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Denisha Coelho encourages fellow students to thrive on embracing challenges

Author: Kayla Cormier

Posted on May 6, 2024

Category: UNB Fredericton

Valedictorian Denisha Coelho

Four years ago, Denisha Coelho packed her bags and moved from Mumbai, India, to Fredericton, New Brunswick to pursue a bachelor of science in kinesiology.

This was a step out of her comfort zone – not just moving from a big city to a small town a world away – but because kinesiology wasn’t a well-known career path at the time.

Since arriving in New Brunswick and beginning her undergraduate degree, Denisha hasn’t stopped stepping out of her comfort zone.

She embraced all the new things this new place had to offer, including joining extracurricular groups and taking on leadership roles in student organizations such as UNB’s Model United Nations Assembly, the Undergraduate Kinesiology Society and the Girls STEM Up Conference.

Though the last four years have not been without hardships, Denisha viewed them as stepping stones on her path to success: “When I embraced challenges and began channeling my efforts to make a positive impact, not just for myself but for other students, I began to thrive.”

Denisha leaves others feeling inspired and has worked tremendously hard to maximize the student experience at UNB.

She recently reflected on her path to New Brunswick and her transformative experience at UNB. Here’s what she said:

Can you tell me more about your story and how you ended up here today?

I didn’t really know I wanted to study kinesiology until the end of 12th grade. Honestly, I didn't even know what kinesiology was. Back home, sports science was very new and so there weren’t many opportunities. My dad knew what my interests were and so he introduced me to kinesiology and I immediately fell in love. UNB has one of the best kinesiology programs in the country and one of the very few programs that offer such a practical component with the degree—all my boxes were checked.

My university career has been a rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs. My dad would always tell me, “Focus on the effort and not the result. The result will eventually follow,” and I tried to live by that all throughout university. I made mistakes, stumbled along the way and did not always believe that I would eventually end up here today, but I never stopped working toward it. Even when the path ahead seemed extremely daunting, I would just tell myself to keep going.

Throughout these four years, I made sure to stay true to my values and never let anything shake them. I made sure to use my voice not just for myself but for those who did not have the courage to stand up for themselves.

Tell me about your values. How do they align with your goals and vision for the future?

My values of authenticity, inclusivity, growth, perseverance, resilience, empowerment and empathy are the essence of who I am, which have been deeply instilled in the environment my parents cultivated for my sister and I since our childhood. From a young age, they imparted the importance of staying true to oneself and treating others with kindness and respect. My parents are the most authentic, resilient, inclusive and empathic people I have ever met. They recognize that growth is a lifelong process and have always encouraged my sister and me to view challenges as opportunities for learning. My parents' resilience in the face of hardships has been a source of strength and inspiration to me. They encouraged us to speak up for ourselves and others and to always uplift those around us.

How did your UNB experience support or help shape those values?

As a person of color, UNB's commitment to diversity and inclusivity is incredible. Whether it was through a diverse student body across campus or the implementation of inclusive policies and regulations, I truly felt that the experiences and perspectives I brought were celebrated and that a sense of belonging is created for everyone.

UNB has also provided me with a great number of opportunities for personal and professional development. Whether it was through the diverse range of classes, practicums, research opportunities, leadership roles in student organizations or the work-study program, I was constantly in spaces where I could learn, grow and step out of my comfort zone while developing new skills and refining the old ones.

In difficult times, UNB also helped me to persevere and overcome obstacles. Whether it was navigating rigorous academic demands to facing personal setbacks, I learned to rely on my inner strength and resilience to get through adversity. During difficult times, our supportive community were essential sources of encouragement and support. UNB also helped me find my voice and advocate for positive change. I was always able to amplify the voices of marginalized communities and create meaningful change on campus and beyond.

Who are you most inspired by?

Probably the easiest question out of the lot! My dad. He believed in me when nobody else did. If I’m being honest, my dad has way more potential than I do but unfortunately, he did not have even one per cent of the support, resources, or opportunities that I had. He sacrificed his whole life, his dreams, his ambitions to make mine, to support me, to uplift me and to make sure that I had the best resources available. When the whole world was telling me that I wouldn't be able to do anything, achieve anything - it was my dad who stood by me the whole time and said, “there is nothing in this world that you cannot achieve. You just try, I'm standing behind you.” Honestly, there are not enough words to describe what he has done for me. Four years ago, we shared this one dream together and now four years later, it has become such a full circle moment for us.

Do you have any advice or words you live by that you’d like to share?

Oh absolutely, ask a fourth year to give you advice and they will never stop talking! I have a few things that I would advise all students because they are also words that I live by. Get involved, try new things, get out of your comfort zone, believe in yourself even when nobody else believes in you, don’t let failure stop you, always focus on the effort and enjoy the journey.

I made some of the best memories, met some of my closest friends and experienced some of the coolest things through my extracurriculars and by getting involved! Trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone is what these four years are meant for.

Who are you now and who will you be in ten years?

Currently I am a combination of all my experiences, perspectives, and aspirations. I am someone who cherishes growth, embraces challenges and seeks to learn from every encounter. I understand the importance of each step taken and each lesson learned. I thrive in endeavors that align with my passions, while making meaningful contributions to the world around me, and fostering connections that resonate with authenticity and values.

In ten years, I picture myself thriving in a career that not only fulfills me but more importantly allows me to make a meaningful impact on the lives of others. I hope that my passion for making a difference in the world burns brighter than ever. I envision a future where I continue to evolve and grow, building upon the foundation and experiences from my time at UNB. I envision myself making meaningful contributions to the field of medicine and technology while inspiring others through my journey.

As a brown woman in STEM and an international student, I understand the struggles of breaking down barriers and constantly fighting for equality. However, I truly believe in a future in which everyone, regardless of their background, is treated equally, recognized for their efforts and has access to all the resources they deserve without having to fight for it. I envision a life in which I continue to push boundaries, advocate for the oppressed and close the equality gap.

What next?

I am taking a gap year from school to work and travel - both of which I am extremely excited for! I am also going to continue volunteering in the PEADS Laboratory at UNB. While working full-time, I am going to be building my non-profit organization that aims to provide financial support to students from minority and oppressed groups, including BIPOC, international students, first-generation students and students with disabilities. I am also going to be involved with the United Nations to some capacity.

Eventually, I will be going to graduate school to get my masters of engineering in biomedical engineering. Once completed, I will then be getting a specialized masters in precision medicine. I might also end up enrolling myself into a PhD program, but I’ve given myself a few years to make that decision.

Coelho will deliver her valedictory address in Fredericton on Wednesday, May 15 at 2:30 p.m.