Loay Al-Salehi headshot.

SBME PhD candidate Loay Al-Salehi has been awarded a 2022 Killam Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Award. Killam GTA awards are bestowed upon teaching assistants (TAs) at UBC who have dedicated their knowledge, skills, and leadership in a professional and reflective manner.

Loay is a PhD candidate in his 5th year in the Biomedical stream of the Mechanical Engineering program. Loay knows that the research he does is a small, incremental step towards preventing catastrophic spine and spinal cord injuries, but he understands that taking that step at all can help improve the lives of people living with these injuries. He was drawn to his field of work because he has seen the impact that spine and spinal cord injuries have on both the affected people and their loved ones.

Loay works out of ICORD with Dr. Peter Cripton of the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) and Dr. Gunter Siegmund from MEA Forensic. Their research revolves around better understanding catastrophic cervical spine injuries in headfirst impacts, like in vehicle rollovers. They use human volunteers to analyze how people brace for an impending headfirst impact to define pre-injury circumstances. The knowledge that comes out of this research will help develop prevention or safety devices in motor vehicles and beyond.

Loay’s concentration is on spine and spinal cord injury prevention, which he laments has been overlooked for funding in medicine. Still, Loay recognizes the importance of pushing for more research in this area, and he hopes that his work will shed more light on prevention efforts.

Outside of the lab, Loay is committed to student learning and mentorship. Although Loay is categorized as a Mechanical Engineering student, he chose to focus his TA work in Biomedical Engineering (BME). Biomedical Engineering courses satiated Loay’s drive for the growth, innovation, and mentorship that defines the BME field.

“When I saw the opportunity to help shape new courses like Biomechanics or the Capstone course, I was really excited about the challenge. Also, being there since the first [SBME Undergraduate] cohort and seeing them graduate and excel in academia and industry is a very nice feeling as an educator.”

Loay started teaching and TAing about a dozen years ago while he was completing his Undergraduate degree, and the Killam GTA Award holds a lot of meaning to him. This award rounds out his terminal academic degree as a great reminder of the time and mental energy that he—and fellow TAs—invested. More powerful and meaningful than the award itself were the letters that professors, colleagues and especially students wrote to support Loay’s Killam GTA Award nomination.

Loay’s greatest achievement is not an award or initiative. Rather, he is proudest of what he’s been able to accomplish as a migrant to Canada.

“I have been able to start a new life in a new country, with a different language and culture, on a whole new continent. Leaving family, friends and my home Aachen, Germany behind was the hardest thing I have done in my life, and knowing the struggle that comes with that has benefitted me as an educator and as a human being in general.”

His time here in Vancouver has given him the opportunity to put his leadership into practice as a TA and beyond. To Loay, a leader’s duty is not just to lead a group of people towards a certain goal or objective, but instead, a leader must take on responsibilities.

Killam Loay photo - student awards

“A leader must ensure their people’s wellbeing and speak truth to power whenever they see injustice.”

Loay’s Killam GTA Award marks the commitment that our grad students have to mentorship, education, and excellence. He continues the legacy set by previous SBME TAs like Carly Jones and Jeanie Malone (Killam GTA Award recipients in 2021 and 2020 respectively).

This story is part of the SBME’s Building Today, Leading Tomorrow series. Follow along as we Discover, Invent, and Translate for the future.