March 12, 2024

2 UCalgary science students go above and beyond to help under-represented groups

Farah Rahmani and Holly Basiuk dedicated to inspiring change within their communities
Two people stand in front of a banner stating '17 goals'
Farah Rahmani and Holly Basiuk at the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation Top 30 Under 30 award ceremony in Edmonton. Grant Basiuk

From teaching Canadian newcomers digital literacy skills to making field school more inclusive for women, queer and gender diverse people, two University of Calgary science students are inspiring groundbreaking changes in their communities.

Farah Rahmani, a fourth-year student in cellular, molecular, and microbial biology, and Holly Basiuk, who is completing her master's in geoscience, have been awarded Alberta's Top 30 Under 30 award for their outstanding work in their fields. 

 This year, six students from the UCalgary were honoured with the award, which is given every year by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation.

Making space for everyone in the field

A woman stands on a hill in tactical gear

Holly Basiuk surveys Peyto Creek braidplain using terrestrial LiDAR Scanning at Peyto Lake, Banff National Park.

Luc Van Dijk

Basiuk remembers the exact moment she became passionate about making field school more inclusive.

She was part of an all-male team working out of Dawson City, Yukon when she got her period out in the middle of the field.

“It was me and my male office mate, and I was like, 'OK, how do I handle this discretely?' I had nothing with me. I basically scavenged through the first-aid kit and found some gauze and was like, 'OK, hopefully this will do for now',” says Basiuk. “Then it just struck me — this is so dumb. This is something that should be in a first-aid kit, and it made me realize that field-work standards are not set up for someone like me. The things that I might experience as a woman just weren’t accounted for.” 

That’s when Basiuk started to make change, from within. She worked with the Department of Earth, Energy, and Environment’s Wellness Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility committee to develop and develop hygiene kits, which, as of last summer, are now mandatory for all field schools in the department. The kits include items like pads, tampons, garbage bags and hand sanitizer so everyone working in the field can feel more prepared and comfortable.

Basiuk also instigated the creation of a roommate survey for field schools, which was championed by geoscience technician Wing Chan. With the survey, students can clearly indicate who they want to room with and/or their preference for gender. On top of this, Basiuk pushed for continued delivery of consent training for all field schools, which was originally established by Sarah Reid, MSc‘23. 

Basiuk knows there has traditionally been a lot of “gate-keeping” in field work, and women, queer people and gender diverse people have been massively under-represented. Even small changes, she believes, will have a big impact in a field so traditionally dominated by men. 

Much of Basiuk’s work in graduate studies is connected to climate change. Her biggest hopes are that more diverse perspectives are heard in this field so solutions can be found for this urgent global issue.

“Whatever background they might have, I want everyone to feel more comfortable doing field work, but it’s also so important their perspectives are represented to influence climate science and climate policy.”

A free computer and a wealth of skills

A headshot of a woman witih long dark hair

Farah Rahmani

Nasser Khan

In high school, Farah Rahmani was not your average student. She saw a need in her community — for newcomers in Canada to gain digital literacy skills — and decided to do something about it.

“I was volunteering at the Calgary Public Library and I found that there was a very obvious digital literacy gap between certain people of varying socio-economic status,” says Rahmani. “I also saw that even my own family members who had been in Canada for decades still struggled with what we would consider basic digital literacy skills, just checking an email or converting a Word document into a PDF.” 

And so, the then-high-school student co-founded the Canadian Zalmi Society. Now, six years later, the organization is run by more than 60 volunteers and offers computer literacy programs, mental and physical well-being classes, and free food hampers to newcomers to Canada.

The Community Computer Literacy Program has helped 700 newcomers and low-income individuals gain computer skills. Best of all, every participant gets a free refurbished computer that would have otherwise gone to waste.

“The computer is a tool,” says Rahmani.  “After the program, participants can look for work, refine their skills and there are so many free resources online. And a lot of them need it for their kids; that’s what people tend to forget. Kids have to do homework online and some families don’t have access to devices at home.”

Rahmani says the best feedback she receives from participants is when people find jobs because of their new skills — a true testament to the power of believing in your idea and running with it.

Now in her fourth year of her undergraduate degree, Rahmani is still deeply involved with the Canadian Zalmi Society and serves as vice-president. 

“This organization has really helped me mature as a person and figure out what I wanted to do in my academic life and career goals. To this day, the people that I help and the people that I meet help me grow and become a better person.”

As for winning the Top 30 Under 30 award, Rahmani says it feels “surreal”.

“When you work in the non-profit environment, you never expect to get recognition because you do all this work and very rarely do you get recognized for it,” she says. “I’m honestly just grateful for the platform. With the number of immigrants that are coming into Alberta right now, we need people to look at this issue and see how we can come together and solve it.”

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