By Sarah Sawler

The world has changed since the last time we celebrated International Women’s Day, creating the perfect opportunity to raise the status quo. That might be why this year’s theme is Choose to Challenge–and there are plenty of Dal alum doing just that. In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re celebrating several female graduates who are making waves in their respective fields, whether they’re leading the fight against COVID-19, lobbying for environmental justice, or advocating for human rights.

Unwavering leaders

At a time when strong health guidance is more important than ever, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald (PGM’96), Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health; Dr. Jennifer Russell (BA’92, PGM’01), New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health; Dr. Heather Morrison (MD’99), Prince Edward Island’s chief public health officer; and Dr. Bonnie Henry (MD’90), British Columbia’s provincial health officer have risen to the occasion. These four women have met massive challenges with unwavering and effective leadership, leaving Canadians from coast-to-coast in good hands.

Community champion

Photo: Dalhousie University

Since graduating from Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law in 2013, Jalana Lewis has remained committed to her social justice policy work and community activism. Over the last five years, she has managed the municipal campaign of Halifax city counsellor Lindell Smith, worked with the Law Foundation of Ontario to increase access to justice for BIPOC and worked as lead researcher for Dalhousie’s Report on Lord Dalhousie’s History on Slavery and Race. Now, she’s sharing her expertise and experience with Dalhousie again, as the university’s first director of African Nova Scotian community engagement.

Space specialist


In September 2020, Lisa Campbell (LLB’91) became the first woman to lead the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). In her role as CSA president, she’ll guide the agency through astronaut missions, International Space Station decisions and collaborations, satellite operation, research and development, and much more. In an interview with Chatelaine, Campbell said that she’s looking forward to helping Canadians “understand ourselves, our planet and our universe.”

Screen sensations

When CBC show Schitt’s Creek claimed nine Emmy Awards in 2020, actor Sarah Levy (BA’08), who played Twyla Sands, and costume designer Debra Hanson (BA’72) were among the victors. Levy took home the award for best comedy series (shared with the rest of the cast), while Hanson claimed the contemporary costume design category.

Testing trailblazer

Photo: Dalhousie University

While the world was reeling from the sudden appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Lisa Barrett (PGM’09), an infectious disease expert in Dalhousie’s Department of Medicine, saw an overlooked opportunity for prevention. By speaking in support of asymptomatic testing—and leading the way by organizing and operating community pop-up clinics—Dr. Barrett’s work has played an important role in helping to keep Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 cases from spreading across the province in large numbers.

Human rights champion

In 2020, Shawna Y. Paris-Hoyte (BA’78, LLB’94, BSW’01, MSW’03) was awarded the Order of Nova Scotia for her expansive contributions to social justice and law. According to her citation, Paris-Hoyte “has worked tirelessly in public service and volunteer work in support of the Nova Scotian community. She is a zealous advocate for the human rights of women, children, youth, families, and the Black community.”

Power shifter

Photo: SEE change

In her role as the CEO of the Foundations for Social Change, Claire Elizabeth Williams (MPLAN’08) launched the New Leaf Project in partnership with the University of British Columbia. Described as a “direct cash transfer program,” the New Leaf Project gives people experiencing homelessness a financial boost. The project’s fresh, non-prescriptive approach allows people to maintain their dignity by allowing them to make the financial decisions that best meet their individual needs. The results speak for themselves.

Environmental advocate

Photo: Goldman Environmental Foundation

When Bahamian marine biologist Kristal Ambrose (MIM’19) was 18 years old, she witnessed the “agony and pain” of a sea turtle as a marine veterinarian removed plastic from its body. Ambrose’s dedication to the environment has been instrumental in The Bahamas banning single-use plastic, which officially went into effect in 2020. Last November, Ambrose was recognized with a Goldman Environmental Prize for “using science, strategic advocacy and youth empowerment to get her country focused on plastics.”