Spirit of Brock medallist finds meaning giving back

During a time when many people paused their extracurricular activities and community involvement, Silvana Nguyen (BSc ’23) ramped hers up.

The Brock University Biomedical Sciences student was volunteering at an emergency hostel for people experiencing homelessness at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. She and others were told that services would be reduced and that the volunteer program had to be put on hold.

“I was sad and really worried about the homeless community and the support they needed,” said Nguyen, who was in her second year of study at the time.

Silvana Nguyen leans on the open trunk of her hatchback, which is packed with food donations.

Nguyen collected food donations and delivered them to the Salvation Army in St. Catharines on May 12, 2021.

She decided to take matters into her own hands, both figuratively and literally. She and a friend started a non-profit organization called Helping Hands for the Homeless. With support from fellow Brock students, she asked for donations from local businesses to create care packages, collected and distributed food donations, and educated volunteers on food insecurity and poverty.

Nguyen’s leadership with Helping Hands for the Homeless is just one reason she received the Faculty of Mathematics and Science’s undergraduate Board of Trustees Spirit of Brock medal on Friday, June 16 during the University’s 113th Convocation. The award recognizes graduating students who have demonstrated qualities of leadership, courage, innovation, inspiration and community involvement.

“It was such an amazing experience,” she said. “I’m very grateful I started this because every time I donate care packages or food, I get letters from shelters and homeless people thanking me. It warms my heart.”

In addition to her longtime interest in community service, Nguyen has a passion for dance and K-pop, which is popular music originating in South Korea. At the end of her third year, she created a new Brock student club focused on the genre, which she launched as founder and President in her fourth year.

She started small by focusing on her passion for dance and offering bi-weekly dance workshops. Later, she added classes to learn Korean languages and social events, such as movie nights. One of her largest events was a bubble tea fundraiser co-ordinated in collaboration with Brock Women in Medicine that raised $428 in support of Gillian’s Place, a local shelter for people experiencing abuse.

“When I started the Brock K-Pop Club, it was hard at first because I didn’t know how to lead or what to do,” she said. “Over time, I built my confidence and overcame my shyness. Seeing how hard my team and I have worked to grow from small to larger events makes me proud.”

Outside of these community engagement initiatives, Nguyen has maintained high academic standing in her courses throughout the five years of her studies — achieving more than an 80 per cent average each year and completing an honours thesis related to laboratory science and mental-health consulting. Complementing the Spirt of Brock medal bestowed upon her at Convocation were gold honour cords representing her first-class standing achievement and red honour cords for completing the Campus-Wide Co-Curriculum.

With her degree complete, Nguyen is studying for the Medical College Admission Test with hopes of applying to medical school.

She is proud and thankful for her Brock University experience and for the people who helped her achieve it.

“I want to thank everyone who has supported me and pushed me to lead these initiatives: my family, my friends, supervisors and the amazing communities of both Brock and Niagara,” said Nguyen. “Thanks to them, I would not have been able to make my university experience so meaningful.”

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