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Alumnae fund timely new scholarship in health and biomedical information

Submitted on Friday, July 08, 2022

Twin sisters with a lifelong interest in health and science give back to inspire future leaders in health information

While the timing may make it look like the Faculty of Information’s newest scholarship, the Elizabeth Reid and Marilyn Hernandez Graduate Scholarship in Biomedical/Health Information, was inspired by the global pandemic, the award was actually in the works well before anyone had even heard of Covid-19.

Elizabeth and Marilyn, non-identical twin sisters who earned Bachelor of Science degrees at UofT before going on to study library science in the seventies, had been impressed by what Marilyn’s husband’s family had achieved by funding the Hernandez Family Oncology MD/PhD Fellowship at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. When Marilyn and her husband Helios, who live in Winnipeg, would visit Toronto they would often attend medical faculty events and meet with researchers to familiarize themselves with the kind of work Hernandez fellowship recipients were doing. If they weren’t able to make it, Elizabeth sometimes attended in their absence.

While the sisters have made modest annual donations to the Faculty of Information over the years, as well as legacy commitments, seeing the effects of the Hernandez family gift to medicine inspired Elizabeth and Marilyn to put their heads together and see if they could have a similar impact at the Faculty of Information. They especially liked the idea of targeting their giving to a specific field.

Marilyn at work in 1977 at the Manitoba Health Social Development Library

Marilyn, shown at work in 1977 at the Manitoba Department of Health and Social Development Library, had a long and accomplished career with the Manitoba government.

Biomedical information and health was a natural fit given the sisters’ undergraduate degrees and their long and accomplished careers in medical and health librarianship. Elizabeth (class of ‘74) worked exclusively in teaching hospitals in the Toronto region. Over the years, she was also chair of the local chapter of the Medical Library Association, the Toronto Health Libraries Association, and the Ontario Hospital Libraries Association. Marilyn (class of ‘73), who worked for the Manitoba government including at the Department of Health and Social Development, was also extensively involved in associations including as President of the Manitoba Health Libraries Association and a Director of the Canadian Health Libraries Association.

In 2020 Marilyn and Elizabeth made an initial donation of $25,000 to set up the Elizabeth Reid and Marilyn Hernandez Graduate Scholarship in Biomedical/Health Information for students in the Master of Information program. Through the Faculty of Information’s matching program, Marilyn and Elizabeth’s donation was doubled with an additional grant of $25,000. This enabled the award to be created as an endowed fund and extended the life of the award from five years to continuing in perpetuity.

Elizabeth at work in 1974 at the Toronto Western Hospital Medical Library

Elizabeth, shown at work in 1974 at the Toronto Western Hospital Medical Library, says she and her sister both enjoyed hearing about the first recipient of their scholarship, Heba Roble, and her research into privacy and digital health.

“Scholarships such as these are so important in creating opportunities and lowering barriers for our students,” said Dean Wendy Duff, who has made funding for fellowships, awards and grants a top priority at the Faculty of Information. “I’m so grateful that these two sisters and alumnae stepped forward to establish this wonderful award, and I’m thrilled that we can extend the award’s impact to many more students with a matching grant.”

For Elizabeth and Marilyn, the match was “a big factor,” says Elizabeth. “It allowed us to get to a point where we could offer what I would call a meaningful scholarship.”

Elizabeth Reid (left) and Marilyn Hernandez with former Faculty of Information Dean Seamus Ross.

Elizabeth Reid (left) and Marilyn Hernandez with former Faculty of Information Dean Seamus Ross at an Alumni Reunion event in 2015.

Recipients of the new scholarship must have a focus on health, be it in library or data science, the newest concentration at the Faculty of Information, or “anything in the future relating some kind of health care information delivery,” said Marilyn, adding that they didn’t want the scholarship to be too restrictive.

The sisters especially enjoyed receiving a letter from the first award winner, Heba Roble, who graduated in June 2022 in the Knowledge Management and Information Management concentration. “My primary research interest [is] in understanding the role of privacy and health in the inequitable eHealth and mHealth adoption among minority groups,” she wrote, adding that she plans to continue her studies at the University’s Institute of Health, Policy, Management and Evaluation. “Without this award, reaching the next step in my academic journey would not be possible.”

Even if Covid-19 wasn’t the impetus behind the new scholarship, its launch during the pandemic underlined its relevance. “It definitely showed the value of having trained people in the field of health information,” said Elizabeth. “Everything all sort of came together.”

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