VIDEO: Meet Erin Richelle, 3M National Student Fellowship Award Winner

Learn how this undergrad found her footing and created a path for others to follow in the process

When Erin Richelle (’24) began her journey as an Acadia University student, her sights were set on earning a degree in chemistry. But within a week of attending classes, she wasn’t so sure. While she excelled at chemistry in high school, she realized early on that she didn’t just want to be good at something in order to pursue it, she wanted to love it. And it turns out that chemistry … was more of a crush. After mulling the many options available to her, Erin chose to follow her instincts and switch to Acadia’s Nutrition and Dietetics program. Once there, she quickly flourished as a straight-A student who enjoyed exploring her passion for food through an academic lens.

Erin would have never guessed it during that first week of uncertainty, but she’d eventually go on to help design a course at Acadia that bridged her former intended major with her new one. The food chemistry class she helped to create is a contribution to Acadia that has improved educational access and knowledge for dozens of students (and counting). 

“I am so interested about learning why our food acts the way it does,” says Erin. “What makes each type of cheese different? What happens when you over- or under-knead bread? Why does your egg white turn from clear to white when heat is added?”

“I think it is fascinating that the simple act of cooking and eating, which everyone participates in, is actually such a complex science! How fun is it that we’ve been practicing science our whole lives in ways as simple as scrambling eggs and toasting bread in the morning?”

CHEM 4733 (Food Chemistry) helps to explain the everyday magic of our meals. Erin’s work on the course provided access to science-heavy concepts that might intimidate non-chemistry majors in a way that clicked with her fellow students. It also earned her a rare recognition: a prestigious 3M National Student Fellowship Award in her graduating year. 

 

 

The 3M National Student Fellowship Award honours students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and innovation in higher education. The award recognizes those who embrace a vision of education that enhances academia. Only ten undergraduate students across all of Canada receive the prize each year, and they go on to attend a national conference that kicks off a year-long project for the group to determine and tackle. In Erin, Acadia found its 3M winner and representative. 

Erin was nominated for the award by Dr. Matt Lukeman (or simply “Lukeman” to his students), an organic chemistry professor at Acadia who has been running labs and teaching undergrads at the university since 2005. He was also the person who originally approached Erin to partner with him to design the new food chemistry course. 

“I take a ‘students first’ approach to teaching; this is all primarily about them,” said Matt. “It’s important to me that both the content and approach to teaching are relevant to today’s students. I want people to easily be able to connect what they learn in the classroom with real life.” 

“When it came time to figure out the food chemistry course, Erin stood out as someone who could help achieve those goals, especially in making this information accessible to students in other disciplines. Her contributions were meaningful. In fact, her insights on course material delivery have influenced my approach with other classes I teach.” 

Taking a lead role in creating a university course as an undergrad is unusual, to be sure, but part of what Acadia University offers its students is an atypical academic experience. (In fact, Acadia’s Leah Creaser (‘21) earned a 3M National Student Fellowship Award a few years ago for helping to create a biology lab that incorporated Mi’kmaq Traditional Knowledge.) 

 

With smaller class sizes, a greater community feel, and the importance of multifaceted, experiential learning emphasized through the liberal arts model, professors and students across faculties at Acadia get to know each other quickly. That culture is in large part what enabled Matt to easily identify Erin as a potential collaborator in the course design. 

For Erin, her time at the university offered a special blend of support, opportunities, and self-direction. 

“I didn’t just find my place at Acadia, I was able to create my place,” says Erin. “I determined my own path – one that involved crossing the ocean! – and I see a lot of value in that.” 

The ocean crossing is on account of Erin taking part in the Acadia International Exchange & Study Abroad Program in 2022, studying as an Acadia Outbound Student in Scotland for a semester. (And, yes, she ate haggis. “It’s not bad. But it’s also not great. Especially if you’re thinking about what it is while you’re chewing it.”) 

The fall term at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh offered Erin a chance to grow on both an academic and personal level. Half a world away from her family in Hammonds Plains, NS, Erin enjoyed a greater sense of independence – and the responsibilities that come with it. It solidified her belief in the importance of going outside one’s comfort zone in order to experience meaningful growth.

 

My self-reliance, independence, and confidence skyrocketed,” said Erin. “It wasn’t easy at first, but by embracing the changes, I eventually became much more comfortable taking on new challenges. If I could spend a semester abroad, 4,000 kilometres from home, I could do anything.”

As for what’s next for the recent Acadia grad, now that she’s completed her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition? She’s open to the possibilities but not stressing about it. 

“If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that I don’t need to worry so much,” said Erin. “I started at Acadia as a shy, reserved student, and now I’ve just returned from speaking in front of a few hundred people at a Canadian conference as a national award winner.” 

As a 3M National Student Fellowship winner, Erin joined the other 2024 student fellows at the Society for Teacher and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE)’s annual conference in Niagara Falls for a week in June. They fully immersed in the conference experience by fostering connections with student and teacher alumni from across Canada, attending sessions and workshops, officially receiving their fellowship award, delivering a plenary talk, and participating in a student fellowship summit. At the summit, they together explored their definitions of educational leadership and began planning a year-long project that will contribute to the betterment of higher education in Canada.

Erin came home from the conference more motivated than ever to make a difference.  

“I now know that if I’m open to possibilities and willing to put in the work – even if there are unknowns involved – I can figure it out. In fact, I’ve discovered that I have a ‘service-based’ leadership style, in the sense that I want to pave the way for others – and myself!” 

We have no doubt there’s a future of unlimited possibilities for Erin. After all, the cream always rises to the top (the science behind which, we can luckily ask Erin to explain). 

On behalf of Acadia University, we congratulate Erin Richelle on this fantastic accomplishment and thank Dr. Matt Lukeman for being such a terrific mentor to his students. 

Get the Acadia experience with Dr. Matt Lukeman

If you’d also like to learn about all things chemistry with “Lukeman”, he regularly teaches CHEM 1053 (Chemistry and our World), which is a popular general interest course designed for non-science majors to show how chemistry can be applied to many real world processes, along with CHEM 1013 (General Chemistry 1), CHEM 1023 (General Chemistry 2), CHEM 1113 (Introduction to Chemistry for Physical Sciences 1), CHEM 1123 (Introduction to Chemistry for Physical Sciences 2), CHEM 2513 (Organic Chemistry). 

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