Lakehead graduate receives the Robert Poulin Award for her outstanding citizenship

Photo of Laura Deschamps

Laura Deschamps

By Brandon Walker

Laura Deschamps is the recipient of this year’s Robert Poulin Award, presented to a full-time Lakehead University student for outstanding citizenship.

Laura made many contributions during her time at Lakehead – to the university and to Thunder Bay. She proposed the creation of a peer-mentoring program in Kinesiology after volunteering as a teacher’s assistant during her fourth year at Lakehead University.

“I realized there was a need to help lower-year students navigate the program after I received several questions about course selection, the thesis process, graduate school applications, among others,” Laura said.

She felt having a program where students could get advice from peers who have gone through the same experiences as them would be incredibly helpful.

Laura began working on the peer-mentoring program during the winter of 2019.

“Through working with the faculty in the Kinesiology department and the staff at the Academic Support Zone, our plan was to start piloting the program in March,” she said. “Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic we were unable to launch the program.”

The program may go through some changes before it is launched when in-person classes return to Lakehead University, if not sooner.

It involves selecting third- and fourth-year Kinesiology students who are in good academic standing to provide services, such as time management seminars, study tips or advice that they wish they would have known in previous years to first and second year students.

“This will help students transition successfully to life as a university student,” Laura said.

The program is unique because it offers services driven by what students need.

“For example, time management and study seminars can be offered if needed or mentors can just be there to answer specific questions that students might have about navigating through their undergraduate degree,” Laura said.

The peer-mentoring program will also allow students to foster social relationships with others within Kinesiology, which can further assist them in successfully transitioning to life in university.

Laura has also been very involved in the community. By volunteering with the Special Olympics and on the organizing committee for the Walk to End ALS, Laura was able to make a positive contribution and meet new people.

For Special Olympics, she assisted with track and field and cross-country skiing.

“I have been lucky enough to play sports my whole life and reap the many benefits associated with being active,” Laura said.

“I saw volunteering for the Special Olympics as an opportunity to help others be active and access those same benefits. Without volunteers, many of the athletes would not have an opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity more broadly.”

Laura described this as an amazing experience – a great way to help others.

“It always put a smile on my face seeing the athletes enjoying themselves and forming friendships with each other,” she said.

“It was impossible to be in a bad mood while volunteering for the Special Olympics because the athletes were always so happy and excited to be out participating, and their excitement and happiness were infectious.”

Laura has several fond memories from the Special Olympics, although one particular memory stands out from track and field practice. Two athletes were training for a national event by timing themselves in hope of beating their personal best race times.

“It was amazing to see their drive and desire to do well and their competitiveness,” she said. “It was also great to see the support they were getting from other athletes, pushing them on as they would finish each lap. It was a great example of what sport should be, a place to make friendships, support others and push yourself past your limits.”

Laura has volunteered for the Walk to End ALS for around five years. Last year was the first time she was involved with the committee.

Through her mother, who works for ALS Canada, Laura learned more about the disease and the challenges faced by patients and their families. She realized how difficult the disease could be financially on families, since most of the adapted equipment is not covered.

“I chose to volunteer on the committee to help raise money for equipment, local support and research to help support the people and families living with ALS,” she said.

This year, Laura graduated from Lakehead University with an Honours Bachelor of Kinesiology.

“The program allowed me to experience a mix of theoretical material, often followed by hands-on learning that solidified the course content,” she said, adding that the small-class sizes definitely worked in her favour.

“I was able to assist on several research projects throughout my degree and conduct research for my thesis,” she said. “I strongly recommend Lakehead’s Kinesiology program to any future students.”

Laura will continue her education at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine this fall to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

Since 1952, Lakehead University has presented the Robert Poulin Award each year to a full-time student selected by their fellows, the faculty and administration, for contributing most to the welfare of the University through student activities.

Pentti Paularinne was one notable recipient of the award. Paularinne was named Fellow of Lakehead University at the convocation ceremony held on June 2, 2018.

He graduated from Lakehead University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1968 and an Honours Bachelor of Arts in 1969. Paularinne began his career at Lakehead as Admissions Officer in May 1969, moving up to Assistant Registrar Admissions in June 1975, Director of Continuing Education in May 1978 and Registrar in June 1979. He retired in August 2003 as University Registrar and Secretary of Senate. Among his most gratifying tasks was organizing convocation ceremonies for 24 years.

Lakehead named the Robert Poulin Award after an outstanding Forestry graduate from the Lakehead Technical Institute who died at the age of 20 due to an explosion that occurred on a dredge in the Kaministiquia River.