving our students opportunities to grow and develop professionally, personally, and academically,” Dr. Coutinho recalls.

Science Rendezvous has since become an annual tradition at Guelph-Humber.

For Dr. Coutinho’s contributions to the event — as well as her other efforts to enrich the lives of Guelph-Humber students and the broader community as well — Dr. Coutinho was recently recognized with the Community Service Award at Humber College’s 2022 President’s Breakfast.

Full STEAM Ahead

In the years since Guelph-Humber first hosted the event, it has gradually grown. Every year, large groups of student volunteers from all programs offer up their time to create live presentations, tackle event promotion, and guide visitors through the array of all-ages activities and exhibits, which have covered everything from DNA to brain function, criminology, fitness, neuroscience, nutrition, and anatomy.

As the event’s popularity has grown, relationships were formed with a variety of partner organizations eager to get involved, including Let’s Get Together, Toronto Public Library, Astronomy in Action, and the North Albion Collegiate Institute Robotics Team.

Along the way, Dr. Coutinho has been pleased to see that Science Rendezvous was not only helping to create those new connections with the broader community, but also helping students collaborate across different programs and years of study.

“Science Rendezvous blurs the boundaries between specialty areas and forces the students to come together for a common goal,” Dr. Coutinho said. “In that way, it mimics the real world. Because once you are out in the field, very rarely do you work alongside others who specialize in the same area that you do.”

Not only does Science Rendezvous provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration, but it is also a student-led event that empowers Guelph-Humber student volunteers to help handle the advertisement, promotion, and organization of the event, as well as the live presentations.

“Dr. Coutinho prioritizes instilling a level of trust in student leaders. As a volunteer, presenter, and national Science Rendezvous representative, this bit of trust has found a special way of building confidence in my abilities,” Kinesiology student Angel Do said.

“Just like Science Rendezvous has had a ripple effect for me, I am sure it has been that way for so many others as well.”

The community beyond campus

Science Rendezvous is just one example of how Dr. Coutinho has sought to create connections between Guelph-Humber and the broader community.

In 2018, Guelph-Humber opened its doors to host three days of volunteer training and Indigenous Cultural Safety Training for 300 volunteers at the Masters Indigenous Games, where students then volunteered to offer fitness assessments and health information. With Dr. Coutinho’s help, Guelph-Humber also recently welcomed representatives of the Indigenous Diabetes Health Circle to deliver guest lectures, and the university also collaborated with the National Indigenous Diabetes Association to present travel awards to athletes competing at the North American Indigenous Games.

“Agnes is an incredible leader. She has a passion for mentoring students, building them up and allowing them to see their true potential. She is extremely caring and an excellent teacher. She extends her teaching beyond the classroom to one-on-one interactions with students and especially with the various student groups at the university. Her enthusiasm is contagious and the students who engage in conversations or initiatives with her take so much away from every experience, Dr. Auger said.”

Dr. Coutinho’s desire to give back to the community extends beyond the events she helps organize at Guelph-Humber. For years now, she has also served on the executive boards of several non-profit organizations, including the National Indigenous Diabetes Association and the Indigenous Diabetes Health Circle, and in the past consulted as the Health Director for Urban Poling Inc.

She devotes her time to these causes simply because “it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

“I think it is my responsibility to ensure that I set an example for our students,” Dr. Coutinho said. “I’m incredibly lucky that this sense of responsibility also fits very well into my own personal goals and way of life.”

To that end, Dr. Coutinho hopes Guelph-Humber students similarly find initiatives and causes that they can contribute to and feel passionate about.

“Our whole university community strives to ensure that our students get a more holistic learning experience — it’s not just about the classroom,” Dr. Coutinho said.

“I would really encourage students to find something that is meaningful and contribute to it, because it will open doors for you, help you see things in a different way, and ultimately help you grow.”