Author: Adiki Puplampu

Date: 15 March 2024


Since the beginnings of the ELITE Program, interest in the Program has been driven by the power of word of mouth. From program alumni telling their friends and family, to professors and professionals telling their students and mentees, the growth of the ELITE Program has been fueled by the power of community. There’s often no closer community than family, and we saw that clearly in the 2023 internship cohort.

Upon closer inspection of the cohort’s demographics, an interesting phenomenon emerged. Siblings. Lots of siblings. In total, the 2023 cohort had at least six pairs of siblings. From returning alumni to first-time interns, the sibling interns represented a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

We had the chance to speak with a few of the sibling pairs and hear about their unique ELITE Program experience.  From a brother and sister both pursuing degrees in neuroscience to brothers exploring careers in engineering, a diverse range of stories emerged from this group. But one thing all the siblings had in common was gratitude for their time and professional growth in the ELITE Program.

Wisdom and Gloria Sanouvi-Awoga are ELITE Program veterans. The older sibling, Wisdom participated in the Program first after being encouraged to apply by his high school principal. After his first summer with the Program, Wisdom encouraged his sister, a high school student, to apply the next summer.

For Wisdom, who is now a second year neuroscience major, the ELITE Program was a transformative experience. While he originally started his neuroscience program with an interest in surgery, his first internship experience introduced him to the world of rehabilitation science, a world that he hopes to build a career in.

“I think this summer really solidified my interest in research because it showed me a different aspect of it, that trial and error part of it, and it got me really used to seeing failure as just a way to learn.”

Though Gloria, now a grade 12 student, is also interested in neuroscience; her interests differ a bit from her brother’s.

“I’m more interested in degenerative diseases or neurological diseases. I’ve always had passion for people whose brains are changing or whose brains are different. So I’ve always wanted to understand more and help those who have neurodegenerative diseases. It’s a harsh thing to go through fighting against your own brain.”

Last summer, Gloria and Wisdom were among the large contingent of students interning at the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab, both working on different phases of a validation project. Having both worked at the lab before, the summer presented an opportunity for the siblings to delve into familiar projects and exercise more independence in the lab.

Both of them came away from the summer with major accomplishments. For Wisdom, who continued to work at the lab in the fall semester, this was having an abstract accepted into the annual biomedical engineering conference. And for Gloria it was getting to build the foundations and procedure for a research project.

“It made me proud of my work to see that it was of use and that people will be using this standard operating procedure to continue testing in the future.”

For Gloria, interning at the same lab as her brother was an exercise in independence and confidence building. Though their work was related, the distinctions in their projects helped Gloria build her own identity in the lab environment.

“It definitely helped having my sibling to explain things to me in a way that he knows I’d understand. But then not so close that I was just following his shadow at all times. It was really great to have that independence.”

At the same time, Wisdom got to watch his sister grow in the lab and balance his duties as her brother with his duties as her lab mate.

“I can see even from last year that she's grown into her own. I tried not to monitor her too much. I don’t want to put her into that position or seem like I’m playing big brother.”

Looking to the future, Wisdom hopes to take his research experiences to the next level and explore the relationship between the brain and prosthetics while Gloria hopes to become a clinical neuropsychologist engaging with both research and patients.

For Peter Menghesha, a 2023 Schulich Leader, his interest in the ELITE Program was inspired by hearing about his older brother’s day-to-day experiences in the Program.

“One day, he was working in the field, and the next day he was participating in the entrepreneurship series!”

His brother Daniel, a third year mechanical engineering student, first participated in the ELITE Program as a grade 12 student. Now nearing the end of his degree, Daniel spent the summer of 2023 interning at the Networked Optimization, Diagnosis, and Estimation Lab at the U of A where he continued to work in the fall semester while Peter worked as a research assistant in the Advanced Heat Transfer and Surface Technologies Lab.

Like Wisdom and Gloria, the Menghesha brother’s are experienced interns with big dreams. In 10 years, Peter sees himself leading a mechanical engineering startup, while Daniel envisions a career in robotics or the automotive industry.

On the opposite side of the ELITE Program experience are Ezra and Eyasu Dese, two first time program interns. Introduced to the program by Peter and Daniel, Ezra and Eyasu spent last summer working at the Sameoto lab and the Rehabilitation Robotics lab, respectively.

The brothers have been interested in pursuing engineering since they were kids, with Ezra currently a fourth year mechanical engineering student and Eyasu, a first year student, looking to major in electrical engineering.

“Our dad is an engineer. So, it’s inspiring to be an engineer at the same time but to follow our own paths”, says Ezra.

Outside of their personal accomplishments as interns, from yielding positive experimentation results to developing standard operating systems, the brothers got to witness each other’s accomplishments.

“He [Eyasu] was a high schooler at the time so seeing him involved in research and academia was really something special”, says Ezra

For Eyasu, seeing his brother’s work ethic result in awards including the Dean’s Research Award was particularly impactful.

“His [Ezra’s] dedication, his hard work, his love for the field, he’s doing something he loves and getting recognized [for it].”

Unlike some of the other sibling pairs in the cohort, sisters Tayla and Zahra Hamilton are pursuing decidedly different career paths. Zahra, an ELITE Program alumni, is pursuing a degree in computing science while Tayla, a first time intern, is pursuing a Bachelor of Design in Business and Marketing. Despite their diverging interests, the sister’s support of one another is clear. Zahra was the one to encourage her sister to apply after spending a summer working at the Neuromuscular Control and Biomechanics lab at the U of A. This internship sparked her interest in rehabilitative technology and she knew her sister would also benefit from a summer in the ELITE Program.

After being accepted, Tayla was matched with Clavis Studio and hired to work as a UX/UI designer.

“My role was to research user interactions, plan and develop design strategies, as well as work closely with my team to understand the company’s goals.”

On the other side of the disciplinary spectrum, Zahra spent the summer interning at the Bionic Limbs for Improved Natural Control (BLINC) lab at the U of A.

“During this internship, I was able to not only learn new programming languages, but also gain valuable knowledge about how technology can be used to benefit the rehabilitation sector.”

For both sisters, interning with the ELITE Program at the same time gave them an opportunity to watch one another struggle with and overcome the challenges of learning difficult software and programming languages.

When asked about the significance of the ELITE Program for Black students aspiring to careers in STEM, the siblings agreed that the ELITE Program provides an invaluable opportunity to students.

From Ezra Dese, “giving opportunities to students of diverse communities to look into the academic field is really important and expands our diversity.”

The 2023 cohort of ELITE Program interns was our largest and most diverse cohort to date. The presence of so many familial relationships in the cohort speaks to the power of community, the clear potential for program longevity, and the importance of capacity building across generations.

“Sustainability in the ELITE Program is exemplified by having students such as myself returning for a second placement, and my brother subsequently joining the program in 2022. This is a testament to the excellence of the team and the planning done at the ELITE program,”, says Daniel Menghesha

We’re so happy to see siblings and friends learning and growing together and we look forward to welcoming another incredible cohort of students in 2024.

To learn more about our 2023 internship cohort, read our Impact Report on our Giving and Donors page.