A family of graduates

Every path to a convocation procession is unique, even when it involves three siblings who are all graduating from the same discipline at the same time. Brian, Alan and Shari Ward all completed their bachelor of science (neuroscience) degrees this spring, and all three did it in their own way.

For Brian (24), his was a path that included leaving the University for a year of study at Lethbridge College, the realization and subsequent conquering of a condition of exam anxiety and a revelation that neuroscience was his true calling.

Ward family
Brian, Shari and Alan Ward all earned their bachelor of science (neuroscience) degrees at Spring 2011 Convocation.

Alan (23) took more of a direct route, knowing from the onset of his university career that neuroscience was his vocation. This did not preclude him from learning that the approach he took in high school would have to be replaced by much stricter study skills to succeed, leading to an extra year of study as he drove up his GPA with a medical school future in his sights.

Shari (21), the youngest of the graduating trio and the last of five Ward children, is a product of her older brothers' experiences as she only joined the neuroscience stream in her third year at the U of L. She came to the University thinking biochemistry was her inclination but after seeing the spark that neuroscience had given her brothers, she too made it her focus.

In fact, if one principle is consistent between the three, it is that once they showed an interest and aptitude for the discipline, the neuroscience professors embraced their willingness to learn.

"I took one semester with two neuroscience courses and I absolutely loved it," says Brian, about his return from Lethbridge College. "The prof I had, Dr. Deb Saucier, basically opened my eyes to the world of neuroscience. After that I almost tripled my GPA. It now comes to me and it comes to me easily."

He'd had the impression that the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience (CCBN) was strictly a research facility but soon found, after getting guidance from Saucier, that he could not only take classes in the CCBN but also, as an undergraduate student, participate in independent study research activities with the professors/researchers.

"I discovered I'm very much a science guy," says Brian. "I love how different parts of the brain and nervous systems work. I love how the central nervous system interacts with the peripheral nervous system and vice versa. I love how stimuli can affect different pathways and so on. It might sound weird but I want to spend $200 on a textbook just to read it because it floors me."

Alan had considered attending Dalhousie University in Halifax but decided to stay at the
U of L because its neuroscience department was more suited to his interest in the behavioural aspects of study. He also saw the independent study opportunities as a huge opportunity.

"That was a strong selling point for me," says Alan. "If you show a little initiative and put your best foot forward, you have a good chance of doing an independent study. That's something I knew about before I came, but then once I got into it, I definitely appreciate it so much more now."

Shari sees herself as a hybrid of her brothers' interests. She excels at the behavioural aspects that Alan loves, but is also intrigued by the pharmacological bent that Brian takes. Her initial misconceptions of neuroscience were quickly dispelled when she spoke with Saucier and found out all she could do within the CCBN.

"The profs here just love it when somebody shows an interest," says Shari. "After taking some classes and then getting the chance to learn techniques in an actual hands-on environment, it became so much more interesting to me. I could see what they were talking about and how it could be used and it really made it exciting."

They all agree that neuroscience isn't as daunting as it sounds, and the faculty cultivate that success.

"It's not what people make it out to be, and I've known students who won't take it because they think it'll be too hard. They're interested in it but they head off to do something else because they're intimidated by the sound of it," says Brian. "I firmly believe that the people in neuroscience, and at the CCBN, are the friendliest and most supportive profs I've ever had."

Evidence of that came on June 2, when the three Ward siblings marched in Spring 2011 Convocation.

"It is interesting, all of us graduating together; it is nice that we get to do it all at once. I think our parents were especially happy because they only had to come for one ceremony," laughs Alan. "But at the same time, none of us are really done."

He alludes to a future that sees him pursuing a medical degree and eventually becoming a surgeon; while Brian is intent on achieving a master's degree that may lead to a PhD and medical school; and Shari eyes a nursing after degree and maybe further study following that. It's safe to say, their passion for education has been ignited.


· In all there are five Ward children, including older brother David, who started at the U of L and is currently a Doctor of Medicine in his second year of residency at the University of Calgary. Cindy, the eldest, is a stay-at-home mom.

· Both their parents have bachelor of commerce degrees with a major in accounting from the University of Alberta. Mother Debbie is a stay-at-home mom with a graduate diploma in post-secondary education, while father Ross owns and operates Wards Rentals.

· Shari was initially nervous about working with the CCBN rats, saying, "I thought that I was going to hate rats and Brian told me, once you meet the rats you're going to love them. I tell everybody that now, if you could meet the rats, you'd love them because they are so cute."

· All three attended Lethbridge Collegiate Institute before enroling at the U of L, and give credit to the teachers at Lakeview Elementary for igniting their passion for the sciences.

This story first appeared in the Legend. For a look at the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.