Student award-winners discover the Atkinson balance

Who said having it all isn’t possible?  

Fourth-year international student Shirley Hooker, a full-time mom when not in class, has received the BAS Information Technology program scholarship. Hooker was honoured recently during Atkinson’s "Celebrating Academic Excellence" student award ceremony. The prestigious scholarship recognizes outstanding academic performance, and in Hooker’s case, the best overall academic grade in the BAS ITEC program.

Right: Shirley Hooker (left) with her daughter and husband at the Celebrating Academic Excellence student award ceremony

“I am overwhelmed and extremely grateful to have received this award,” she said. “It is nice to be appreciated for your hard work, especially in a formal way.”

Hooker is an expert at balancing academic and home life, thanks to Atkinson’s course flexibility. Daytime, evening and Internet courses have allowed her to decide when, where and how to pursue her studies. Though her second child is expected to arrive any day, she is determined to graduate with her ITEC peers in June.

“It’s unbelievable that with all of the challenges I’ve faced I have been able to earn a degree," said Hooker. “It goes to show that anyone in any situation is capable of overcoming obstacles and doing just the same.” 

With the little time she has left for hobbies these days, Hooker hopes to influence youth by offering classes that show parents-to-be, existing parents and youngsters how to positively impact their academic and social lives with the help of good nutrition and healthy living. She also looks forward to securing a career in information technology, which will give her husband the chance to retire and to pursue his passion for writing.

More than 60 other students were celebrated alongside Hooker at the annual awards ceremony which took place on Feb. 4. Most of  the students honoured have undertaken their academic studies together with a broad range of additional responsibilities.

Karoline Beth Fiedler, recipient of the William R. Coleman Essay Prize in Humanities, juggles her fourth-year studies as a double major in English and kinesiology with a part-time job and volunteering. She works in the local library and sits on the Ulcerative Colitis/Pelvic Pouch Steering Committee for Mount Sinai Hospital. For the past 10 years Fiedler has also helped organize Operation Christmas Child in her community – an international initiative that distributes shoebox gifts to needy children around the world, regardless of religion, race or gender.  

Right: Professor Ruby Newman (left) with Karoline Beth Fiedler

“I was absolutely thrilled to be chosen for this award,” said Fiedler. “It’s always nice to receive acknowledgement for your work. For part-time students, it’s an extra incentive to keep pushing forward in one’s education.”

Fiedler was selected as this year’s award recipient for her willingness to think outside the box and stray from traditional essay writing. In the School of  Arts & Letters course Bad Girls in the Bible, Part 2, she proposed her own final assignment to Professor Ruby Newman, turning a current work of fiction into a short-story murder mystery addressing and challenging the marginalization of biblical women.

“I feel validated as a writer for daring to try something outside my comfort zone and for being successful at it,” she said. “This award has made me evaluate the limitations I have placed on my writing, as well as given me confidence to consider new possibilities.”

Fiedler plans to pursue graduate studies in English. She is also interested in teaching internationally and experiencing new cultures first-hand. In the meantime, she’s hoping to read and edit manuscripts in a publishing house – a great excuse to keep immersed in books.

“We are very proud of the accomplishments of our students – many of whom balance the multiple challenges of family, career, part-time jobs and academic studies,” said Atkinson Dean Rhonda Lenton. “This year’s award recipients serve as shining examples and we’re pleased to recognize them as leaders at York and beyond.”

Atkinson’s student awards ceremony was organized by the Student & Alumni Relations (STARS) Unit. One of the STARS Unit’s mandates is to engage and celebrate community accomplishments. The annual ceremony celebrates the academic achievements of talented students, while recognizing donors whose generosity has made the awards possible.

For more information about this year’s award recipients, contact STARS at ext. 33572 or e-mail