Profile: Sharareh Hekmat

Yogurt that Heals & Teaching that Changes Lives

Written by: Pat Morden

Brescia’s Faculty Award Winners

s_hekmat-bnrWhen Sharareh Hekmat visited Brescia to interview for a faculty position 20 years ago, she immediately felt the sense of community and warmth. “It attracted me to come to Brescia, and to never want to leave,” she says. In April 2016 Dr. Hekmat received the Brescia University College Award for Excellence in Research.

Dr. Hekmat started studying probiotics — live bacteria that are good for your health — 26 years ago as a Masters student. She is now collaborating with the Canadian Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotic Research and faculty at Western University on a variety of probiotic research projects.

Dr. Hekmat has been involved in the innovative Western Heads East project. The grassroots program teaches women in African communities how to operate a probiotic yogurt kitchen. The goal is to improve the health of their communities and make an income for their families. She developed the yogurt used in the project using a bacteria developed by one of her collaborators. It has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV and urogenital infections in women, and to lower
HIV mortality from diarrhea. The bacteria may also help people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and seasonal allergies and could even help with managing obesity.

As part of the program Brescia and Western students have the opportunity to participate in internships at sites in Africa. Dr. Hekmat trains all interns in the Brescia food labs before they leave for their placements.

In her current work, Dr. Hekmat is exploring the role of prebiotics – additives or food ingredients that enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria. She is also developing a porridge product containing probiotic bacteria. In the long term she is committed to exploring more “Functional Foods” – those with nutritional value and health benefits.

“I feel honoured and privileged to receive this award,” she says. “But I couldn’t have achieved it all by myself. I want to thank all the people who helped me get to this point – faculty, students, staff and collaborators.”

Two teaching awards were also presented in April. Professor Colleen Sharen was honoured for excellence in full-time teaching. Professor Sharen is known for her use of innovative teaching methods and her commitment to deep learning by her students. She is the first faculty member to complete the requirements for the Faculty Certificate in Teaching Excellence at Western University, and is actively involved in scholarship on teaching and learning in higher education. Among many other contributions, she developed the Just Own It! entrepreneurship conference, and the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Professor Carlie Bell is the inaugural recipient of the Brescia University College Award for Excellence in Teaching – Contract Faculty. Professor Bell makes extensive use of innovative teaching methods, including in-class experiential exercises, public speaking exercises, peer-led activities and collaborative learning, community involvement, guest speakers and case studies. A strong mentor to both current and past students, she is the faculty advisor to Pink Ties, the student club in Management and Organizational studies.