Linden Alumna Onyka Gairey Working to Improve Global Health, Aiming for Medical School
Since graduating in 2012, Onyka Gairey has been busy earning scholarships and travelling the world. After receiving her Master’s in Global Health at Western, Onyka was awarded a scholarship to travel to Uganda where she studied interactions between Ugandan communities and their fresh-water resources. She hopes to pursue a career in medicine. Read our interview with Onyka below:
Linden: What have you been up to since you graduated from Linden?
Onyka: After earning an Hon Spec Biology and a Master's in Management of Applied Science with a specialization in Global Health Systems at Western, I was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship. This allowed me to travel to Uganda where I worked as part of a research team that monitored crater lakes in Uganda to investigate differences in water quality and the presence of toxic algal blooms. With the data our team collected, I also studied the interactions between local Ugandan communities and their fresh-water resources to create a presentation and case study on freshwater management practices in Uganda, shared with our research partners and community stakeholders
Afterwards, as a co-op student with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change at the Dorset Environmental Science Centre, I collected climate change data by monitoring streams and precipitation. This data is a part of long-term monitoring done by scientists in the ministry, which is used by many different researchers. Currently, I am volunteering at Linden as a part of the 25th planning committee and the alumni exploratory team.
Linden: What are your plans for the future?
Onyka: Hopefully, I will pursue a career in medicine or in the global health field where I am able to connect my interests in environmental science with my passion for human health.
Linden: Could you share a special memory of Linden
Onyka: This might be the hardest question! Off of the top of my head I thought of the lip-syncs, the classics conference, basketball games and sports in general with Deidre, math with Nasrin — and the very big before and after Nasrin in terms of my math abilities! Probably, my most important memory of Linden was also saying goodbye. I remember just not believing that my time at Linden was over. The school was such a big part of my life for five years and it was intimidating to imagine leaving behind a place where I grew so much, where I got to see my friends every day, go to classes where I knew my teachers. I felt really safe in our little Linden community and it had become like a home to me. I'm pretty sure I put off writing my grad speech until the very last minute because I just didn't know what to say, how to close this chapter and "grow up."
But I followed through: I wrote my speech, gave it at the Celebration to Greet the Summer, and cried through maybe half of it. When I was thanking my teachers, I mentioned how Nasrin got me through math when I first came to the school with extra help and a couple of parent-teacher conferences. I joked about how I had struggled with math, and in a Nasrin-like fashion, she shouted something witty right back at me from the crowd during my speech. My grandpa still talks about it to this day.
Linden: How did Linden help prepare you for success at university and in the workplace?
Onyka: Linden definitely helped build my confidence, both in general and academically, and drew me to the sciences. Before Linden, I was a very shy kid that liked to read. I would stay inside my public school's library at recess and just read as many books as I could, and never really excelled or got out of my comfort zone there. At Linden, I was guided out of my own bubble. I got to see the real-life implications of the things we studied, be it issues with social justice, women rights, or even health and science. I was shown that none of these things exist in isolation — they're all connected and important and affect real people. And if I was able to see things that were wrong or unfair, I shouldn't stay silent or in my own bubble: I should try my best to change things. These ideas followed me to university and influenced my choice of career path. Even in my Master's, there was a lot of emphasis on looking at a larger system and finding the best ways to create positive change.