In the summer before her first year at U of T Scarborough, Olivia Rennie’s brother was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In many ways, it fueled her passion to help people.
“All of these things in life make you a stronger person, and it really gives you drive and that inspiration to try and make a difference in other people’s lives,” she says.
Rennie, who currently works as a research student at the Hospital for Sick Children – where her brother was also treated (and is now doing well) – graduated with majors in neuroscience and psychology. She is also this year’s recipient of the Governor General’s Silver Medal, which recognizes top undergraduate students across Canada.
Rennie credits Rutsuko Ito, associate professor in the Department of psychology, as an important contributor to her success. Ito offered her the opportunity to work in the Ito LiMBiC Lab as a research student and to study her thesis. It’s here that Rennie received the Psi Chi Undergraduate Research Grant for her research in approach-avoidance behaviour to better understand mental illness.
“It’s a whole other experience getting to do research in the lab versus learning in the classroom,” says Rennie. “Being in the lab really made me want to do research after this, but also combine that with clinical work.”
Rennie was also a teaching assistant in the Mathematics and Statistics Learning Centre for three years. Sohee Kang, her statistics professor, encouraged her in this aspect of her studies.
With all that Rennie has going on in her academic life, which also includes being an ambassador for the Centre for Teaching and Learning, she’s also been busy with extracurricular work.
Rennie is a volunteer with the Enabling Accessibility Fund Youth Pilot Initiative. Partnering with her hometown of Ajax, she and her team received a $10,000 grant to aid in making the community more accessible.
“It really gives me the energy to keep on going even when I don’t think I can,” says Rennie. “You really see how small things can make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Now that she’s graduated, she plans on taking the year to get experience and apply to medical school, where she hopes to specialize in genetics.
The silver medal marks a step in her journey, and she is grateful for all she’s experienced so far.
“It’s really just thankfulness for all of these opportunities that came forth for me and the opportunities that now lay ahead,” says Rennie. “This is never something I could have imagined I would achieve. I hope I can use the skills I have to make a difference in people lives.”