It was on a trip to Ecuador to help provide dental care to local children that Josephina Campanella knew she had chosen the right career path.
During her first year at Brock, she travelled with the University on the SEA Med Plus team to five different cities in the South American country, all which left a lasting impression.
“I wasn’t sure I could work around the language barrier and the nerves children feel at the dentist,” she recalled. “When I saw how happy they were after their first treatments, I knew it was great choice where I could make a difference in people’s lives.”
Fast forward a few years and Campanella has earned a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and plans to become a dentist to continue helping her community.
As a testament to her leadership and community focus, Campanella was named the undergraduate recipient of the Board of Trustees Spirit of Brock medal for the Faculty of Mathematics and Science alongside graduate student recipient Michael Tolentino. The pair were honoured during Brock’s Virtual Spring Convocation on Friday, June 18.
“Our students constantly strive to better the world around them,” said Dean Ejaz Ahmed. “Josephina and Michael are excellent Brock students and never cease to inspire. I trust they will become strong leaders who garner accolades throughout their careers.”
In her third year, Campanella took an exchange opportunity in Australia and became a Brock ambassador, representing the University at exchange fairs and highlighting its student experience globally.
Her fourth year brought challenges she was not sure she could handle. Campanella was balancing schoolwork, her thesis and taking care of younger siblings between trips to the hospital to visit an injured family member.
“It was extremely hard, and mentally draining,” she said. “I could not have finished my thesis without the support and patience from my supervisors, Dr. Cheryl McCormick and Dr. Aleksandar Necakov, and master’s student Pardis Asgari.”
Even through her challenges, Campanella found success, as well as opportunities to help in the community. She joined a laboratory to help make COVID-19 test kits and was offered a permanent role as laboratory technician.
“There is no better feeling than to graduate,” she said. “I am proud to say I am the first university graduate of my family. I am even prouder to say that I went to Brock University and had an incredible experience that I will remember forever.”
Brock will also always have a special place in Tolentino’s heart.
The University has been his home away from home since 2014 when he began his undergraduate studies in Biomedical Sciences.
“Brock helped me developed the courage to inspire, mentor and contribute to the development of Brock’s academic reputation and student life,” said Tolentino, who graduated last week with his Master of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology. “It was this vision that inspired me to represent our University’s research at multiple international and national conferences and advocate the importance of mental health to more than 2,000 high school students in Niagara.”
Tolentino is a tireless contributor for those in need. Off campus, he is a youth ministry leader and volunteers as a crisis line worker. On campus, Tolentino is a teaching assistant and mentor to international and ESL students.
“My contribution to Brock is rooted in our community, where I have mentored students in the laboratory and from the International Centre to share my Brock experience, welcome them to Canada and help them in their transition as Badgers,” he said.
“I come from an international family and I’m the first person in my family to graduate from university in Canada,” said Tolentino, whose parents immigrated from the Philippines. “I feel great that I could make my family proud.”
Tolentino’s love for science goes way back. He was a member of the 2014 Science Mentorship Program at Brock before he enrolled in the Biological Sciences program.
“Along the way I found my love for research,” he said.
His passion began in a neurobiology laboratory under the supervision of Biological Sciences Professor Gaynor Spencer.
This early exposure to experimental neurobiology led to volunteer placements with people living with neurological conditions. He then did three consecutive summers working under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Undergraduate Student Research Awards program, and eventually completed his graduate studies funded by an NSERC scholarship.
“I wouldn’t have been able to have the experiences I had without continued support from my family, peers and the staff and faculty at Brock,” he said.
He expressed gratitude to several faculty members and staff, including Spencer, Biological Sciences Professor Robert Carlone and Associate Professor of Health Sciences Madelyn Law, as well as Pauline Dawson, Katrina Volpini, Peggy Karges, Pam Isaak and Donna Chistoff from Med Plus and Career Services.