Student Support: Pina Sorrini, BBME Student Affairs Officer

Pina shows excellence stems from passion, kindness, and community.

Pina Sorrini has been advising and serving students at McGill for over 25 years. Her extraordinary and unwavering dedication to support students, the department, and the program, together with her compassion, enthusiasm, and generosity, make her a vital part of our community – she is truly the beating heart of BBME. Her excellence and contribution have been recognized by three major awards for excellence in service (more details below). She also accumulated an unparalleled wealth of knowledge and insight that benefits us all, having served as Graduate Program Coordinator following the launch of the Biomedical Engineering program in 1993, and then transitioning to Student Affairs Officer following its re-structuring and elevation to the interfaculty Biological & Biomedical Engineering (BBME) program in 2016.

Pina answered our questions about student advising, the BME department and BBME program, and what makes McGill special:

Q: Tell us about your career at McGill?

I started at McGill as a clerk at ‘Artificial Cells and Organs Research Centre’ under the direction of Prof TMS Chang, world renowned pioneer in Artificial Cells. He gave me the opportunity to grow in my position which allowed me to move on to Biomedical Engineering where I took on a newly created position of Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC).

Q: Why did you choose McGill? Why Biomedical Engineering (or BBME)?

I always strived to work for an educational institution and with students – to make a difference and help students in their graduate journey. Hence my GPC role in Biomedical Engineering and now Student Affairs Officer in BBME for a total of over 25 years! My GPC role in BME was a newly created position and was a perfect opportunity for me to develop the role.

Q: What is the role of a Student Affairs Officer (SAO)?

My role as SAO is to manage the Graduate Program (GP) admissions process, review, analyze and make decisions on admission eligibility in consultation with the Admissions Committee. I participate in the implementation of new initiatives that support the strategic direction of the program by keeping abreast of new developments and trends in the student affairs field, specifically in areas such as advising approaches and programs, and graduate admissions process enhancements. Another important key role as a SAO is to advise students on course selection and academic issues as well as provide guidance, support, and counseling to students in difficulty.

Q: What is your favorite or most rewarding part of your job?

Being able to provide assistance to our students whether it be academic or non-academic nature. It gives me great joy at the end of my workday if I manage to make a student feel better when they leave my office (virtually now). I also enjoy mentoring student affairs staff from other Departments across the university on student affairs activities and best practices. The monthly GPC Peer support meetings are a great way to connect and share best practices with peers.

Q: What is it like to win so many awards for excellence in your position?

Award for Excellence in Service (2019),
Principal’s award for administrative and support staff – Management category (2014),
VP-Dean of Medicine and Health Sciences Awards of Excellence – Anne McCormick Award (2009)

I am humbled and honored that I was recognized for these awards, but there are so many hardworking and dedicated staff across McGill who deserve to win. Those working with students should be gratified as it is such an important and critical role in helping students as we are usually the first point of contact for both academic and non-academic issues. It also helps that I work with supportive people - makes a huge difference.

Q: What is the one piece of advice you think is most valuable to share with students?

“Try your best” is all you can do. And if you succeed – great; if you realize that graduate school is not for you, then this is not a failure but a reflection of something different waiting for you, and something more suited for you.

Q: What can others learn from your experience? Are there things you see through your role that others may not be fully aware of or understand?

Situations are sometimes unique, and what might work for some students may not work for others. One key factor is to listen to students and show empathy, especially if they are struggling, and refer them to the right student services at McGill whom are qualified in dealing with student health problems.

Sometimes we need to look beyond the policies that are in place and assess exceptional situations, as there can be exceptions to these policies. I am quoting here a former Chair who has repeated to me on many occasions and proved to be right:

"It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission!" :) 

Q: What are your thoughts on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion? Are we doing enough? What can we do to improve?

I believe McGill has come a long way, but I also feel it is up to every one of us to do our part and show awareness.

Q: How did the McGill experience (or people in the McGill community) help you to pursue/develop your career? Was there anyone here who supported or mentored you?

It would be remiss of me to forget anyone so I will leave names out! I have to say, I have been blessed throughout my career at McGill. I have met amazing people who have inspired me and helped me grow both professionally and personally. The Chairs and GPDs I have worked with over the years have been most supportive. The staff and faculty (some of whom I have known for over 25 years) have been there through good times and during hardships. The good sense of humour at BBME/BME goes a long way in coping and surviving, especially during the coronavirus! I am also very grateful for colleagues across campus who have provided support over the years and with whom I’ve developed great working relationships as well as friendships.

Q: Why would you recommend students, faculty, or other administrative staff to join BME (or BBME)?

BBME is interdisciplinary with high-profile faculty working in state-of-the-art research. The program directors, faculty, staff, and students are all very collegial. Our student society (BBMESS) does an amazing job. During the pandemic, they have shown true resilience and have been very creative with virtual events ensuring that all students can easily join from anywhere. And their most recent addition of virtual studying is just so awesome – true spirit which deserves to be applauded!! I am so proud of them; every program should have a student society like BBMESS – they are so engaged!

Q: If you could tell the world one thing about McGill BME, what would it be?

I started in BME and transferred to BBME because of the amazing, supportive people who have contributed to my career and provided support during the transition. They make each workday for me colorful, filled with new and exciting challenges. I would not be where I am today if not for everyone who has helped make my workplace my “home away from home”. And now, in BBME, an extension of the BME family, and I am so proud to say that I would not trade my job for the world!

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