Meet Stefan Mladjenovic, Faculty of Science valedictorian

Name: Stefan M. Mladjenovic

Hometown: Aurora, ON

What is the degree and subject you pursued?
Honours BSc Life Sciences

What made you choose McMaster?
There are many things I love about McMaster that brought me here. I was initially drawn to the positive energy of the people I met, as well as the outstanding research and professional opportunities at Mac. It was also important to me that I stayed in Ontario so I am close to home.

What will you be doing/see yourself doing after graduation?
I am excited to continue with more school! I’m heading to the University of Toronto for a PhD in Biomedical Engineering.

What would you say to your first-year self?
There’s no secret sauce.

A lot of success is chance and comes from being at the (i) right place, at the (ii) right time, with the (iii) right people and also making the (iv) appropriate decisions. There is no “right decision” as you’ll never know how things could have been different – for better or for worse. In the future, the dots will connect in unpredictable ways.

Nobody knows how to best live life YOUR life. You will have to go through some tough experiences to learn lessons for YOU.

To quote Hermann Hesse from ​Siddhartha​ “Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

Do you have any advice for current and future students?
You are going to make mistakes that will feel insurmountable in the moment. That’s just part of the process and cannot be skipped. Look to your past and you will inevitably see this. Find strength in the challenges you’ve overcome thus far. You can and WILL get through this – somehow, someway, someday.

Continue to view these challenges as an opportunity for growth and you will gain much more than you felt you lost.

Challenge yourself to grow in ways you find meaningful. Don’t feel pressured to join a specific club just for the sake of it; join initiatives where you actively want to contribute. Take courses which you think will enrich your life beyond your studies; after all, you will spend much more of your life out of school than within school.

Most importantly: Listen to all the advice you can. Then remember to take it with a grain of salt. Does anybody really know what they’re talking about anyway?

How has McMaster shaped the person you are today?
I’m extremely thankful for the people I have met at McMaster and the relationships we share to this day. I feel that I’ve grown tremendously through the friendships and support I share with staff, faculty and students alike. Showing your support for those you care about and knowing that they support you is extremely comforting.

While at McMaster I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of diversity of thought, recognizing assumptions, and unlearning misunderstood paradigms and mental models. Often times I am reminded that there is no real “right” or “wrong.” There are only different interpretations of the world based on what we think we know and understand. “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” (Anaïs Nin)

What events did you enjoy the most at McMaster/Hamilton?
I absolutely adored Welcome Week! I was a Science Welcome Week rep for two years and loved connecting with tons of incoming first-years during the sunny August days. I also had an extremely meaningful time as a student co-leader for the IMPACT initiative for three years. I reviewed engineering prototypes for​ ​customized accessibility devices for people in our local community. The IMPACT showcase events have always brought me joy when I see the smiles of our volunteer clients.

Also, there is such a diverse and delicious food scene in downtown Hamilton which I hope everyone can enjoy.

What is your definition of success?
The meaning of success is constantly evolving in my mind in different contexts.

Right now I feel successful when I make a difference in the lives of others; by helping people both see and actualize their potential.

How has McMaster helped you create a brighter world?
I feel that I have learned many lessons at McMaster that will help me to continue contributing to society in even more meaningful ways in the years to come.

While at McMaster, I had the privilege to do breast cancer research with Dr. Juliet Daniel and pedagogical research regarding accessibility and learning with Dr. Katie Moisse. Both of these fields are very near and dear to my heart and I believe are important to society. I hope that our research will help effect positive change for many people.

Who is your favourite professor?
There are many professors who have helped me grow and mature while at McMaster. I am extremely thankful to Dr. Juliet Daniel, Dr. Katie Moisse, Dr. Lovaye Kajiura and Dr. Sean Park especially. I could write volumes about how outstanding each of these individuals are for their own unique reasons!

I completed a 3​ -year research project and my thesis with Dr. Daniel and have learned so much from her both within and outside the lab. She is an unbelievably hard-working, thoughtful and dedicated mentor who deeply inspires me. I could not have achieved many of my professional and personal successes without her guidance and support.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I wish I could fly – the world holds so much beauty and flights are so costly.

If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
Honestly I would love to live in a cottage in Northern Ontario with my closest friends. Except I wish it would be summer for the whole year haha! There is something so incredibly serene about every experience in nature I’ve had up North.

What have you been doing to self-care during the COVID-19 lockdown?
Not much has changed for me, just the way things are done. It’s important for me to separate work-life from personal-life which can be challenging when they are all done in the same space. Because space is limited, I’ve decided to limit the times dedicated for work versus leisure. Also communication is now mostly virtual except for people I live with. I think it’s vital to keep up with people important to you and let them know that you are here for them despite any distance.

What’s the hardest part about working virtually for you? The easiest?
I feel like the most challenging part about working virtually is the different sense of human connection and lack of touch. There is something special about sharing the same physical environment with someone and experiencing things together. I really miss feeling the vibration and energy of the room when I laugh with people. Also internet lag makes spilling the tea hard haha!

A benefit to working virtually has been the flexibility for doing things on my own time/schedule.

What would you advise others as we transition to a new normal?
Change is not always bad and can often be great! Take your time with adapting to the changes and have patience for each other as we are all going through these new scenarios together.

I think it is very important for people to be empathetic and considerate of other people’s environment and experiences. Some people have unpredictable responsibilities (i.e. caregivers, parents) and some people don’t have productive nor positive home environments.

While at Mac, did you receive donor-funded financial assistance (e.g., a scholarship, award, bursary)? Any thoughts on the importance of giving back to your alma mater to support future generations?
I am very appreciative for the many awards and scholarships I’ve received at McMaster. I really think that automatically-assessed scholarships are very helpful to students who perform well academically and don’t have or make time for scholarship applications. Conversely, I think that non-academic scholarships are also very important for students who especially excel in athletics and community engagement activities.

I believe that any success is achieved as a team, never alone. I have benefited from awards and distinctions from the graciousness of others and hope to contribute in a meaningful way to McMaster in return!