Dr. Jill Rourke honoured as NBHRF’s 2021 Mentor of the Year
SACKVILLE, NB — Dr. Jillian (Jill) Rourke, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Mount Allison University has been named the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation’s (NBHRF) 2021 Mentor of the Year. The announcement was made at the Foundation’s annual conference this fall.
Rourke was nominated by her students for the award. She was also named NBHRF’s Mentor of the Month for March 2021.
“Receiving an award like this really means a lot to me, especially coming from my students,” says Rourke. “I got into this field to teach. As a first-generation student myself, I think it’s important that students see themselves as researchers at all stages of their education. I hope those I work with feel like they have that opportunity.”
Madeline Power, a Master’s student at Mount Allison was one of Rourke’s nominators. Power has worked and studied with Rourke throughout her Master’s degree.
“I nominated Dr. Rourke because she has been such a wonderful mentor over the past couple of years. I have learned many things from her, most of which have been from all of the little things she does, how she treats her students, leads her lab, and overcomes challenges,” says Powers. “Dr. Rourke is an incredibly patient and supportive mentor who encourages her students to think independently. It is clear from the moment you join her lab that Dr. Rourke highly values lab culture and works to create a team-oriented environment where when one person succeeds, we all succeed.”
Rachel McDougall, who graduated in 2020, worked on the nomination with Power.
“I nominated Dr. Rourke for the Mentor of the Year award because she is a fantastic researcher and supervisor and the time I spent in her lab was so great,” says McDougall. “She is a caring, supportive, and inspiring mentor who always challenged me to fulfill my potential, and I very much appreciate the guidance she gave me during the time we worked together.”
Rourke has taught at Mount Allison since 2017 in the University’s Biochemistry Department. Her research focuses on how components of food play a role in cellular communication and health.
“Our research essentially looks at how cells in our bodies talk to each other and the role food plays in this,” says Rourke. “Our current projects are looking at how amino acids (a type of protein) communicate on the cell’s surface to help determine its energy status and learn more about their environment. We’re also studying the impact of artificial sweeteners on cell communication.”
Working with Mount Allison colleagues, Dr. Tyson MacCormack and Dr. Vicki Meli, Rourke’s lab is also studying nanoparticle toxicity. This work looks at how we can use biochemistry and cell biology to better understand how nanomaterials that are being developed for medical or commercial use affect the health of human cells.
Rourke teaches classes in introductory biochemistry, signal transaction, immunology, and molecular analysis. Her research lab includes between seven and 10 students, at both the undergraduate and Master’s level.
Rourke encourages all students who might have an interest in research to reach out to faculty members or students involved in research to learn more about the exciting experiential learning opportunities available in research across campus.