Dave Plummer BSc'93 has realized incredible success since he graduated from the University of Regina’s computer science program in 1993. He has had a long and distinguished career at Microsoft and is the man behind the Window’s Task Manager. Three years ago he was diagnosed with autism and his perspectives changed forever.

On the day Dave Plummer graduated from the University of Regina he packed his fiancé Nicole’s belongings into a moving van, and then married her the following day. Two days later they flew from Regina to Seattle, where he would begin working full-time at his dream job at Microsoft.

The story of those eventful few days – one of many Plummer relates in his book Secrets of the Autistic Millionaire - takes on greater significance because at that time he had no inkling that he was a person with autism. People on the autism spectrum are uncomfortable with change, he explains, and those action-packed few days had “big change” written all over them.

The Autism diagnosis

When he was first diagnosed with Autism three years ago, he didn’t want to be labeled or constrained, so in the past few years he has undertaken a number of things that were outside his comfort zone. Those included writing his book, hosting a catered party for 50 friends and launching a YouTube channel, Dave’s Garage, where he talks about software coding and programming, and projects that he worked on at Microsoft.

Dave's garage where Dave hosts Dave's Garage, a YouTube channel about software coding, programming and the Microsoft projects he has worked on over the years.
Dave's garage where Dave hosts Dave's Garage, a YouTube channel about software coding, programming and the Microsoft projects he has worked on over the years.

While he had dropped hints on the channel, in November 2021 Plummer revealed that he was a person with autism, describing his reaction and explaining that, for him, pushing into uncharted territory would lead to personal growth. He published the book with similar goals in mind, offering a more upbeat, optimistic approach than what he found online. Plummer says the subtitle - Everything I know about Autism, ASD and Aspergers that I wish Id known back then - more accurately describes his purpose in writing it.

Dave and his wife Nicole at a Seattle Seahawks game.
Dave and his wife Nicole at a Seattle Seahawks game.

"I find the online support groups to be full of angst and negativity and bitterness,” Plummer observes. “So, if nothing else I’m trying to bring a message of, ‘Life with some autism can be spectacular, and the more you know about it the better you’ll manage with it.’” Plummer has received “a lot of great feedback”, especially from parents with kids on the autism spectrum, encouraging him to set up a separate YouTube channel, The Autistic Millionaire, to explore topics related to it. One of his messages is that an early diagnosis is helpful, and that each child’s situation is different.

Regina beginnings

Reflecting back on his early life in Regina, Plummer notes that he liked talking to adults more than kids. After school he would walk over to his father’s hardware store on College Avenue East and hang out in the back of the store, which he describes as a combination workshop and informal coffee club. Within walking distance were the laundromat that his grandfather managed, the local confectionery, drug store or barber shop. “I think being around adults was highly useful in developing my ‘masking’ ability,” Plummer explains. “In other words, I was socializing and observing how to ‘fit in’, which for people with significant ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) requires effort and work.”

Some adults noticed that Plummer was different from other kids, and made accommodations for that. He still keeps in touch with his beloved fourth grade teacher at Arcola School, Mrs. Donna Harvey, who gave him special projects to work on - for example, a report on all Soviet and American space launches at that time - to help maintain his interest in school.

Computer Science

Plummer’s engagement with computer science began when he was about 12 and his mother enrolled him in a computer class at the University of Regina that enabled him to explore his interest in programming.

"I soon realized that I could come back pretty much any time the lab was open and work on whatever I wanted, so I came in on weekends,” Plummer says. “If there was no formal class going on, as long as you acted like you were supposed to be there, few took any notice of me.”

A young Dave Plummer at the University of Regina circa 1992.
A young Dave Plummer at the University of Regina circa 1992.

Plummer enrolled in the gifted student program at Miller High School, but after that folded he lost interest in school, skipping classes, creating video games for the Commodore 64, cruising in his car. After dropping out he worked different jobs until a friend hauled him down to the U of R campus and urged him to look into the Adult Entry program. When he saw the prerequisites he was missing it seemed logical to him to complete them at Miller, persuading the principal that he had reformed enough to graduate, which he did. “I then entered the U of R in 1989 and never looked back.”

Plummer describes the Computer Science program as close to ideal for someone on the spectrum, and “fairly elementary” for him until fourth year, where he experienced his favourite classes - advanced operating systems, graphics, languages and algorithms - and his favourite professors, Dr. Howard Hamilton and Dr. Xue Dong Yang (both of whom are still members of the Faculty). Both were very influential for him, he notes.

Dr. Howard Hamilton, U of R computer science professor and director of the Laboratory for Computational Discovery.
Dr. Howard Hamilton, U of R computer science professor and director of the Laboratory for Computational Discovery.

Dr. Hamilton recalls that Plummer was one of 21 students in the first class on introductory operating systems that he taught in 1991, and among the 12 in the first offering of a course about advanced operating systems. “It felt like 12 of the cleverest and keenest students from my four introductory classes were collected together, and Dave was one of them,” says Dr. Hamilton. “I could tell he would do well because of his hard work, meticulously done assignments and determination to master programming skills.”

Prior to his fourth year, Plummer acknowledges, he had no clear idea of what a job or career in computers might look like, but while working at SaskTel over a summer he read Hard Drive, a book about Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and the rapid growth of the company. With what he describes as hyper focus, Plummer decided he wanted to work for Microsoft. “I had no second choices or fallback plans.”

Microsoft comes calling

He was successful in landing an internship after his third year - as far as he knows the lone Canadian among thirty interns - before returning to the U of R, where he graduated in January 1993 with a BSc degree in Computer Science, with High Honours. By that time Plummer had received a full-time job offer from Microsoft, which he eagerly accepted. He recalls comparing notes with two other fellows who started the same week - one from MIT and the other from Harvard - who discovered they had received the same starting salary, to the penny. “As a result of that I’ve always worn my U of R alumni status as a badge of honour. I received a great education and entered a very competitive industry without the virtue of a name brand that allowed me to start the race on third base, so to speak.”

Plummer set sail for a career at Microsoft in the mid-1990s.
Plummer set sail for a career at Microsoft in the mid-1990s.

While working on Microsoft Windows-related projects, Plummer continued programming at home, creating a Task Manager application that he had planned to distribute as (try before you buy) shareware. However, a supervisor that he showed it to liked it, and it became part of the Windows operating system. Over the past 25 years 2.2 billion people have used TaskManager, a fact that Plummer finds rewarding. “I made it for myself because I wanted it, and that is often a great way to start,” he says.

Plummer left Microsoft in 2003, founding SoftwareOnline, which distributed software titles on disk and by download. The company at its peak employing 35 people as it evolved to provide more technical and security support to users. It was purchased by another support and security company in 2009.

The Plummer clan in front of the Parisienne 2+2 that Dave's father bought new in 1969. Dave acquired it in 1984 and used it as a daily driver. Note the Saskatchewan front plate. From left to right: Dave, Brooklyn, Eric, Steven, and Andrew.
The Plummer clan in front of the Parisienne 2+2 that Dave's father bought new in 1969. Dave acquired it in 1984 and used it as a daily driver. Note the Saskatchewan front plate. From left to right: Dave, Brooklyn, Eric, Steven, and Andrew.

Looking back on his experiences Plummer refers to the Japanese concept of Ikigai -- something that gives a person a sense of purpose, or that brings pleasure or fulfilment. He is fortunate, he says, to have that feeling in his life. “Working on my own gives me flexibility to chase things that interest me, and so I start and finish a lot of projects, which is always educational and keeps things fresh.”

The U of R hosted an online talk and Q&A session with Dave Plummer in January 2022. Watch it here.

 For more information on the U of R’s Computer Science program, click here.

About the Author

Bill Armstrong is a Regina freelance writer and amateur photographer with a strong interest in Saskatchewan history.

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The letter is dated Nov. 14, 1951 and advises Miss Lydia Winkler that her leave of absence from Dec. 8 until Dec. 22 was not granted by the Regina School Board because she had not followed the secretary-treasurer's advice and resigned.

She'd asked for the leave in order to get married and, once married, it was necessary that she resign "to conform to the regulations of the Board." Only two years earlier, trustees had praised Miss Winkler for her "excellent work" and appointed her to the permanent staff.

Whether Miss Winkler had merely neglected to write the resignation letter or whether it was a small act of defiance, I'll never know.

What I do know is that she complied. On a wickedly cold December day, she became the beautiful bride of a handsome chiropractor, Donald Bramham. Lydia would later become an extraordinary mother, an elementary school principal, a member of the University of Regina's first graduating class, founding president of the University of Regina's alumni association and a member of the University of Saskatchewan Senate.

Lydia Bramham on the U of R campus in the 1970s. Photo by Bruce Pendlebury Lydia Bramham on the U of R campus in the 1970s. Photo by Bruce Pendlebury

This year -- more than 70 years and only a few days after Mom died at age 93 - I found that 1951 letter signed by secretary-treasurer Z.H. Hamilton and three copies of it tucked in books and jumbled amid photos and other papers.

Although Lydia gave every indication of being a feminist, she never described herself that way. For her, it belied how much she had loved being a stay-at-home mother when my older brother, Jack, and I were little. Throughout her life, she argued that a child's earliest experiences are crucial to their development.

The daughter of homesteaders, Lydia grew up on a hardscrabble, mixed farm during the Depression. Rosenfeld school - either two miles away or three depended on the telling -- had only one room with teachers barely older than some of the students.

"Children are a joy that never ends. Upon them and how they are taught rests the fate or fortune of tomorrow's world," she said at her retirement in 1993.

As for profession, "True teachers give not only of their wisdom, but also of their faith and lovingness."

The daughter of homesteaders, Lydia grew up on a hardscrabble, mixed farm during the Depression. Rosenfeld school - either two miles away or three depended on the telling -- had only one room with teachers barely older than some of the students.

According to her daughter, Daphne Bramham, Lydia was a lioness - literally born under the sign of Leo. According to her daughter, Daphne Bramham, Lydia was a lioness - literally born under the sign of Leo.

She was described on her final Grade 7 report grade in 1941 as a "clever student" who was "sometimes selfish. . . but cooperative." Frequently ill with pneumonia, Lydia had missed most of that school year and the year before.

My parents were each other's best friend. They worked hard together with few gendered divisions about his job or hers. They supported each other in their careers, complemented each other.

High school was a combination of in-room teaching and correspondence classes, followed by "Normal School" in Moose Jaw.

Every lesson and every experience that she'd missed as a farm kid was something she wanted for all children. For us, childhood was flurry of lessons - a mix of sports and culture that included swimming, skating, tap dancing, ballet, French and music.

We learned to swing hammers and not fall off the roof at ages that now might be considered inappropriate, as we 'helped' Mom and Dad build the cottage at Katepwa.

My parents were each other's best friend. They worked hard together with few gendered divisions about his job or hers. They supported each other in their careers, complemented each other. They revelled in the time they spent in Palm Springs after retirement. When Dad had a catastrophic stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak, Mom refused to leave his side. Although had never wanted to be a nurse, Lydia cared for him  at home until the final days of his life in 2007.

Lydia surveys an Alaskan glacier during a June 2010 cruise to the northern state. It was her first helicopter ride. Lydia surveys an Alaskan glacier during a June 2010 cruise to the northern state. It was her first helicopter ride.

My mother's generation is the one that Betty Friedan wrote about in The Feminine Mystique, post-war women who set aside dreams to raise families only to wonder as they fed the laundry through the wringer washer whether this was all their lives would be.

I don't know whether my Mom read Friedan, but by the time I was in school full days she needed more in her life that sewing sequins on costumes, modelling in local fashion shows, having tea parties, making ceramic figurines and learning to swim. (Her Red Cross Intermediate badge and certificate from 1964 were also among her papers when she died.)

In September 1974 - more than 25 years after she became the first among six siblings to go to post-secondary school -- the long-delayed letter arrived. Having completed her final requirements in August for a Bachelor of Education, Lydia Bramham was invited to receive her degree at the October convocation.

So, it was back to school first as a student taking correspondence classes through the University of Saskatchewan and later through what was then the Regina campus. We all did homework together at the dining room table.

Lydia also went back to work. By the 1960s, the Regina School Board was desperate for  teachers to meet the demands of the Baby Boom generation.

In September 1974 - more than 25 years after she became the first among six siblings to go to post-secondary school -- the long-delayed letter arrived. Having completed her final requirements in August for a Bachelor of Education, Lydia Bramham was invited to receive her degree at the October convocation.

Lydia relaxing at home. Lydia relaxing at home.

Her relief, excitement and pride in the accomplishment is unforgettable. So too is my own naivete and youthful conceit that day. She curtly rejected my suggestion that she wait until the spring convocation so that we could graduate together.

It is easy to sum up a person's life by listing their accomplishments and affiliations. For our parents, it's tempting to filter their lives mainly through that prism of our own relationship to them.

Lydia at Tofino, B.C. on Christmas Day 2012. Lydia at Tofino, B.C. on Christmas Day 2012.

But lives are so much more than that as I've learned sifting through my mother's boxes. She'd saved cards, letters and documents dating back more than 50 years. There were photos of her family that I'd never seen. And there were mementoes from hundreds of thousands of hours that I'm so grateful to have shared with her.

She was a lioness - literally born under the sign of Leo. She was fiercely protective and could also be fierce. She fought for me when my father didn't want me to go to Germany to work for the summer under a university-sponsored program. It wasn't the working time, he objected to, he feared for me travelling for six weeks alone on a continent he'd never visited and never really had much interest in seeing.

For the first time, Mom was often forced her to rely on me.

But Dad had no comeback when Mom said, "Fine, then I will go and travel with her."

Despite her German ancestry, Mom had never travelled abroad before even though she'd longed to. Travelling through Europe, we became and remained best friends.

For the first time, Mom was often forced her to rely on me. It was partly because I could speak German and my French was better than hers. But after two months working as a chambermaid at a resort on the island of Foehr, I knew more about the differences between Europeans and us and how strange Canadians often seemed to them.

Lydia at Tofino, B.C. on Christmas Day 2012. Lydia at Tofino, B.C. on Christmas Day 2012.

As a daughter, I knew little about her life in the classroom and as the voice of authority in the principal's office. But I came to know more about it once she moved from home to independent living and, later, to long-term care.

With each more, her life was distilled even further to those boxes of saved cards, documents, photos, scrapbooks and photo albums. They were snippets of a life lived with joy from green-face in a witch costume while she was a school principal to doubled-over with laughter when Mom, Dad and I celebrated one New Year's in Singapore to shrieking in terror at the monkeys in a Malaysian forest to walking on an Alaskan glacier after her first-ever helicopter ride.

There's a drawing of her - almost a caricature of my Mom who was renowned for her beautiful clothes, her earrings and her long hair swept up in a bun. They remembered the Mexican lunches, but most of the kids described her as kind, fair and funny.

Every time, I visited we'd go through some of them and, inevitably, there were mementoes from the various schools she'd been at and notes from students. She had an incredible memory and it was only in her final few years that she couldn't point to class photos from 30 or 40 years earlier and remember almost every child's name.

There's a scrapbook I've kept that was made by the teachers and students at McLeod School in 1981 when Mom was leaving her first posting as principal to go to a larger school. There's a drawing of her - almost a caricature of my Mom who was renowned for her beautiful clothes, her earrings and her long hair swept up in a bun. They remembered the Mexican lunches, but most of the kids described her as kind, fair and funny.

In our family, Mom was never really thought of as funny - that was one of Dad's strengths.

But I finally recognized that years later. Coincidentally, it was when the two of us were honoured to, together, be the masters (mistresses?) of ceremonies at the Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards.

For those of us blessed with wonderful parents, it is devastating when they die no matter what age we are.

Annoyingly, my mother had insisted us spending almost the entire day-of going over and over the script. And maybe it was that glass of wine that was talking, but once we got to the microphone, my Mom tossed it aside and was wonderfully funny as her unscripted self.

For those of us blessed with wonderful parents, it is devastating when they die no matter what age we are. My friend, Anne Giardini, was also deeply connected to her mother. She didn't know my mother but when I told her, she recounted the day after her own had died.

Anne and her sister went to buy extra copies of the newspaper to send to friends and relatives. Ahead of them in line, another woman was also buying the newspaper. With tears in her eyese, she turned to Anne and her sister, 'Did you know that Carol Shields has died.'

Lydia was a great Riders fan and she and her husband, Donald, had season tickets for close 60 years. Fandom is a family trait. This photo was taken July 25, 2009 - a day before her birthday - and the day of a Riders game that she went to with me, her grandson, Duncan (left) and son Jack. Both of whom are also UofR alumni. Lydia was a great Riders fan and she and her husband, Donald, had season tickets for close 60 years. Fandom is a family trait. This photo was taken July 25, 2009 - a day before her birthday - and the day of a Riders game that she went to with me, her grandson, Duncan (left) and son Jack. Both of whom are also UofR alumni.

Unlike Anne's mother, mine wasn't a Nobel Prize winner whose death was reported on the front page. And that was the point of Anne's story.

She said the death of every mother should be front page news because one of the greatest comfort a child can have is knowing that they don't grieve alone.

Daphne Bramham graduated from the University of Regina in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and German. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in journalism from the now renamed Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson), a Master of Arts degree in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University and an honorary doctor of letters from Capilano University. She is a past recipient of the Alumni Crowning Achievement Award for her work as a journalist.

In addition to Lydia's longstanding association with the University of Regina, her husband Donald Bramham was a member of the University's Senate and both their son, Jack, and grandson, Duncan, are alumni.

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The first thing that struck Zohra Zahir when she came to Regina in 2018 was the clean air and the peaceful atmosphere.

"I've been in huge cities for the past ten years," she says. "The moment I reached Regina I was like 'Yes that's the one.' You want some peace; you want beautiful Wascana."

Zahir is from Herat, Afghanistan, near its border with Iran in the northwest. The daughter of a forensic pathologist, she grew interested in science after reading about stem cells in a magazine one day. Before moving to Canada in 2018, Zahir lived in Delhi, India, for seven years, studying for her bachelor's and master's degrees in environmental sciences and genetics, respectively.

She left behind six siblings and her parents, who at the time, had already experienced 10 years of Afghanistan's slow democratization under the influence of the U.S. military. After the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the U.S., the Taliban, a fundamentalist, militant and jihadist government, were driven out of Afghanistan.

"They are trapped in their own country," says Zahir. "We are all confused and we don't know what will happen like even tomorrow."

In the years afterwards, Zahir enjoyed a freedom of movement that, particularly for women, was forbidden during Taliban rule. She remembers driving all over with her sisters, witnessing women flock to university and become influential political leaders. She and her eldest sister, now a wind turbine engineer in Germany, went to study and live abroad, leaving their family behind. Zahir's father was committed to staying in his country, to building a better life for his family in the community he knew. Then in August 2021, Zahir's second year of doctoral study at the University of Regina, it all changed.

Science doctoral student Zohra Zahir says her home country of Afghanistan is facing an uncertain future. Science doctoral student Zohra Zahir says her home country of Afghanistan is facing an uncertain future.

"They are trapped in their own country," says Zahir. "We are all confused and we don't know what will happen like even tomorrow."

When U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan last summer, the democratic, U.S.-supported Afghan government collapsed quickly and the Taliban took over once more.

Now, Zahir's two younger sisters cannot go to school, the older having almost finished medical school and the younger just completed grade 6, the maximum grade the Taliban allows for young women. Due to the nature of her father's work for the previous government, Zahir's family has kept a low profile to keep themselves safe. She says her family's main response to the return of the Taliban has mostly been shock at the abrupt change. Zahir keeps in touch via text since they don't have a good internet connection.

22 September 2021, Afghanistan, Kabul: Young Taliban fighters on the back of a pick up truck patrol on the streets of Kabul. (Credit Image: © Oliver Weiken/dpa via ZUMA Press) 22 September 2021, Afghanistan, Kabul: Young Taliban fighters on the back of a pick up truck patrol on the streets of Kabul. (Credit Image: © Oliver Weiken/dpa via ZUMA Press)

The stress she feels due to the uncertainty of her family's situation, now into its ninth month of duration, is compounded by guilt over living far away in a peaceful country and pursuing her passion in academia. While her sisters miss going to school and walks outside, she continues to study and admits to staying in sometimes, like anyone who just doesn't feel like going out.

"You're in two different situations all the time," she says. "There's conflict inside you. You don't know how to react to different situations. If it's a good one, should I be so happy, or should I feel guilty that I'm happy?"

Terror in Ukraine

Several days after Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, Nadiia Komarnytska was in a video chat with her cousin when they were disconnected. Normally, Komarnytska would just blame poor internet connection, but with the outbreak of war, the possibility of something far worse having happened induced panic.

"I know a lot of Ukrainians here," said Komarnytska. "During those first months, I don't think we were sleeping."

Komarnytska's family-her cousins, uncle, aunts and grandparents-lives in western Ukraine, an area that is not currently the centre of military action but has still felt the affects of war.

Recent science graduate Nadiia Komarnytska is from the Ukrainian region of Ternopil. Recent science graduate Nadiia Komarnytska is from the Ukrainian region of Ternopil.

At the time of our interview, in the region beside Komarnytska's home region of Ternopil, the International Airport in Lviv was bombarded. Situated between the Russian ship that shot the missiles from the Black Sea and its target in Lviv, her grandparents heard the missiles as they flew overhead. Every evening they turn out their lights to avoid detection from Russian planes that attack at night.

For the first month of the conflict, Komarnytska says she lost all sense of time. Endlessly scrolling Ukrainian news, texting and talking with family, and then getting up early to go to work made for an exhausting daily routine. Even now, the constant barrage of horrific scenes is a shock that doesn't wear off.

"At the beginning, it was very hard to believe," she says. "I felt anger and denial that anything like this can happen in the 21st century. People are dying, civilians are dying, children are dying. I think it was the hardest part to see dead children. And then I had anxiety, depression. More questions than answers."

The widow cries at the coffin of volunteer soldier Oleksandr Makhov, 36 a well-known Ukrainian journalist, killed by the Russian troops, at St Michael cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, May 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) The widow cries at the coffin of volunteer soldier Oleksandr Makhov, 36 a well-known Ukrainian journalist, killed by the Russian troops, at St Michael cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, May 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Komarnytska moved to Regina in 2013, joining her parents and brother, who had already been in the city for a year. After finishing up three years of medical school in Ukraine, Komarnytska took several English language courses and then began her degree in biochemistry at the University of Regina. Set to convocate this fall, Komarnytska has been working full-time as a lab scientist at the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory for the last nine months.

Project Resilience will be distributed in the form of scholarships equal to tuition and course fees to students affected by war or other forms of political violence in their home countries. In addition, the university will supply a $1,000 stipend per year, to help cover the costs of textbooks and school supplies.

Her summer plans were to visit Ukraine to attend her cousin's wedding in July, her holidays already booked. She still hopes to go but knows she will have to wait until the war is over, even though what she wants is quite simple.

"To go home and hug all of them, my grandparents," she says.

Project Resilience

Motivated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Zahir spoke with U of R President Dr. Jeff Keshen in March to share her and her family's experiences. Project Resilience, a new fund to support students affected by war, was born largely from that conversation, input from members of the University Executive Team and from urging by U of R faculty members to respond to the Ukraine crisis, says Keshen.

Dr. Jeff Keshen, President of the University of Regina was a driving force behind Project Resilience. Dr. Jeff Keshen, President of the University of Regina was a driving force behind Project Resilience.

Project Resilience will be distributed in the form of scholarships equal to tuition and course fees to students affected by war or other forms of political violence in their home countries. In addition, the university will supply a $1,000 stipend per year, to help cover the costs of textbooks and school supplies.

"We also engaged with student leaders, like Zohra, who are all-too-aware that there are many students across our campus who deal with similar crises in their home countries," says Keshen.

Four award packages will be available each year, and renewable for three years, so that up to 16 students will be financially supported at any given time. Additionally, the students will be provided with U of R health and well-being supports and services such as academic counselling and UR International supports.

"While the immediate situation in Ukraine prompted us as a community to try to help those who face very difficult, tragic circumstances, we also engaged with student leaders, like Zohra, who are all-too-aware that there are many students across our campus who deal with similar crises in their home countries," says Keshen.

Zahir admits she desires to connect with other students like herself, to share her experience and hear about theirs. Her own family has been affected by Russian-motivated conflict in the past, with the disappearance of her grandfather at the hands of the Soviet Union, she says. As a result, she can sympathize with Ukrainians.

Zahir says the fund sends a powerful message. With her sisters' education in Afghanistan restricted by the Taliban, the creation of a fund that helps students prioritize their education is an inspiring counterpoint to the Taliban's concerted effort to limit education for women.

"The U of R is saying, 'We know that people don't want you to pursue your dreams, … we have a solution for you,'" she says.

Komarnytska sees the fund as a positive thing for future students, many of whom, she predicts, will come from Ukraine. She also appreciates the creation of a scholarship with an international-student focus, since she personally found it hard to qualify for the scholarships offered at
the U of R.

"For the majority of them, you need to be Canadian or have permanent residency," she says. "For me it was like, I had a part-time job (during school) then pretty much during summer I worked full-time or even two jobs to get money to pay for university."

"This is a very good thing and very helpful," she adds.

Along with helping students avoid the difficult choice of pursuing education or working to support their families back home, for Zahir, Project Resilience undergirds her belief that her study can be a form of resistance.

"Rather than just surviving you are also thinking about more," she says. "I'm pretty sure lots of people are showing resistance in different ways: they are writing a book, they are going on the news, they are protesting. This is I think how we protest: if you don't want girls to study, we will study harder."

Komarnytska's summer plans were to visit Ukraine to attend her cousin's wedding in July. She still hopes to go but knows she will have to wait until the war is over. Komarnytska's summer plans were to visit Ukraine to attend her cousin's wedding in July. She still hopes to go but knows she will have to wait until the war is over.

Dr. Keshen acknowledges the scholarships from the fund are a "drop in the bucket compared to what students really need," but that Project Resilience at least "builds that sort of ethos of saying this is an institution that really values its students by showing support and compassion in ways that are possible for us."

"This fund recognizes that there are diverse students dealing with far more than just the challenges of their university education," he adds.

"We started evening prayers every day…just not keeping all this inside of yourself. Even to talk to someone helps," she says.

While both Zahir and Komarnytska recognize the importance of financial support during crises, having someone to talk to who can empathize with them is also needed.

At the start of the Ukraine-Russian conflict in February, Komarnytska was able to tap into support from the Regina Ukrainian community. Part of St. Michael's Ukrainian Orthodox Church, she says she and other Ukrainians came together to raise money to send to people back home, some of whom were fighting on the frontlines. It was important to keep talking about what they were experiencing, together.

"We have lots of things in common," she says, "which is sad but at the same time I wish that we had this kind of community to just come and talk about whatever we are feeling, share our feelings. Somewhere just to go and cry."

"We started evening prayers every day…just not keeping all this inside of yourself. Even to talk to someone helps," she says.

Zohra Zahir felt supported by her colleagues at the University of Regina when the Taliban first took over. She said her classmates did not necessarily know what concrete action to take but told her they were there for her and wanted to help.

"That was amazing," she says.

The commonality of war

But Zahir admits she desires to connect with other students like herself, to share her experience and hear about theirs. Her own family has been affected by Russian-motivated conflict in the past, with the disappearance of her grandfather at the hands of the Soviet Union, she says. As a result, she can sympathize with Ukrainians.

"We have lots of things in common," she says, "which is sad but at the same time I wish that we had this kind of community to just come and talk about whatever we are feeling, share our feelings. Somewhere just to go and cry."

Zahir felt supported by her colleagues at the University of Regina when the Taliban first took over. She said her classmates did not necessarily know what concrete action to take but told her they were there for her and wanted to help. Zahir felt supported by her colleagues at the University of Regina when the Taliban first took over. She said her classmates did not necessarily know what concrete action to take but told her they were there for her and wanted to help.

Despite navigating complex emotions as they cope with the hardships of their loved ones, it doesn't take Zahir or Komarnytska long to think of a favourite memory of home.

"I love Christmastime," says Komarnytska. She describes her family's Ukrainian Christmas supper with 12 dishes, eaten together with her aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. She also remembers going as a kid to neighbours' houses to collect money and candy.

"I think that atmosphere, it's warm. It's something special and amazing and then whenever we carol together that's like even more," she says.

Zahir recalls visiting her father's village for the first time when she was 13. She was struck by the culture of the region and the respect the community showed her family. A village called Zendejan, which means "alive," Zahir says it got its name from its stubborn penchant for survival, despite many attacks over thousands of years. People, she says, just keep coming back to it.

While the reality of war makes the future uncertain, one constant, for Komarnytska and Zahir, remains: the desire to return home and see their families, safe and sound.

"I remember suddenly the sun set and for the first time in my life I saw zillions of stars," she says. "I couldn't believe that many stars, because they didn't have electricity. That is something I have always thought about like, 'Oh my god, I miss that sky.'"

While the reality of war makes the future uncertain, one constant, for Komarnytska and Zahir, remains: the desire to return home and see their families, safe and sound.

If you would like to help students like Komarnytska and Zahir, why not consider supporting Project Resilience. You can find more information here.

[post_title] => Home, family and war [post_excerpt] => Two U of R students share the effects of war in their home countries on their lives and how a new fundraising priority, Project Resilience, will make a difference to students from lands of strife. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => home-family-and-war [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-06-13 14:08:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-06-13 20:08:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.degreesmagazine.ca/?p=5877 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )