Gabriel Dix, winner of one of the top academic awards this week at UBC Okanagan, admits there is a slight ironic twist to his accomplishment.
As he received his bachelor’s degree in human kinetics, Dix was awarded with the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. It’s presented to an undergraduate student who has remarkably high-academic standing and works in the community or around the world.
Dix is quick to confess he wasn’t a top student in high school. In Grade 12, instead of taking university prep classes like physics, biology or pre-calculus, he selected courses he thought would be fun or easy to accomplish.
“I used to be pretty self-limiting,” said Dix who took a college upgrading program to gain entrance to UBCO. “I almost failed out of college and university. My first year of human kinetics at UBCO I earned an average of 69 per cent. The cut off to pass is 65.”
Dix now has his eye on a master’s degree and eventually medical school.
He also has a number of academic achievements under his belt, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Undergraduate Student Research Award, the Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Summer Studentship Award.
It was almost as if someone flipped a switch, he said. It wasn’t a matter of being smart. It was simply a case of applying himself.
“One day, I woke up and decided to try harder. When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a personal trainer, so I tried for that. Then I thought, maybe I could be a physiotherapist? So I tried a little harder. And I did well. Then I thought I could try medicine,” he explains. “I told myself I can do this if I tried hard enough. I kept trying and working hard and I kept getting the results I needed.”
Dix has just completed his honours thesis working under UBC Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis in her Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Lab. Next year, as a graduate student, he will conduct research on how diet and exercise affect inflammation and neuropathic pain for people with SCI.
As someone who likes to be fit, he was at the gym when he ran into Martin Ginis, director of UBCO’s Chronic Disease Prevention Program. His interest in research, and his goal for helping all people live a better life, was a perfect match for her team.
Martin Ginis at first thought she might be a “back-up plan” for Dix, common practice for students if they don’t get into med school. She accepted him as a grad student “on the spot” when she learned he had full intentions to complete a masters degree first.
“Gabriel is an outstanding student,” says Martin Ginis “But more importantly, he genuinely cares about the people he works with—whether that be people in our campus community, our local community, or our global community.”
It’s that global community that has helped foster his passion for humanitarian medicine. For the past three years, he has travelled to Africa to volunteer and work alongside a team of international physicians in Malawi providing care to people who might not have access to health practitioners. One of his jobs was to help deliver dozens of free vaccinations for pneumonia, measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus to children in rural villages.
“It is my long-term goal to work as a humanitarian medic in countries like Malawi,” he says. “I believe individuals are often at their most vulnerable when seeking medical care and it is at this time a person can have the largest impact.”
This is the first time UBC Okanagan has been able to offer the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. To be eligible, a student must also show some work in either inclusion, democracy and reconciliation—Dix has all three covered.
Along with his volunteer hours as a basketball coach with Special Olympics Kelowna, he also volunteers weekly at Kelowna General Hospital and is an executive member of the UBC Okanagan Pre-Medicine club. He currently works as a research assistant with the UBCO Community Health Research Eminence Project which focuses on people living with mental health challenges, diabetes or obesity in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal settings.
Martin Ginis says his accomplishments mirror his passion to make the world a better place for all citizens.
“Gabriel’s commitment to excellence, and to making a difference in the lives of others, are what make him deserving of this award,” she adds “Our lab is so proud of him and so pleased that he will be joining us in the fall for graduate studies.”