Student organizers hold the banner of the African Diaspora Youth ConferenceThe African Diaspora Youth Conference runs May 11 to 13 at the University of Windsor. Student organizers include (from left) Joshua Sorhaindo, Lynn Micka Mwongerinka, Onanye Oluwabunmi, Folakemi Folami, Oliwale Olatunbosum, Sarah Nwachi, and Theresa Imegi. Missing: Michael Ipaye.

Youth of African diaspora to gather in person once again

The African Diaspora Youth Conference (ADYC) returns as an in-person gathering at the University of Windsor on May 11, 12, and 13, after three years of online conferences during the pandemic. This year’s conference — the 19th in the annual series — will bring more than 200 children of the African Diaspora to campus.

“High school students from Toronto, Windsor-Essex, and for the first time, Guelph will attend to reflect, connect, plan, network, and set personal goals for their future and to develop a constructive and productive education and career plan of action,” says conference chair Andrew Allen, an associate professor of education.

Detroit Public Schools are taking a year off from sending students.

The conference is unique in that it is organized by a team of university students hired through Ignite by the dean’s office in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. The team members are Joshua Sorhaindo, Lynn Micka Mwongerinka, Onanye Oluwabunmi, Folakemi Folami, Oliwale Olatunbosum, Sarah Nwachi, Theresa Imegi, and Michael Ipaye. These students are supervised by Yvonne Zimmerman, FAHSS special events co-ordinator and guided by Dr. Allen.

The students have been working on the conference plans since the fall. They selected and invited keynote speakers Amina Abdulle and Stefan Adjetey, both from the Windsor public school board.

Abdulle is a teacher consultant for equity for the Greater Essex County District School Board. She is a poet who is passionate about art and expression. Abdulle was born in Somalia and draws on her immigration experience as a youth for unique insight as an educator.

Adjetey, vice-principal of Kennedy Collegiate, previously worked at the board office to develop teaching planning in alternative education and re-engagement strategies. He is skilled in ways to engage youth as an educator, even for those with non-traditional education paths.

The university student organizers invited the workshop facilitators, updated the conference website, created gift bags for attendees, and will work during the conference along with additional volunteers from the moment the first busload of students arrives on campus Thursday afternoon through to seeing them off on Saturday morning.

This year’s workshop facilitators include Michael Akpata, Katia Benoit, Wren Dosant, Adam Harris, Kenny Gbadebo, Richard Douglass Chin, Petra Owusu, Joshua A. Strode, Kaye Johnson, Leslie McCurdy, Jeremiah Bowers, Louisa Barnes, Neil McEachrane, Mehari Hagos, Gemma Grey Hall, Cameron Anderson, and Venus Olla.

Owusu, now a PhD candidate in school and applied child psychology at Western University, began her involvement with ADYC in 2014 as an undergraduate student of psychology at the University of Windsor. She served as a fundraiser, conference co-ordinator, and leadership mentor. Since 2019, she has been a workshop facilitator.

“One of the biggest takeaways for high school students who attend ADYC is representation — seeing people who look like you not only running the conference but attending the university,” says Owusu. “It’s motivating. It resonates. These students see that they could come to university too. ‘Okay, there are people like me here. I can excel, no matter my background, I also belong here.’ Representation can make a substantial difference and it matters.”

Owusu’s studies and research have focused on Black youth’s mental health, and her workshops discuss different aspects of mental health, well-being, and self-care.

“It takes my breath away, the lack of knowledge, awareness, and understanding youth may hold about mental health. The stigma is still quite prevalent, especially among racialized youth. Also, there is a huge disparity on help-seeking behaviours among this population. On the feedback they always mention how helpful, timely and needed this workshop is,” she says. “I always strive to share effective strategies, and evidence-based resources, so they can expand their coping repertoire.”

Her workshop this year, entitled “Spiritual and Mental Wellness: Nurturing the mind, body, and spirit,” is co-facilitated with Strode.

“This conference is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experience for these secondary students. It can really change the trajectory of their life,” says Owusu. “Everyone involved looks forward to ADYC every year: the student organizers, teachers, mentors, facilitators, the students themselves. This conference forms lasting connections. I truly love and value how collaborative, inspiring, and life-shifting it can be. An incredible opportunity, indeed.”

Find more information on the ADYC website.

—Susan McKee

computer-rendered image of a peptideThis computer-rendered graphic shows a peptide bound to a protein. Image courtesy the Trant Team, University of Windsor.

Computational tool to simplify process of drug discovery

Drug discovery research can get complicated quickly and John Trant, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, wants to simplify the process.

When designing a potential new drug, researchers cannot look at all the possible combinations of molecules ― there are more possible “small molecule” drugs than there are atoms in the universe. But that isn’t the case for small parts of proteins called peptides.

Dr. Trant and his team have created an open-access computational tool that simplifies the process of investigating potential peptide drugs and recently published it in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Analysis. They previously posted an earlier version of the paper to the open-access repository ChemRxiv.

“This easy-to-use computational tool we’ve released will help people around the world who are trying to do peptide drug discovery,” says Dr. Trant.

“Peptide-based therapeutics are increasingly pushing to the forefront of biomedicine with their promise of high specificity and low toxicity.”

In the revolution of drug discovery for the last 45 to 50 years, Trant says, small molecules are great. But the way they work, the molecule needs to sit in a groove to bind, a handle to grab onto: “we call those druggable pockets,” Trant says.

Not all target proteins, like some virus particles, have a groove to bind to. These “undruggable” proteins have a lot of flat surfaces they use to interact with other proteins. Normal small molecules are not great at binding to them, but peptides that imitate proteins have a good chance. These peptides are short chains of the same amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins.

“The big movement is to use peptide-based drugs because peptides are amino acids and proteins are amino acids,” Trant says.

He and his team, post-doctoral researchers Muhammad Usman Mirza and Sarfraz Ahmad, designed the computer simulation research tool, which looks at all combinations up to a maximum chain of five amino acids. Trant says there are a lot of drugs made up of five amino acids, or that have a key core of only four or five amino acids.

“We’re really excited that if you know where you want your peptide-based drug to bind, we can now look at every possibility out there because there are only 20 natural amino acids. It is a manageable number,” he says.

“For the first time ever, we’ve prepared a library of all 3.2 million linear peptide combinations, and we have made it open source so that anyone, anywhere, can use this tool to accelerate their own research.”

As a case study, the developed library was screened against the SARS-CoV-2 main protease to identify potential small peptide inhibitors. This is a key protein that allows COVID-19 to infect humans.

“We used our tool to screen every possible peptide against the main protease of SARS-CoV-2,” says Trant.

After screening the 3.2 million combinations, the team came up with molecules that are the same sequences as those found previously by experimental researchers.

“Our computer model works. It matches. It binds the right molecules,” Trant says.

“We think this is a way to accelerate drug discovery because it took us an afternoon to look at all these peptides against SARS-CoV-2, whereas it took a lot longer for others to do this experimentally.”

Some peptide drug candidates the team found and predicted to be far better drugs than those identified by others have been sent to a research lab in Belgium where they will be tested against SARS-CoV-2.

“In addition to being a more manageable when looking at possible combinations, we’re interested in peptides because this is new chemistry, which can lead to new drugs,” says Trant.

“We are now building out this tool in a few different ways to allow it to help discover far more complicated peptide-based drugs, and we are really excited with what it is allowing us to do.”

The open-access research tool is available on the Canadian research data repository Borealis.

—Sara Elliott

Nurse Sara Williams administers a vaccine injection to Lacey George -- both women wear masksRegistered nurse and UWindsor alumna Sara Williams vaccinates Lacey George, a member of the Indigenous community.

Nursing alumna fulfilling dream to be of service to the Indigenous community

Registered nurse Sara Williams, a UWindsor alumna (BScN 2019, MN 2021), has answered a spiritual call to her profession and her community.

She is an Anishinaabe Kwe from Aamjiwnaang First Nation, located on the St. Clair River in the city limits of Sarnia, and belongs to the Sucker Fish Clan.

Studies in sports and recreation administration at Lambton College led her to a practicum placement in Saskatchewan, a province steeped in Indigenous culture.

While Williams was working at White Buffalo Youth Lodge for the Boys and Girls Club of Saskatoon, a nurse practitioner encouraged her to consider a career in nursing, since there was a need for Indigenous nurses.

“During my time in Saskatoon, I was able to see how rich the Indigenous culture was and how southern Ontario communities had been greatly impacted by colonization,” says Williams. “After moving back home to Sarnia to begin my BScN studies at Lambton College, I wanted to see our communities reclaim our culture and healthy ways of being, like I had witnessed out west.”

A chance encounter with Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre while running summer day camps for kids in her home community of Aamjiwnaang First Nation set Williams on a path to fulfil her self-mandate: working with the Indigenous population.

Upon her graduation, Williams leaned into traditional healing, obtained her colours and spirit name “tibjii ahnkwut” or Rolling Clouds, and began attending ceremonies and other cultural events.

“But really, I feel my calling kicked into high gear during the pandemic,” says Williams. “SOAHAC asked me to take on vaccination efforts. We were the first off-reserve vaccination site in the country to service the Indigenous population.”

She says the centre was overwhelmed with the community’s gratitude.

“We were shown appreciation with traditional gifts of dreamcatchers, beadwork, and sincere letters — a clear indication that they felt more comfortable with Indigenous nurses because we understood their culture and their traumas.”

Now Indigenous Curriculum and Pedagogy Advisor in the UWindsor Faculty of Nursing, Williams views Indigenous health care as a mindful approach and an on-going process. Her long-term goal is to complete her PhD with teaching and research in mind, and to create a culture-first nursing theory for Indigenous Canadians.

—Gam Macasaet

model of brain split to show various lobesThe Department of Psychology will host the annual Ontario Psychology Undergraduate Thesis Conference online Friday, May 12.

Conference to present research by psychology undergrads

More than 150 psychology students from across Ontario will present their undergraduate thesis research at an online conference hosted by the University of Windsor on Friday, May 12.

The annual Ontario Psychology Undergraduate Thesis Conference rotates among the province’s psychology departments, notes UWindsor professor Kathryn Lafreniere, one of its organizers.

Students will present in one of two formats:

  • live oral presentations in 12 sessions available only to registrants
  • posters in the form of animated GIFs displayed on the website for all

Dr. Lafreniere calls the graphics posters an interesting exercise in knowledge translation.

“It’s an engaging way to distill and present research findings,” she says. “In developing them, the students have to reduce their message and consider what is truly valuable.”

Registration for the conference is free and closes today: May 9. Find a full program and registration details on its dedicated website.

Science Rendezvous logoScience Rendezvous is set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 13, in the Dennis Fairall Fieldhouse.

Festival presents learning opportunities for visitors and organizers

Science Rendezvous promises something for everyone, says student chair Tim Igbokwe, a senior majoring in biology.

“You’re going to learn something new, guaranteed,” Igbokwe says. “You’ll be glad you gave your child an opportunity to get excited about science.”

The nation-wide festival is dedicated to getting research and innovation out of the lab and into the street. It offers hands-on activities in science, technology, engineering, art, and math. The Windsor iteration runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 13, in the Dennis Fairall Fieldhouse.

Igbokwe notes that attendees will find robotics front and centre, with demonstrations by three teams from the FIRST Robotics competition, and adds “cool interactive displays” will represent fields of physics, biology, engineering, and nursing.

He hopes the activities spark curiosity in participants.

“The greatest indicator of success is the individual connections we make with the public: if you can have people go home excited,” he says.

The event has already proved educational for Igbokwe and other organizers.

“I’ve learned a lot about the logistics of putting together such a large event,” he says. “How to be flexible, how to work together as a team to find solutions.”

Find more details, including a full event schedule, on the Science Rendezvous website.

The Toldo Lancer Centre will also play host that day to the Alumni and Student Pow Wow, and Igbokwe encourages visitors to check it out as well.

Members of Lancer Gaming in team uniforms under banner reading "Champions" :  Liam Keenan, Saif Kaoud, Luka Velimirovic, Hunter Thomas, and Harjot Bhamra.Lancer Gaming claimed the National Esports Collegiate Conference (NECC) Challengers Ontario Division Championship. From left to right: Liam Keenan, Saif Kaoud, Luka Velimirovic, Hunter Thomas, and Harjot Bhamra.

Lancer Gaming squad earns division championship in Rocket League

The Lancer Gaming Rocket League team swept the Conestoga College Condors to claim the National Esports Collegiate Conference (NECC) Challengers Ontario Division Championship.

Coach Yusuf Naebkhil led his team to four straight victories in the best-of-seven series: 1-0, 2-1, 2-1, and 6-2.

Interested in competing for Lancer Gaming in the upcoming season? Visit its website.

Learn more about Lancer Gaming and stay connected on its social media pages.