Winners of 2019 Michele Edwards Bursary 

An aspiring doctor who is also an artist and a biology student who is considering a career in neuroscience research are the 2019 winners of the Michele Edwards Bursary.

Nazanin Babaei is enrolled in Specialized Honours Kinesiology and Health Sciences at York University, where she has earned an impressive GPA of 3.87 out of 4.

Babaei plans to use the bursary on medical school application fees and preparation costs and plans to focus on neuroscience when she graduates from medical school.

The multi-talented student is also a visual artist with several solo exhibits to her credit. Her art strives to draw attention to issues such as racism, sexual and verbal assault, and discrimination based on stigma around disabilities.

In addition to identifying a female living with epilepsy, Nazanin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) four years ago. She’s determined to educate others and not let prejudices affect her quality of my life.

“I have been given many talents and I feel obligated to use them in order to give back to the community and help others,” says Babaei.

Kirsten Huber is a first-year student in the Biology Program at Ryerson University. She’s still deciding on her career, but knows it will be in a biology-related field, perhaps even in neuroscience, a subject she finds fascinating.

She plans to use the bursary money to offset the cost of commuting from the suburbs to her downtown campus, as the cost of full-time residence is too high.

As a young woman who not only identifies as a female living with epilepsy, but also as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Kirsten says discrimination and prejudice just makes her even more determined to reach her education and career goals, serve as a positive role model and realize her full potential.

"I don’t just want to have a career in science, I want to make a difference," says Huber.

The awards were announced at the Epilepsy Toronto AGM on May 25, 2019.

Applications for the 2020 Michele Edwards Bursary will be open early next year.

If you would like to make a tax deductible donation to the bursary, please click here for the Epilepsy Toronto web page or copy and paste the website address (below) in your browser's search window. 

 https://epilepsytoronto.org/scholarship

Michele's Story

Whether it was running track or playing piano, Michele was always determined.

She was the little girl on the bike furiously pedaling to keep up with her older brothers, the highly-regarded teenage sprinter, and the musician who completed her levels at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

As a gifted young accountant with an amazing facility for numbers, she developed techniques that won the respect of multi-national corporations, but had to fight constant workplace discrimination because of her epilepsy.

She started her own accounting business and then became inspired to study law and advocate for others.

While studying to become a paralegal, she took her college to the Human Rights Commission after facing discrimination by her instructors in the classroom, and forced the school to create new policies to accommodate people with disabilities.

The battle with the school took a heavy toll on Michele, and her health began to deteriorate. Michele passed away in December 2013 after a lengthy illness at the age of 43.

The Michele Edwards Bursary

The bursary – an award of $800 to each chosen candidate -- was established by Michele’s husband,  Peter Boisseau, in collaboration with Epilepsy Toronto, to honor her memory and legacy.

This bursary is awarded annually to two chosen candidates to be used towards furthering their education and/or their career; whether that be in a full-time or part-time program, workshop, extra-curricular class or pursuing a career goal.

It is open to:

• Someone who identifies as a female living with epilepsy.

• Someone whose quality of life and ability to do the day-to-day things most of us take for granted, is significantly impacted by epilepsy.

• Someone who is in financial need and would make the best use of the bursary money.

• Someone who, despite the challenges they face, is ambitious and shows great initiative and determination in pursuing their education and goals.

• A woman who has faced adversity or discrimination, whether it be because of their epilepsy, race, gender or sexuality.

History of Bursary Winners

In 2017, the bursary was awarded to Michelle Buckland and Amanda Kelly, who was recently featured in Epilepsy Toronto’s See The Person campaign.

Both have overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy, displaying great initiative and determination in pursuing their education and goals.

MichelleBuckland-300x215png The bursary was for my business. So now I have more visibility. It helped me update to the computer I needed, pay for supplies and launch my website, Embrace. -- Michelle Buckland

“I’ve been in the field of Training and Development for 15 years. I love to be in this field, it has always been one of my passions. I really came out of my shell through Toastmasters; it helped me to finally start motivational speaking. I love to help make a difference.

Then a friend of mine said, “Michelle, why don’t you start your own business?” I was really hesitant, but then someone paid for a business license for my birthday. So I did it. I’d get the chance to do training sessions, consulting, coaching, etcetera, but it didn’t maximize as much as I hoped. Until about a year ago when I finally said ‘ok, let me create a website’ – that will give me exposure.

The bursary was for my business. So now I have more visibility. It helped me update to the computer I needed, pay for supplies and launch my website, Embrace. It wasn’t even so much about the money; it was encouraging – it gave me the sense that I was making a difference and I felt a sense of accomplishment for the work I’ve been doing.”

AmandaKelly-e1521491972531jpgI want to put together a video series of conversations...The Michele Edwards bursary money is to go towards the editing and the promoting of these, and if there is any additional costs, there is a little fund for that.”  -- Amanda Kelly
“When I was in the epilepsy monitoring unit, I was there for about a month and I did little vlogs. Very short, unedited videos, that I posted on YouTube and Facebook, just to let people know where I was at. And those got hits! And I’m just one person. So the idea came up to do something like that, but on a bigger scale.

I want to put together a video series of conversations. We will bring somebody in – a member of the community, someone with epilepsy, a doctor, a journalist, a this, a that – and talk to them. Record these, edit them, post them and grow from there.

The Michele Edwards bursary money is to go towards the editing and the promoting of these, and if there are any additional costs, there is a little fund for that.”

The second year

In 2018, the bursary was awarded to Keerthana Naniah and Renae Alleyne, another two exceptional women with high goals and big dreams that are undeterred by epilepsy or discrimination.
Keerthana-Naniah-150x150jpeg
Keerthana Naniah

Keerthana Naniah is in the Financial and Business Economics program at York University, and will use this bursary towards books as she transfers into the B.Comm Accounting Program next year.

She is currently juggling two part time jobs with a full time course load while maintaining her grades. The funds will be put towards the high cost of textbooks and class materials that her program requires.

Upon completion of her program, she will be pursuing a CPA designation with focus on fraud investigations.

She will then pursue a Masters in Forensic Accounting with University of Toronto and hopes to complete

her Forensic Accounting designation.

She strives for a career with either York Regional Police, CSIS or the CRA in investigating financial crimes.

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Renae Alleyne

Renae is currently working towards her Bachelors of Nursing at Humber College.

The high demands of her program while working to pay for it sometimes puts her in a position where she has to choose between school studies and going to work.

Add to that the challenge of trying to find a new rhythm in her life since her epilepsy diagnosis in June of 2016, and life has been a roller coaster ride.

She feels she is learning to put wellness in the forefront of the illness and creating a new identity that includes resilience. She is more than her epilepsy.

When she has completed her studies she plans to become a maternity nurse and work in the community doing health promotion in disadvantaged communities.