SCHOOL TIES: In Their Own Words

In September, 1978, 35 girls made school history. They walked through the doors at St. Michaels University School, forming the first co-ed class. We believe co-education is vital to the formation of the whole student and we’re proud to celebrate a few of the amazing women who have passed through our doors. From philanthropy to sports, science, education and the arts, SMUS women are having a profound impact on the world.

Alicia Pawluk ’10
Med Student and Emerging Leader

SMUS-Alicia PawlukAt 22 years old, Alicia has accomplished a lot. A graduate of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, with a degree in medicine (honours), she is now pursuing Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degrees at the University of Manchester, England. She has been a representative to the United Nations, has published articles in several scientific journals and is a student representative to the British Medical Association and a contributor to the World Health Organization.

“My time at SMUS taught me many things, both academically and personally,” she says. “The rigorous scholastic preparation has put me in good stead to undertake a medical degree at such a young age and the language courses have been the cornerstone of my success as a representative to the United Nations. SMUS will always be very special to me, as my siblings (Erynn ’13 and Nicholas ’08) and I were fortunate to receive scholarships for our studies. Our family has benefited immensely from the support SMUS has offered.”

Jelena Mrdjenovich ’00
Six-Time World Boxing Champion

SMUS-Jelena-MrdjenovicAfter a disastrous injury in her first year at the University of Alberta, Jelena decided to approach the challenge with an open mind and it led her to boxing, a life-changing sport. “I tried out for the Junior basketball team in Grade 10 and much to my heartache, I was cut. I was distraught! Ian Hyde-Lay heard about it and offered me a spot on the Senior team. What initially started out to be the worst event of my high school memories turned out to be one of the best experiences I could have had.

It cultivated life-long memories and friendships, and taught me some incredible life lessons: mainly that when one door closes, a window of opportunity opens. Fast forward to my first year of university playing basketball at the U of A. At the very first practice I tore my anterior cruciate ligament. This moment could have derailed my whole year, but instead I decided to approach it with an open mind and, while cross-training and doing rehab, I stumbled into a boxing gym. It totally changed my life!”

Sharon Janzen ’93
Nurse, Activist, Humanitarian, Feminist, Teacher

SMUS-Sharon-JanzenAfter graduating in 1993, Sharon completed a Bachelor of Science in nursing at UVic. She immediately went to Guatemala with a surgical team, beginning her career of humanitarian nursing.

“I did my first mission with Doctors Without Borders in Somalia. Following that, I worked in a refugee camp in Sudan, a tsunami relief camp in Sri Lanka, and as a sexual violence specialist in Liberia. I also travelled to the Delta of Nigeria twice to assist in expanding a sexual violence program.

“I am presently the national coordinator for the Peer Support Network (PSN), which aims to provide peer contact for those returning from field work. In addition to this, I work at the BC Centre for Disease Control in the clinical prevention services area for STI and HIV care, I am a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) for BC Women’s Hospital, and I have recently guest lectured for the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Langara College.”

Liz Fenje ’09
Canadian National Rowing Team

SMUS-Liz FenjeAfter winning a full athletic scholarship to Stanford University, where she won four National Championships, was a three-time All American and captained the team in 2013-14, Liz then took her talents to the international stage. As a member of the Oxford Blue Boat, her team won the 2014 Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race. She now has her sights set on an even bigger goal.

“Shortly after graduating from Oxford in June of this year I moved back to Canada where I’m now training full time with the Canadian national rowing team,” she says. “This is my tenth year rowing and for the past several years I’ve had national team aspirations; I am now training with the goal of making the 2016 Olympic Games. Something I learned while at SMUS, and in particular after being accepted to Stanford, was the importance of taking risks. One of my favourite quotes is ‘the only difference between a wish and a goal is a plan.’”

Elizabeth McLeish ’86
Rhodes Scholar, Teacher

SMUS-ElizabethMcLeishSince graduating from SMUS, Elizabeth has won honours for scholarship and sport. She has fond memories of SMUS and recounts the path that led her to Oxford and back to Victoria. “Where SMUS is concerned, for me, it was the people who made the school great,” she says.

“Fellow students were diverse in backgrounds and interests, and committed to the school. We were privileged, also, to have been taught and coached by individuals genuinely interested in us and our success. Their belief that we could achieve whatever we set our minds to played a significant role in the realisation, for me, of goals I didn’t think possible when I first arrived at SMUS.

“Their support was instrumental in my being awarded a scholarship to UVic where I initially completed a BA (with Honours). Inspired in no small part by my Mom’s superlative teaching career I completed my Professional Certification in Math and English after earning my first degree. The start of my formal teaching career would have to wait, however, as I was fortunate to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, which saw me heading to Oxford University where my planned two-year stint turned into a seven-year odyssey. Academic rigour, athletics, music, faith and leadership roles defined the experience. After serving as the captain of Oxford’s squash and badminton teams, being awarded Blues on ten occasions, and earning a MA, MSc and DPhil it was time to return to Victoria. I have been at UVic since 2001 where I teach Mathematics.

“I have had some privileged experiences and all I know for certain is that I have achieved nothing in isolation. I owe my greatest debt of gratitude to my maternal Grandmother, my parents, and my siblings, Jane (’84), Stephen (’87) and Mary (’89).”

Krystal Cullen (O’Byrne) ’99
Physician, Two-Time National Basketball Champion

SMUS-KrystalCullenKrystal is an amazing example of a well-rounded individual. She feels her time at SMUS taught her to focus not only on academics, but also on community involvement, athletics, music and personal growth.

“After graduating from SMUS I earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from UVic,” she says. “I was a member of the UVic women’s basketball team that won two National Championships and was captain for my two final years. I then attended UBC Medical School and completed my post-graduate residency training in pediatrics at BC Children’s Hospital.

“Upon graduation I moved back to Victoria where I have been practicing as a pediatrician since. I am very happy to have returned to Victoria and to be re-connecting with the community here.”

Britt Martin ’08
Financial Analyst, Founder of Saints Volleyball Outreach

SMUS-Britt MartinHailing from Prince Rupert, BC, Britt felt she was limited in her scope of opportunity before she came to SMUS. Once involved in school life she discovered a whole new world that led her overseas, first to Europe, then to Africa.

“I attended the University of St. Andrews, graduating with an MA (with honours) in economics and management and an athletic Blue for volleyball,” she says. “I played for and captained the University of St. Andrews Women’s Volleyball team and was selected to the Scottish Universities Select Volleyball team. Since graduation, I have worked in London, and I’m now in Vancouver. I am very proud of a university-affiliated volunteer project I founded called Saints Volleyball Outreach (saintsvolleyballoutreach.com) in Lusaka, Zambia. We work with a Zambian NGO to bring UK university volleyball players to the country to teach life skills through sport. In this capacity, I have been to Lusaka three times to further develop this project and promote volleyball in the country.”

Catherine Sas ’80
Immigration Lawyer, One of the First Girls to Graduate from SMUS

SMUS-CatherineSasCatherine has had a distinguished career as a lawyer and is a recognized leading practitioner in immigration law. After graduating from law school at UBC, she set up and ran her own firm and has practiced for 20 years prior to her career with a national firm. She recently co-authored a book, Immigrate to Canada: A Practical Guide to assist newcomers in navigating the Canadian immigration system. Catherine also volunteers her time providing pro bono legal services to those in need, as well as mentoring young lawyers in their professional growth.

“I already had a strong work ethic when I came to SMUS,” she says, “but what struck me was the incredible dedication from all my teachers and their willingness to go the extra mile. Their hard work and commitment to their students’ success has stayed with me throughout my career and inspires me daily in how I look after my clients.”

Meggan Oliver ’96
Physiotherapist, Two-Time National Field Hockey Champion and Former Member of the Canadian National Field Hockey Team

SMUS-MegganOliverA model of determination and drive, Meggan represented SMUS, UVic and Canada at the highest level of competition. Now she applies that knowledge to the world of sport therapy.

“After leaving SMUS, I completed a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology and played field hockey at UVic,” she says. “I also played for the U21 Canadian Field Hockey team and travelled to Argentina, Chile, Scotland, Korea, and Barbados.

“I began to train full time with the senior national team and worked as a kinesiologist/rehab assistant and personal trainer on the side. We toured all over the world and I even spent a winter living in Perth, Australia.

“After not qualifying for the Athens Olympics, I entered the UBC physiotherapy master’s program and stopped playing once school and sport conflicted too much. Since graduating I have lived and worked around BC and in Colorado (where my husband is from).”

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School Ties is St. Michaels University School's biannual alumni magazine, highlighting the amazing work being done around the world by our school's alumni.

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