Ingenuity that Saves Lives
Ephraim Nowak, BSc’15, MASc’18, had recently become manager at Central Okanagan Search and Rescue when he answered a “one of a kind call.” A small plane had disappeared from radar. It was carrying former Alberta premier Jim Prentice, Jim Kruk, Ken Gellatly, and Sheldon Reid. Nowak’s team raced to find the site of the crash, only to make the devastating discovery that there were no survivors.
The accident had a lasting impact on Nowak and his fellow volunteers. In the aftermath, they waited anxiously for the transportation safety board report, hoping for some closure through an understanding as to why the crash happened. But their questions would remain unanswered. “The report ended up coming back inconclusive,” says Nowak, “because there was no form of voice or data recorder on board that aircraft.”
In the void of information around the tragedy, Nowak saw a chance to make a difference by putting his technical savvy to work. He founded a company, Percept Systems, to create a cockpit video and data recorder lightweight enough for small aircrafts. Called SkyVU, the recorder will provide insights as to why small plane crashes happen and ultimately help to prevent them. Two SkyVU prototypes were deployed in wildfire helicopters this summer, and Nowak has been flooded with interest from around the world in the award‑winning design.
For Nowak, technology has been a lifelong fascination and a family affair. He and his brother, Raphael, with whom he works closely on SkyVU, were the sort of children who were taking apart radios at age three and building remotely operated underwater vehicles to explore Okanagan Lake at age ten. By middle school, Nowak was running lighting and sound for a media production company. Studying computer science and electrical engineering at UBC was a natural extension of his voracious drive to learn.
Nowak sees creative problem‑solving as inherently fun, whether the challenge is as serious as improving aviation safety – or as whimsical as building a bridge out of nothing but pasta. (Among his other accomplishments, Nowak is champion of the 33rd annual Okanagan College Spaghetti Bridge Building Heavyweight Competition; his pasta masterpiece held 184.3 kilograms of load before shattering.) For him, the pull lies in the spontaneity and excitement of a new problem that needs a solution. “I enjoy learning,” he says. “When I wake up in the morning, it doesn’t feel like I’m going to work.”
Thu Huyen T. (Annee) Ngo, BA’11
Annee Ngo is the CEO and co-founder of Startup League. The initiative is creating a Gen Z mobile educational fundraising app called QUP, and they smashed their Kickstarter goal by 165 per cent on August 10. QUP is a daily three-minute game that tests students on their empathy and curiosity, and rewards them with real cash that they can use to fund what matters to them. Ngo and the COO and co-founder of Startup League, Rukshana Hassanali, are alumni of the NYU’s StartEd Incubator. They have spent the last 12 months testing the QUP prototype. As of the Kickstarter launch, they have more than 3,000 students across Canada and the US pre-registered to play the app when it goes live in September. Ngo and Hassanali have also launched EdTechWomen Vancouver, a networked community of women’s leadership in education technology. Their community of female leaders consists of more than 6,000 members involved in education across the US and Canada. They’ve since held over a dozen events for the local Vancouver community and secured a formal partnership with Microsoft Canada. Ngo is also a co-founder of the education company ProtoHack, and has scaled it into 30 cities worldwide.
Ariel R. Zitny, BA’11
Ariel Zitny was one of six North American rabbinical and cantorial students chosen for the prestigious Summer Human Rights Fellowship sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. The fellowship offers a select cohort of rabbinical students a nine-week experience working in a human rights and social justice organization in New York, learning about human rights in Jewish text and tradition, and gaining the skills to be human rights leaders in their own communities. Zitny is now a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. While living in Jerusalem, he was the first male intern to work with Women of the Wall, an activist group fighting for women’s right to pray at the Western Wall. Zitny’s poems have been published in Wild Ones, Vermillion Literary Project, TQReview, and the anthology Queer Voices. He has also written for Keshet and J-PRIDE (Jewish LGBTQ organizations) on being a transgender rabbinical student, and on the importance of transgender inclusion in Jewish spaces. This summer, Zitny interned at Community Voices Heard, which organizes low-income New Yorkers, primarily around housing rights.
Andrea C. Miller, MFA’12
Andrea Miller’s new book, Awakening My Heart: Essays, Articles & Interviews on the Buddhist Life (Pottersfield Press), is a diverse collection of work she’s done for Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar (formerly Shambhala Sun). In the book, we hear from Tina Turner on the power of song, Ram Dass on the importance of service, Jane Goodall on compassion in the natural world, and Robert Jay Lifton on the darkest deeds of humanity — and how to prevent such things from happening again. Miller gets to the bottom of the friendship between Zen master Bernie Glassman and Hollywood’s Jeff Bridges; goes on retreat with two of the most beloved contemporary Buddhist teachers, Pema Chödrön and Thich Nhat Hanh; and travels to India to follow in the footsteps of the Buddha himself.
Richard Kelly Kemick, BA’12
Richard Kelly Kemick has published his first non-fiction book, I Am Herod, with Goose Lane Editions. In the tradition of tragic luminaries such as David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Goldstein, and David Sedaris, Kemick — an armchair-atheist — joins the 100-plus cast of The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, North America’s largest production of its kind and one of the main tourist attractions in Alberta. By the time closing night is over, Kemick (www.richardkemick.com) has a story to tell.
Suzanne L. Kamata, MFA’16
Suzanne L. Kamata’s memoir, Squeaky Wheels: Travels with my Daughter by Train, Plane, Metro, Tuk-Tuk, and Wheelchair, was published on March 25, 2019, by Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing. Some chapters of this book were workshopped in Kevin Chong’s creative non-fiction class at UBC.
Ellis Odynn, BA’16
Ellis Odynn was recently named one of “Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women.” Odynn was recognized as a “future leader” because of the success she has achieved in finance since graduating from UBC in 2016. Odynn is the executive director of the Digital Finance Institute (a think tank) and is a well-known thought leader who has spoken at numerous international conferences. She joins other influential female innovators, including the commissioner of the RCMP and the CEO of Tangerine Bank, in the Top 100.
Raphael Nowak, BSc’17
After nearly 10 years of work, UBC Okanagan Freshwater Science alumnus Raphael Nowak recently published his book, Okanagan Lake. According to Nowak, his is the first and only book ever written about Okanagan Lake. It provides a comprehensive exploration of the lake both above and below water, says Nowak, along with a look at scientific, historic, and environmental aspects. The book also documents 10 years of the author’s underwater research expeditions into this large, deep, and relatively unexplored lake.
Samara M. Visram, BEnvD’19
Kikambala village is about 28km north of Mombasa and is home to approximately 22,000 people who are mostly subsistence farmers and fishermen. Samara M. Visram grew up beside the village and realized that most students younger than her were not able to attend secondary schools due to the lack of institutions in the county. This prompted Visram to embark on a project that involved everything from designing to fundraising for and eventually constructing a secondary school for this community (www.carmschoolskenya.com). Visram was invited to the State House by the president of Kenya, Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, to present this project. Moreover, the governor of Kilifi County said that the school will be an exemplary School of Excellence.
William (Wai Liang) Tham, BSc’16
William (Wai Liang) Tham’s second novel, The Last Days, was published in January 2020 by the Malaysian publisher Clarity. After stepping down as senior editor at Ricepaper, he is now a publications assistant and editor with Gerakbudaya.