GG medal winner driven by passion

Vincenzo Coia.

Vincenzo Coia.

Vincenzo Coia is passionate about studying nature.

That’s not surprising for someone who grew up in Niagara Falls loving forests, animals, fishing, and watching television shows, such as The Nature of Things with David Suzuki.

Coia received the Governor General’s Gold Medal at spring convocation for achieving the highest academic standing at the graduate level - a 96 per cent in completing his master’s in mathematics and statistics. Coia also holds undergraduate degrees in biology and earth sciences from Brock.

As a graduate researcher, Coia received an Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship. He is now working on his PhD in statistics at the University of British Columbia.

“For a career, I want to dive headfirst into solving issues related to our current environmental crisis and make a positive impact on a global scale,” says Coia. “It will heavily involve making sense of data, for which a strong knowledge of statistics together with my background in biology and earth science will be tremendously useful.”

His master’s research at Brock, supervised by Prof. Mei-Ling Huang, focused on extreme value theory and its applications in learning about extreme environmental events, such as floods and hurricanes.

“I believe most of my academic success comes from keeping sight of the big picture of the world, and how my passion for nature and math fit within that picture,” he says.

“Dr. Mei-Ling Huang really encouraged me to see the big picture and to pursue my passion. This has given me the motivation and fondness for my studies, which is tremendously important.”

In addition to his academic studies at Brock, Coia was a member of the varsity fencing team.

“I was hesitant to start fencing because I didn’t think I had what it takes, but I fell in love with it after my first tournament shortly after joining,” he says. “It really offered me a sense of belonging in addition to academics. And it helped to alleviate stress and boost my creativity.”

Coia will choose his doctoral thesis topic in September and will make a decision between continuing with his master’s interest in extreme value theory and spatial statistics or going in a different direction.

“I’m considering a research topic that integrates robust statistics, instrumental variables, and penalization with applications in proteomics and gene expression,” he explains.

“It’s different from my master’s research, but I like it because it integrates my background in biology that I gained from Brock with statistics.”

Coia is enjoying his new West Coast environment - another great fit for his love of nature.

“The best part of moving to Canada’s West Coast is definitely being next to the ocean and the mountains,” he says. “I love snowshoeing, tubing, and skiing in the mountains in the winter, and hiking, camping, fly-fishing, and kayaking in the summer.

“Kayaking in glacial fjords surrounded by mountains is breathtaking, alpine skiing on world-class mountains is adrenaline-pumping, and nothing is more peaceful than fly-fishing a mountain stream like the Capilano.”

In terms of advice to new graduate students, Coia stresses the importance of following your passion.

“Relate your research to the big picture and your passions,” he says. “It will give you the much-needed motivation to keep going. You may not know what your passions are, in which case, now’s the time to do some self-exploration to discover these passions. Chances are, you’ve been naturally leaning towards them your entire life.”

Posted on July 2, 2013

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