Brock grad comes full circle to mentor aspiring science stars

The student has become the master, or mentor, as it were.

When Rachel Kvas (BSc ’14) first participated in the Scientifically Yours Mentors’ Dinner years ago, she was just a high school student ready to learn and eager to make connections.

On Thursday, May 10, she returned to the Brock event with experience under her belt and advice at her fingertips to share with a new crop of young minds.

Scientifically Yours, which annually draws nearly 70 Grade 10 and 11 students to campus, helped motivate Kvas to pursue a science education.

In hopes of providing that same inspiration to others, the research and development specialist for Arterra Wines Canada joined a group of experts last week to provide the gathering of high school students with insight into various careers and scientific fields.

“From environmental sciences and chemistry to health sciences, physics and kinesiology, you have an opportunity to learn from the experiences of our mentors and perhaps even get excited about a career path you had not yet considered,” Ejaz Ahmed, Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Science, said during his welcoming remarks to the dinner’s attendees.

That wisdom and first-hand knowledge is, as Kvas remembers, invaluable when it comes to weighing options for the future.

“It feels amazing to be able to attend Scientifically Yours as a mentor,” she said. “It is validation to myself that I am achieving my career goals. I am also very thankful to Brock for giving me the opportunity to attend.”

Like many of the participants, the Niagara Falls native initially learned of the two-day, hands-on experience from a high school science teacher, who encouraged her to explore the event’s many projects and activities.

“I really like that I was exposed to multiple disciplines of science. I distinctly remember the liquid nitrogen ice cream activity,” Kvas said, referring to one of 16 projects available for students.

The experience, in addition to her mother’s involvement as a manager in the food and beverage industry, helped guide the Oenology and Viticulture grad in the direction of science in university.

Kvas ultimately found herself drawn to wine sensory courses. With the encouragement of her mentor, Professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology and Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) researcher Gary Pickering, she did her Honours thesis in sensory science, published in Chemosensory Perception in 2016.

Her hard work has paid off, with Kvas recently recognized as one of the Ontario Hostelry Institute’s Top 30 hospitality and foodservice professionals under the age of 30.

While she wasn’t exposed to CCOVI’s programming when she attended Scientifically Yours as a student, Kvas was pleased to see sensory sessions included for the first time this year.

Tasting and Testing, a brand-new experience, invited students to join researchers from Brock University’s CCOVI to perform blind juice and pop taste tests in Brock’s sensory evaluation lab using specialized software.

Kvas is hopeful her recent time at Brock helped to inspire young attendees, women in particular, to enter the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field.

“Don’t be afraid to try new things and push yourself out of your comfort zone,” she said. “Be confident in your abilities and work hard. Keep learning and take opportunities to grow and develop in your education and your career. The world needs more female winemakers and CEOs.”

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