Where are they now?

Read our alumni stories and learn about their paths after being a B21 fellow
Become a fellow
Alison Hirukawa
PhD Biochemistry
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2018

Biotech start up founder, building hardware to automate gene editing. Venture backed ($4M), building a team out of Boston and Montreal. B21 totally impacted my path. I met my wonderful co-founder through B21 networks. B21 also gave me a safe space to explore alternative career paths post PhD.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Alyssa Coghlin
MA Social Work
BLUE Fellow
|
Winter
2020

I am currently working as a Trauma Therapist at a non-profit working with survivors of sexual assault. My experience at B21 continues to have a significant impact on how I do the work I do, my relationships to others, and approaches to learning, growth, and healing.

B21 provided me with space, self-trust, connection, and community. Having this experience as a part of my academic world paved a strong foundation for new ways to learn, trust in curiosity, gather information and prioritize creativity. For all this, I am so thankful!

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Auguste Nahas
BA Philosophy
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2019

I am doing a PhD in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Toronto. I think B21 had a significant impact on the way I think about interdisciplinary work, both in terms of its benefits and challenges. The impact on my life has been extremely positive.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Bior Ajak
BA Economics & International Development Studies
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2020

I am currently a banker at RBC Royal Bank. When I am not working at the bank, I am organizing projects with refugee-led organizations and refugee-supporting NGOs on initiatives in higher education, gender equality, and socio-economic inclusions for refugees. I currently serve on the Committee of Advisors for one of the projects run by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC).

My interest in refugees and refugee welfare was sparked by my internship at Building 21, where I decided to base my project on the idea of imagining refugee camps in Kenya as viable cities, rich in innovation and technology. Though my project was based on imaginations of a time that is half a century away, I realized that some of the ideas can actually be realized in the short term with the right partnerships and investments. I therefore intend to be involved long term on these kinds of projects to see some of the ideas I had imagined at B21 come to life.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Christopher Medary
BSc Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2019

I am completing my Master's in Environmental Management degree in May with a focus on global sustainability and renewable energy transition. My research assesses the feasibility of distributed solar generation in Southwest Colorado: Can we meet our energy needs with local renewables? How much might this cost? Cost and benefit analysis of various energy sources and storage options using HOMER.

Over the past year I have completed a GHG emissions inventory for San Miguel and Ouray County as well as a climate action plan for the same region. My next research/consultant deliverable will be a paper and series of policy briefs exploring the intersection of mineral availability, transition to a green economy, and colonial capitalism. At the very least, my experience at B21 motivated and prepared me to think about challenging systemic issues from a space of curiosity, gratitude, and a cautious optimism. At the very most, B21 provided me with a worldwide network of collaborators and friends. The relationships and conversations shared amongst the network produce an undeniably generative impact.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Claudia Raihert
BA Linguistics & French Literature
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2020

I am currently a program assistant at Building 21, where I am mainly involved with the Radical Futures project. We host discussions where we invite people to reflect on the future in new, optimistic, and thorough ways. Recently, we have been discussing the foundations for a better world, that is, the principles that need to be valued and at the core of our human experience in order for our societies to thrive.

A couple of years ago, I was a fellow at B21 and worked on a project on category-learning in autism. Coming from a Cognitive Linguistics background, this project has led me to develop a PhD research proposal on metaphor processing in autism, which was recently accepted by the University of Toronto.

I have always been interested in the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but given that my research background was in Literature & Linguistics, I don't think I could have had the chance to seriously study ASD if I had not been given the opportunity and support to do a research project at B21. My fellowship has opened new doors for me and has been a great scaffold for my academic aspirations.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Dajou Cottrell
BA Anthropology
BLUE Fellow
|
Fall
2020

I am currently a marketing analyst at an AI firm in New York. BLUE is a place that fosters an environment of new thinkers and like-minded innovators. Through BLUE I met friends that introduced me to the AI world and began my curiosity for what a career in consulting with AI could be. BLUE inspired me to explore new avenues and to invest in my passions. Additionally, I began to work with the MasterCard foundation with McGill. I was first introduced to the organization through colleagues at BLUE and the work I do now helps me tap into work I started research as my thesis in 2020. All this to say I am grateful to what BLUE exposed me to.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Damien Arteca
BA Cultural Anthropology
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2018

From the outset, Building 21 has had a profoundly positive impact on my academic trajectory. My project later became my Honours Thesis, an opportunity without which I would not have had access to the competitive scholarships and academic connections upon which I rely on today.

Building 21's interdisciplinary environment encouraged me to explore beyond my academic discipline, which motivated me to pursue graduate degrees in topics external to my undergraduate studies. While I had studied Cultural Anthropology as a BA, I am now enrolled in an MSc in Psychiatry (dealing largely in the neurosciences) at McGill and an MA in Philosophy at the European Graduate School. Both of my Master's theses are to a meaningful extent still dealing with the same questions I had the opportunity to explore in B21 as a research fellow.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Easton Houle
BSc Environment
BLUE Fellow
|
Fall
2020

B21 helped me to develop a research proposal out of what had just been a hobby with questions I wanted answers to, such as "What might have Hebrew chant sounded like 2000 years ago?" After the internship, I was ready to apply for the Master's in Science that I am doing now in McGill's Department of Biology, adapting new statistical techniques from Evolutionary Biology and Systematics for use in Historical Musicology.

My project specifically aims at quantifying melodic diversity across all staff-notated transcriptions ever published of Hebrew Cantillation, and model their evolution across the past millennia with reference to historical records of Israelite population-migrations.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Iris Rapoport
BA Philosophy & Psychology
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2019

I graduated from McGill with distinction a year ago and decided to take a gap year before starting graduate school. In the meantime, I published for the first time (as part of a team), a psychology paper on sleep and dreams during the pandemic, and am aiming to publish a first-author paper from the same project. I have been working as a French teacher in Paris, wrapping up research from my final year at McGill, applying to Master's programs in cognitive science, and releasing music from a new project. The network I grew through B21, as well as the experience of being a BLUE fellow, deeply impacted my current choices in many ways.

Through my experience as a BLUE scholar, I identified how crucial a collaborative intellectual environment made up of passionate, open-minded, and highly intellectually motivated peers and mentors is to my well-being and sense of meaningful work. This has helped me focus on graduate programs that value excellence through innovation, collaboration, and passion rather than cookie-cutter performance. In fact, I found these programs thanks to the many conversations I have had, this past year, with academics connected to my field of interest who I either met during my time as a BLUE fellow or connected with via mentors from B21. I cannot overemphasize the importance that mentorship from such generous, successful researchers has had for me.

Before BLUE, I knew I was deeply attracted to research but doubted myself, mainly because I wasn't sure I could make it work while being neuroatypical, interdisciplinary to my core, and dependent on the conversational mode to figure my ideas out. It is not so much that I met people like me at B21 as that I experienced an incredible diversity of thinking and learning styles, personal histories, and interests, not to mention the most intellectually dazzling and motivated crowd I had the luck of finding during my time at McGill. Almost every person who mattered to my development as a student and young graduate has at some point become tied to B21, as a mentor, a student, or both. I only wish I had had these opportunities earlier during my time at McGill, which likely would have saved me significant doubts, about myself and the institution alike. I sincerely hope that students will keep benefiting from this environment for a long time.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Jenny Zheng
BSc Neuroscience
BLUE Fellow
|
Winter
2021

I am currently completing my undergraduate degree at McGill, majoring in neuroscience and minoring in computer science and math. I'd never really done a self-directed project until BLUE/B21. Going through the experience with the rest of the BLUE cohort and learning how to do research on my own gave me the confidence and push I needed to pursue a year-long research course this year.

My project at BLUE was about machine learning and music therapy, and in the future, I want to continue pursue research in the field of AI applications in healthcare. In fact, my BLUE project inspired me to do my current year-long research project on identifying epilepsy biomarkers using machine learning!

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Kat Kavanagh
MSc Bioresource Engineering
BLUE Fellow
|
Fall
2019

My non-profit social enterprise, Water Rangers, is supporting hundreds of communities across Canada to collect baseline water quality for their local waterbodies. We’ve collected over 200,000 data points and trained over 10,000 youth, 90% of which had never tested before. We’re currently working with the University of Regina on a 5-year research study to extend the ideas I developed at Building 21, and we continue to prototype and build tools that help keep people excited and motivated about monitoring. Just this week, we were featured in a campaign for The Centre for Social Innovation; the campaign was designed by Tristan who we met at Building 21.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Mathilde Papillon
PhD Physics
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2019

I am a PhD student in Physics at University California, Santa Barbara, one of the top 10 best physics graduate programs in the United States. I study quantitative dance theory using machine learning, specifically asking the question: How can we train a neural network to generate new movement using intention, as it is rigorously defined by dance notation?

I am currently on track to pioneer a new sub-field in the multi-media technological study of dance, and Building 21 is almost entirely responsible for that. It equipped me with the critical thinking skills, the ability to develop and pursue a research program, and, most importantly, the confidence needed to take risks. I am eternally grateful to this organization. I can attest to how much of an impact it has made on my academic career, and know that there are many future students at McGill University who would benefit just as much.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Morgan Sweeney
BASc Cognitive Science
BLUE Fellow
|
Fall
2019

For the first two years following my graduation, I pursued a career in science and technology podcasting. My BLUE internship at B21 had given me the experience to qualify for entry-level positions that had become quite competitive in the 2020 job recession. Following these two years producing media in the field of artificial intelligence, I rediscovered my interest in psychology (which had been a central part of my BLUE project) and am pursuing my passion for communication and mental health to become a therapist.

My BLUE internship was my first real job, and I could not have asked for a better group of colleagues, mentors, or projects. B21 gave me the courage to believe in my dreams, push the boundaries of what could be, and a supportive community of dreamers and doers. I could not have discovered what I want to do or made it to where I am now without my experience at Building 21!

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Patrick Timmer
BCom Finance
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2020

I am currently finishing my last semester as an undergrad in the BCom program at McGill. This coming Fall, I will be attending an MA in Philosophy at King’s College London and I intend to continue to a PhD in philosophy afterwards. I believe that B21 had a significant impact on my future path.

In my second year at McGill, I came to feel that business was not for me. Building 21 gave me an excellent opportunity to develop my intellectual interests and, in doing so, to reflect upon what my direction would be in the future if it was not business. I am confident that I would not have found what was right for me early enough to have been able to pursue it if it was not for the support, advice, and opportunity that B21 offered me during my time there in 2020.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Rasha Lama
BCom
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2019

As a BCom graduate who found Landscape Architecture early on her degree, I sought refuge at B21 where I worked on spatial/sustainable projects at my own initiative. With its explorative resources and community support, B21 provided me the creativity that my academic commerce degree could not. Without my experience at B21, I would not have been accepted into (my dream of) Rhode Island School of Design's Master of Landscape Architecture with merit scholarship. It was my time at B21 that granted me the dream opportunities I have now.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Ryan London
BA Industrial & Labour Relations
BLUE Fellow
|
Fall
2019

I now work as a Research Associate in an international labour union (with 100,000 members in Canada alone) thanks to Building 21 who gave me my start as a researcher of non-traditional subject matter. I have always been invested in the labour movement but never had an opportunity to study its intersections with marginalization and internet access. I have 2 degrees in labour-related topics and was not given the same freedom to explore as I was given at Building 21. Research jobs for such powerful organizations are only granted when an applicant has experience in the field — when an applicant can prove that they know what they’re doing. I was given an opportunity to prove this only because Building 21 recognized the value in my non-traditional idea.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Sophie Strassmann
BA Economics
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2018

After B21, I went on to become a lead research assistant with a Harvard Professor on key housing policy issues. One of the observations I made during that project prevented the city from building an incredibly expensive, irreversible, and ineffective housing program which would have neglected key living needs of low income household participants. Without B21 I would have never had the confidence nor the interdisciplinary research experience to take that opportunity up.

Having completed BLUE at B21 so early on, when no one else would have invested in me, allowed me to gain far more out of my classes. I now have advanced exposure to a vast array of topics from micro to macro coming out of undergrad, including behavioural and political economy. Most undergrads only have a dent into one when they consider graduate school after doing an undergraduate thesis.

After completing BLUE, I also have the interdisciplinary communication experience to be able to carefully and correctly communicate what I have learned to those outside of my field, in addition to having the self confidence to communicate when I do not know about a topic. Areas I have the potential to develop are integrating technology into economic models (increasing outputs without increasing inputs) as well as building up what scarce literature we have on disability programs, following the consequences of long-covid and mental health challenges in a post-COVID-19 world.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Sumali Mehta
BSc Biochemistry
BLUE Fellow
|
Winter
2022

I am finishing up my MSc in Epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, looking at characterizing the incidence and risk of cardiac arrhythmias and related healthcare access and utilization in Inuit communities in Nunavut. At B21, I was focused on using storytelling to imagine the implications of world in which aging has considerably slowed down, or even ceased. As part of this project, I had to go beyond my known areas of knowledge and try to contextualize different elements of this world and its implications from a societal, cultural and even economic perspective. I feel that my B21 project laid the foundation for the work that I want to develop and contribute to as a researcher. I continue to integrate multidisciplinarity into my work and challenge myself to add an element of going beyond the norm to my projects.

Prior to my time at B21, I was always “scared” to go beyond what I knew. I was very hesitant to explore projects/themes/areas that were beyond what I had formally learnt in school because I was afraid of lacking proficiency and simply not knowing how to do something. Growing up, I had always been one of those people that had to understand or get something right on their first try and if I didn’t, I simply wouldn’t pursue it anymore. My time and work at B21, especially the environment and the warmth of the people I was surrounded with, made me feel very comfortable with not knowing, not having an answer or even knowing how to approach a problem - maybe not even having the skills or background to actually work on my project. Developing that comfort and learning to accept that sometimes there is no right answer, or no right way to approach something has made me much more comfortable as a learner because I no longer approach new topics, ideas or skills with fear, but rather as an opportunity for growth.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Tanor Bonin
PhD Experimental Psychology
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2018

I am currently working as a clinical psychologist, applying for faculty positions, and re-connecting with the arts. My time at B21 has greatly helped to foster my sense of who I am, what I value, and what I can meaningfully contribute to others.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Wei Xu
BA Economics
BLUE Fellow
|
Summer
2022

My B21 project, which focused on researching an popular social competition phenomenon in China, has lead me to a continued exploration of socioeconomic determinants that influence the distribution of social resources and capital. Through the working progress of weekly lightening session and the final report, I can say, that B21 project expanded my understanding of economics beyond the confines of textbook theories and formulas.

This year, I completed my research project on electricity poverty in rural Kenya. My analysis considered both social and economic dimensions, utilizing data analysis and computational modeling to gain comprehensive insights into this complex issue. Those incremental success stimulates me to undertake further research projects within the realm of economics.

During my time at B21, I noticed a significant enhancement in my ability to think spontaneously. I attribute this improvement to the weekly lightening talks where students or scholars with diverse academic background are gathered at Building 21 to share insights about their projects. These gatherings provided me with the invaluable opportunity to immerse myself in an intellectually stimulating environment. I found myself surrounded by individuals who shared a deep appreciation for knowledge, fostering an atmosphere of inherent acceptance and contemplation of ideas and information. This skill is invaluable for my research in economics, which demands both in-depth thinking and thorough exploration of complex problems.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Yigu Zhou
BSc Neuroscience
BLUE Fellow
|
Winter
2022

I am an MD-PhD student at McGill and the Montreal Neurological Institute studying epilepsy. Currently I am working on sponging up as much potentially life-saving information as I can during the didactic period of my clinical training. At the same time, I am researching information flow in the brain and how changes in the organ’s features like geometry and in components like cells can give rise to all kinds of debilitating abnormalities in epilepsy.A conversation about fungi, ants, and consciousness will always be my fondest memory of Building 21. The same way that the intelligence of Nature emerges in the way single creatures behave randomly and intentionally simultaneously, it is always appreciated that when Building 21 begins to chat, boundaries between each of us are broken as we pour our thoughts into an amorphous thought cloud.

I am proud of my B21 project, my contribution to the NeuroTech team, and to weekly brainstorming sessions. It gave me the skills to learn independently and passionately. This is particularly useful to prepare me for a life in academic medicine. The synergy between passionately doing and learning more is so powerful in continuously making the world a better place a little bit at a time.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!
Émile Chamberland
LLM Law
BLUE Fellow
|
Winter
2022

I am an LLM student at the McGill University Faculty of Law. In the next few months, I will finish my thesis that explores the essence of judicial automation.

It is still my plan to finish the short story I began at Building 21, plus I now have multiple creative writing projects in mind, including a novel. This novel would be about my recent travels and the role they have played in my intellectual journey.

My experience at Building 21 had a massive impact on my path. It allowed me to "zoom out" of my field (law) to see how science fiction, philosophy and even art can belong in rigorous academic research. Above all, I built a confidence to trust unusual avenues of thought without fear of inappropriateness.

Drawing a poster on a the floor with dogs!