Image of Laura Krajewski standing in the woods and smiling

Connections build confidence for graduand

Blake Eligh

Biologist, musician, teacher, volunteer and published researcher—for someone who says she felt lost in her first year of university, biology student Laura Krajewski has emerged from her undergraduate years with a solid idea of who she is now.

As a high school student, Krajewski says she had great marks and was involved in lots of extracurricular activities. But during her first year at UTM, Krajewski scaled back her activities. “I dropped everything to focus on school, but that didn’t work out very well,” she says. Despite her efforts, her marks declined, along with her confidence. “My life got too narrow.”

Krajewski knew she had to make a change, so midway through her first year she joined Health & Counselling Centre’s Healthy Campus Crew as a volunteer. That turned out to be the first and important step to helping Krajewski find her place at UTM.

With the Healthy Campus Crew, Krajewski volunteered as a Sneaker Squad coordinator, arranging weekly campus walks with professors and a learn-to run program training new runners for a 5-km race. “Helping others helped boost my own confidence,” she says. Adding physical activity helped, too. “It was nice to adopt the things I was telling people to do, and realize first-hand, what an impact it has.” The work turned Krajewski into a runner, too. “I’m already planning more runs with my friends,” she says.

Krajewski also worked with the Let’s Talk Science outreach program, going to local schools and Girl Guide groups to lead science workshops for children. She volunteered with the Promoting Academic Skills for Success program, which helps students who are struggling academically, and led peer-facilitated study groups with the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre. “It was fun to help people figure things out,” she says. “I used to think I liked teaching other people, but I learned that I liked seeing other people learn to help themselves.”

As her confidence grew, so did Krajewski’s academic achievements. She won a Research Opportunity Program position with Marc Laflamme’s lab, spending the summer of her second year observing 300-million-year-old fern fossils from the Royal Ontario Museum. That led to being named as a secondary researcher on a paper published in PALAIOS, giving Krajewski the chance to present her work at two major conferences. “I was presenting alongside established researchers,” she says. “Going for that ROP was one of the best decisions I made.”

In her spare time, Krajewski, who sings and plays guitar, has found a way to bring together her talents for science, teaching and music. Her science song, “The Sound of Mitosis”, co-written with associate professor of biology Fiona Rawle, was published in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. Another song, “Our Experiment”, written for the statistics class taught by associate professor of biology Helene Wagner, took top prize in the 2015 A-μ-Sing (A Mu Sing) songwriting competition for the United States Conference on Teaching Statistics.

Gone is the study focused first-year student. Krajewski will graduate in June with a bachelor of science, as well as the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award and the Principal’s Involvement Award, which recognize her contributions to campus life.
Krajewski says she’s proud of how far she has come during her time at UTM. “For a while, I lost myself. I was so obsessed with what I supposed to be doing and where it would take me, that I didn’t enjoy the process,” she says. “My perspectives have changed, and I’ve rediscovered what is important to me. I’m proud of that.”

For more Convocation 2016 stories, check out profiles of recent UTM graduands Daniel Jayasinghe, Jordan Foster, Joshua Foster and Mohamed Sidibé.