Applied Disabilities Studies graduate and soon-to-be mom earns highest academic award among grad students

This is a milestone moment in Elizabeth Todd’s life.

Not only did she graduate Friday, June 18 with her Master of Applied Disability Studies and earn the Governor General’s Gold Medal Award for the highest academic average among Brock’s graduate students, she did so while also 38-weeks pregnant.

Todd was recognized during Brock’s Virtual Spring Convocation for her academic accomplishments, including an average of 96.4 per cent — the highest of any graduating master’s or PhD student.

“Receiving this award is a special acknowledgement of all the hard work I have done over the past three years,” she said.

While completing her degree on a part-time basis at Brock’s Hamilton campus, Todd also maintained a full-time job working with children with autism spectrum disorder.

The Hamilton native has always had an interest in working with children with disabilities, but originally chose an alternate educational path. She completed both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in History before deciding to undertake a post-graduate certificate in Autism and Behavioural Sciences. She then worked for several years before going back to school and working towards her Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) designation through the MADS specialized Applied Behaviour Analysis stream.

Todd said the practical relevance of the program allowed her to excel in her courses.

“Working while completing the program gave me a richer understanding of the subject matter,” she said. “Every day I was able to put the theory to practice, and that made the material easy to understand.”

Applied Disability Studies (ADS) Chair Rosemary Condillac said the Department is “extremely proud of Elizabeth’s accomplishment as the first ADS student to win this prestigious award. She has truly been an exceptional student.”

Todd received high praise from her final-year instructors.

“Elizabeth was an outstanding student through and through,” said Priscilla Burnham Riosa, Associate Professor in ADS. “She participated consistently by making meaningful contributions and asking thoughtful questions. It was a delight teaching her across my two courses.”

Nicole Luke, Assistant Professor in ADS, said Todd “stood out as a thoughtful student who was deliberate in her academic pursuits and clearly dedicated to excellence in everything she did.”

The Faculty of Social Sciences is “delighted to see Elizabeth Todd recognized with this top honour,” said Dean Ingrid Makus. “It is a testament to her enormous dedication and hard work in a stellar program, one that is changing the landscape of the disability sector in Ontario and actively improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.”

As Todd wraps up this chapter of her academic journey, she is open to wherever the road takes her next, but first, she is pausing to focus on her family life.

“I look forward to writing my exam and completing my certification to become a BCBA, but feel exceptionally grateful to be welcoming a child of my own into my life in a few weeks,” she said.

Todd and her husband had been trying to start a family for years with no success.  She began fertility treatments around the same time that she began the master’s program in 2018.

“It is a surreal feeling to be completing my master’s and becoming a mom at the same time,” she said. “Both journeys have had had highs and lows, so for them to end at a similar time comes with a lot of emotions.”

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