Soon-to-be Lakehead University graduate receiving this year’s Robert Poulin Award for her work with young people

Photo of Nicole Costanzo

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

Nicole, who will graduate this year with an Honours Bachelor of Science, made many contributions during her time at Lakehead – to the university and to Thunder Bay. During much of her time at Lakehead University, Nicole was an instructor with Superior Science.

“Working with Superior Science has been an amazing experience,” she said.

“It taught me how to effectively work with a team to highlight each other’s strengths and work towards a common goal. The best part was being able to inspire local youth and introduce them to different fields of science in a hands-on way that they can’t get in a normal classroom.”

Superior Science encourages campers to pursue science as a career, and makes them more interested in education and learning in general, Nicole said.

“Children are so smart already and full of ideas and energy, so being able to encourage their scientific thinking and help them find what fields of science interest them was very rewarding,” she said.

Superior Science lessons and activities not only focus on important concepts of science, but also on creativity and innovation that allows campers to do their own exploring.

“The best lessons are the ones that incorporate multiple fields of science,” Nicole said. “One example that comes to mind was a revolving solar system. With this activity, we integrated lessons about space science, motor mechanics, types of motion, and electricity.”

She has also served as the coordinator of Girls Club, for those in grades 2 to 7. Offered through Superior Science, Girls Club meets monthly through Zoom due to the global pandemic.

 “A fun lesson I did with Girls Club was learning about chemistry, including properties of matter, types of mixtures, and acids and bases,” Nicole said.

The girls made bath bombs with personalized scents and colours, juice crystal lip balm, and hand sanitizer – while learning the science behind why bath bombs fizz, how mixtures are made, and how hand sanitizer kills bacteria. The girls also learn about science by dissecting animals.

“These hands-on experiences are a great way for kids to learn how science can explain the things we see around us, and how many unique areas there are to explore,” Nicole said.

Because Girls Club recognizes how important it is for girls to have female role models, they also discussed Margaret Hamilton, a computer scientist whose written code helped humanity take its first steps on the moon.

“Including stories like this helps the girls to picture themselves being involved in revolutionary science in their future, which is ultimately our goal,” Nicole said.

As an instructor she travelled to Terrace Bay to deliver Superior Science programming at an elementary school.

“That year our staff also visited Red Rock schools to deliver programming we developed,” Nicole said.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Superior Science has used an online outreach platform to connect with schools in Thunder Bay, Dryden, Atikokan, and Nipigon.

Science has been an important part of Nicole’s life. She said being a woman in STEM has helped shape her identity and career goals.

“Having the privilege to study science at a post-secondary level has made me appreciate my education and has inspired me to pursue a career that involves life-long learning,” she said.

“This has also helped me to better understand the world around me and form my own opinions on current events.”

Beyond standard class content, studying science at Lakehead has taught Nicole many important life skills such as critical thinking, communication and resiliency.

“My time at Lakehead has been some of the best years of my life. While of course there have been many challenges, overall it has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

“Throughout my undergrad, I have learned so much in a short period of time and it has truly gone by in the blink of an eye,” she said.

One of her favourite opportunities at Lakehead was receiving hands-on experience in labs.

“This was a great way to solidify my learning in various courses, and also led me to working in the research lab I am in now,” she said.

“Lakehead’s focus on experiential learning has given me a well-rounded education and prepared me very well for the future.

“Being part of student clubs like the Biology Association, Applied Life Sciences Club, and Food Security club has been complimentary to my learning and has given me a sense of belonging and community on campus,” she said.

Nicole plans to pursue a career in medicine and hopes to one day work as a physician in Northern Ontario.

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

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.