Monday, August 22, 2016

Incoming law students, both first years and transfers from other law schools, are being welcomed to campus and discovering the new Jackman Law Building. We’d like to introduce some of them to you. In our annual series of profiles, meet: Amir Aboguddah from Regina, ESL volunteer Quinn Clement-Schlimm, contemporary dancer Sarah Helmer and bike racer and Olympian Denise Ramsden.

Stories by Karen Gross

Amir Aboguddah

For much of his young life, Amir Aboguddah’s family was the only Syrian family in Regina.  Eventually the number grew to a handful, and recently it has ballooned to hundreds, thanks to an influx of newly arrived refugees. Deeply connected to his Syrian roots, Aboguddah developed a passion for its people and their struggles. At the University of Regina, he was president of the Muslim Students Association where he worked to build bridges between communities on campus. There and around town, he became a sought-after speaker on the Syrian crisis. And as a volunteer with the Regina Open Door Society, he worked as an interpreter, welcoming refugee families to the city and helping them navigate the unfamiliar landscape of their new home.

Amir Aboguddah

“What really drives my decisions in life is my passions,” Aboguddah says. “I try not to miss any opportunity to raise awareness about what’s going on there.”

While working to explain Syria’s issues to Canadians, he dreams of bringing what he calls the Canadian experience back there, when the time is right. He believes law school will help pave the way. “I’m pretty lucky to be living in Canada,” Aboguddah says. “I get to study one of the best legal systems in the world. Especially the Constitution and the Charter of Rights. It would be great to try and share this and transfer these things abroad.”

If that sounds far-fetched, consider the challenges he’s already faced. A rare eye disease left him legally blind in one eye from birth. His other eye is unreliable and he uses digital textbooks to read. “It’s one of those things that teaches you to be determined and to persevere no matter what obstacles you face,” Aboguddah says. “It also teaches you to work around things. Not everything is going to go the way you want.”


Quinn Clement-Schlimm

Reaching out to others is part of Quinn Clement-Schlimm’s DNA. Both his parents immigrated to Canada; his dad from Germany, his mom from Barbados. His bi-racial, bi-cultural background gave him a unique perch from which to observe society and make inroads where others might not.

“It’s really taught me the importance of trying to reach out to people who aren’t originally from here, who have different experiences,” he says. “Being mixed, I’ve seen how people get treated differently based on where they’re from and what their skin color is.”

Quinn Clement-Schlimm

Born in Toronto and raised in the GTA, Clement-Schlimm’s work and life ethics were largely shaped by his family and their church. His volunteer work as an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) teacher brought him face-to-face with newcomers who needed a boost. Recently, he took over as leader of the church’s youth ministry, where he says he’ll have a special opportunity to invest in the next generation.  “My family has always been into serving others, not just yourself.”

As an undergraduate majoring in political science, Clement-Schlimm made the most of his academic choices. He worked with the G8/G20 Research Group at U of T’s Munk School, compiling reports on leadership summits and comparing leaders’ commitments with their compliance. He currently works as a legal consultant with Geotab, an international geomatics company. And he’s just 22.

Where will the JD/MBA take him? Clement-Schlimm says it’s too soon to predict. “What I realized is that instead of looking at what kind of career I want, it’s more useful to look at what kinds of problems I want to solve. Right now, my main interest is in international politics and security, creating policies that help us work with other countries to help stabilize them. Reaching out, instead of pulling in.”


Sarah Helmer

When Sarah Helmer was barely 14, she faced a setback that would have left most adults reeling. A promising young ballet dancer, she’d been training with the prestigious Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. She spent half her school day in regular classes, and the other half—plus Saturdays—dancing. Her focus was sharp and unwavering. But at the end of Grade 8, Helmer was told she wasn’t physically suited for ballet. Barely begun, her ballet career was suddenly over.

Sarah Helmer

“It was horrible,” she remembers. “I had a big tantrum. I tore all my dance posters off my walls and cried.”

It didn’t take long for Helmer to bounce back. She shifted from ballet to contemporary dance, dedicating herself to her new challenge with even more commitment and drive. Through the School of Contemporary Dancers, she won accelerated admission to the University of Winnipeg and completed her first year of university during her last year of high school.  Helmer graduated with an honours degree in performance and founded the Nova Dance Collective with six of her classmates. She worked as an apprentice dancer and took other jobs to help pay the bills. It was challenging and fun, but it wasn’t enough.

“I always knew that dance wouldn’t be forever,” she says. “You can only live the starving artist life for so long before it gets a little old.”

Sarah Helmer dancing

Law school appealed to her interest in history and social structures. The skills she’d acquired through her life in dance would serve her well. “There was a lot of attention to detail,” she says. “A lot of teamwork and collaboration. I did all the grant writing for Nova, which taught me to be concise and brief while getting my point across.”

Helmer is suffused with anticipation and optimism. Her future looks like a buffet table laden with delectable dishes.  “There are so many interesting things going on in our country right now,” she says. “I’m looking forward to exploring areas that I may have neglected over the past few years because of my focus on dance.”


Denise Ramsden

If stamina, endurance, commitment and time management are staples of success at law school, then Denise Ramsden is arriving fully equipped. A competitive cyclist, she was the Canadian National Champion for Elite Road Racing in 2012, the same year she was part of the team that represented Canada at the London Olympics. While she trained and also raced professionally, Ramsden was also working on a bachelor’s degree at the University of British Columbia. She majored in genetics and cell biology.

Denise Ramsden cycling

“I was very interested in genetics but was pretty convinced I didn’t want to work in a lab,” says Ramsden. “I also really liked some of the arts courses I pursued, so law school seemed like a good way to combine the two.”

She had planned to stay in B.C. but after completing her first year of law school there, personal and professional circumstances prompted her to transfer to U of T.  Her background in science makes a career in intellectual property law particularly appealing. “There’s a lot more career opportunity in Toronto in IP,” she says. “Just choosing my courses, it seems like there are so many interesting offerings taught by people who are definitely experts in their fields.”

Ramsden is also looking forward to and hoping to work with Downtown Legal Services and taking part in some genetics-based externships over the next couple of years. And while the change in venue and focus means she likely won’t be racing professionally anymore, don’t expect her to give up her wheels as she gears up for this next challenge.

“It’s pretty hard to stop cold turkey so I’ll definitely still be riding for fun,” she says with a smile. “I can’t promise I won’t sneak in a few races though.”