Neither Harroop Ahuja nor Amy Cruickshank had a straight-forward academic journey, but both paths led to the Applied Health Sciences graduates being honoured with the Board of Trustees Spirit of Brock medal.
The pair were recognized during Brock’s Virtual Spring Convocation on Friday, June 18 for their leadership, courage, innovation, inspiration and community involvement.
Ahuja began his time at Brock in Medical Sciences, but after becoming involved in Med Plus and the Brock Leaders Citizenship Society, he began to realize that Public Health is where his interests lie.
“I was originally inspired to go into Medical Sciences because one of my sisters is a doctor, my brother-in-law is a medical administrator and my father worked in the surgical equipment industry,” Ahuja says. “I know many health professionals can be frustrated with systemic limitations that prevent them from providing the best care to their patients and I wanted to help change that.”
Through opportunities in experiential education and learning key reflection skills through the Med Plus program, Ahuja began to see for himself that he is most passionate about helping communities.
“My two goals when I started at Brock were becoming a better individual and learning to become a better leader,” he says. “My inspiration comes from the fact that I always want to develop and continually learn how to propel forward. This has helped me to identify and understand where I want to go and how to contribute to the community.”
Looking back, Ahuja is happy he began transitioning to the Public Health program in his second year.
“Making the switch afforded me the ability to further understand the impact of system-level policy and led me to learn how quality improvement and quality assurance in health care can be an effective tool for change,” he says.
During his time at Brock, Ahuja served on numerous committees including on the President’s Advisory Committee on Human Rights, Equity and Decolonization, as an Undergraduate Student Representative for Brock Senate and on the Brock University Students’ Union Board of Directors, among others. He was also a Peer Health Educator for Brock’s Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre, volunteered with Niagara Region Public Health to help design the Niagara-on-the-Lake COVID-19 immunization clinics and served in volunteer leadership roles with Pathstone Mental Health.
Putting his classroom skills into practice, Ahuja gained research experience as an I-Equip Health Care Quality Improvement Project Facilitator and worked to improve access to health services for the 2SLGBTQ+ community at Brock.
Of his undergraduate experience, Ahuja says, “Brock is a place where success is not defined as an individual achievement, rather, a community one.
“Success is not when one person wins, it is rather when you win, you also celebrate other people winning with you. In this culture of collaboration, I have been inspired and encouraged and it is my hope that I too, indirectly, helped other students to pursue their interests.”
Ahuja is also the recipient of the Distinguished Graduating Student Award — Public Health and is one of 10 recipients of the 2021 President’s Surgite Award, which recognizes leadership, community involvement and academic achievement. He plans to continue pursuing his master’s degree in Public Policy, Administration and Law at another Ontario university.
Cruickshank (BKin ’19), a newly conferred Master of Professional Kinesiology (MPK) graduate, transferred to Brock in her second year of undergraduate studies when she realized continuing the arts program she was enrolled in at another Ontario university would mean missing out on taking sciences courses she enjoyed.
“I’ve always had a strong interest in how the human body works and its resilience,” says Cruickshank, an Oakville resident. “Brock wasn’t far from home; the Kinesiology program has a great reputation and I really liked the idea of a tight-knit campus community.”
Being introduced to experiential education on her arrival helped to set things in motion.
“A student volunteer opportunity at Brock I was heavily involved in was the SeniorFit program at the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being,” says Cruickshank. “This experience was one of the highlights of my time at Brock. I enjoyed building working relationships with members and supporting individuals’ unique health and fitness goals. Working one-on-one with members developed my confidence in a community fitness setting and affirmed how much I enjoy working with older adults.”
On completing her undergraduate degree, Cruickshank knew she wanted to continue her love for learning, research and gaining practical skills in real-world environments.
“The one-year MPK program really stood out to me because it offered three different practicum development opportunities in Kinesiology working with diverse populations across the lifespan,” she says. “I thought this would help me to narrow down where I wanted to work, and it did.”
She fulfilled her placements at LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic in Oakville, Wellness Suites Condominiums in Niagara Falls and at the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being in St. Catharines.
On completion of her MPK degree requirements, Cruickshank then went on to write her exam with the College of Kinesiologists of Ontario and is now a Registered Kinesiologist employed at LIVE WELL.
“It’s really great how things have worked out. Living close to my family is a priority for me and now I’m working in the city I live in, which is also where I did my first MPK placement,” she says.
Being back in her home community also enables Cruickshank to continue volunteering through her church.
“Faith is important to me, and my family instilled in me the value of helping others,” she says. “For example, we’ve participated alongside several outreach organizations in the Toronto area on initiatives that aid homeless and marginalized populations.”
Among her contributions, Cruickshank says one of the most fulfilling volunteer opportunities she’s had was in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, when her church hosted a prom experience for neurodiverse youth and adults.
“I was paired as a buddy to one young woman for the evening to ensure she had a positive and supportive experience,” says Cruickshank. “This was such a special night as members of the community were able to feel celebrated and valued in a safe environment.”
Cruickshank’s kinesiology designation has allowed her to access opportunities working and volunteering with those who struggle with chronic conditions and helping them to gain or regain mobility.
“While some health issues are out of an individual’s control, I am passionate about helping my clients focus on what can be done to better their health,” Cruickshank says. “Completing Brock’s anatomy and physiology courses have reaffirmed how amazing and resilient the human body can be. With access to proper treatment, nutrition and exercise, mobility and functional independence can often be positively influenced.”
She says she looks back on her four years at Brock with “such great memories and experiences.”
“I have learned that I love helping direct people to different resources and helping to navigate through exercises and activities that will allow individuals to improve or restore their health.”
Cruickshank is also a recipient of the 2021 President’s Surgite Award, was a peer mentor for graduate students and has been a research assistant for Kinesiology Professor Craig Tokuno, with funding through Brock’s Match of Minds program.
She plans to attend the University of Toronto in September for a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (OT) where she is “excited to learn the holistic approach to health that OT uses to promote meaningful change.”