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Honouring SFU charter staff member by helping students thrive

Paige Tuttosi

In life and with their legacy, the Ralph Kerr family were deeply committed to SFU and to ensuring that bright talented students can thrive and pursue their dreams.

Since 2016, the Ralph Kerr Memorial Bursary Endowment—created through a generous estate gift from the Kerr family—has provided 223 bursaries totaling more than $416,000 and empowered students like Paige Tuttösí to fulfill their potential.

“Bursaries have been invaluable in helping me achieve my academic goals while also contributing to supporting my family,” Paige says. “I can say without a doubt that without bursary support, I would not have been able to complete my undergraduate studies in the time that I did and maintain the grades I needed to help me secure a direct entry PhD.”

As an emerging tech leader, SFU alumnus (BSc ’21) and PhD student, Paige is determined to harness the power and potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced technology as well as her education and entrepreneurial skills to help in building a better world.

From revitalizing Indigenous and minority languages to helping victims of intimate partner violence, she is putting her passion to work with compelling projects designed to improve people’s lives and our communities.

“I’ve always had the motivation of trying to do some good in the world,” Paige explains. “Now I do all my work with social good uses in mind.”

Prior to the PhD program, Paige was a physical anthropologist and studied Asian religions, then turned to statistics and computer engineering and dabbled in French. As a recipient of the Ralph Kerr Memorial Bursary, among others, she says student support has made a significant difference for her studies and her life.

During her first undergraduate degree (BA ’16), Paige worked almost full-time as a lifeguard, did school photography, completed work study terms and led summer camps in order to fund her education. She says the pace of 14-hour days took its toll on her health. Bursaries gave her time to focus on her studies and build vital volunteer experience in SFU labs. 

“Once this happens, so many new possibilities open up,” says Paige, who is part of the Rosie Lab led by Angelica Lim, an assistant professor of professional practice recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s top researchers helping to develop AI “that reflects our better selves and ambitions.”

The Ralph Kerr Memorial Bursary Endowment supports bursaries with preference given to third- or fourth-year physics and engineering students. The endowment was established in honour of Ralph Kerr, an SFU charter staff member who worked in the physics department until his retirement in 1981; he passed away two years later. His late wife Mary Ann and son Michael also had strong SFU ties—Mary Ann completed a post baccalaureate diploma in criminology in 1988 while Michael worked at the SFU Library. The Kerr family donated their life savings to SFU students and to their church, creating a lasting legacy for future generations and the impact they will have on society.

One of Paige’s current projects uses technology to revitalize the Blackfoot language. Students in introductory computing science courses have been building Blackfoot language chatbots, and Paige’s study is examining whether students learn Blackfoot while writing these programs. Her team is also building a web game to help teach Blackfoot, building an interactive learning program using a Pepper robot, and working on a text-to-speech system that can be used in both a robot and possibly when building a translator with pronunciations.

“We have a shortage of language teachers, especially in minority languages and Indigenous languages, relative to the demand for learning,” Paige explains. “Without the intervention of technology these languages may be lost or never again flourish to the level they once were when used in families or society.”

In summer 2020, Paige was part of AI4Good, an intensive AI workshop for 30 women from across Canada. With another program participate Jenny Huang, she co-founded Haiven, a non-profit organization interested in improving the safety and well-being of victims impacted by intimate partner violence and abuse through technological innovation. Their flagship app is a notification system which allows users to signal an emergency contact when they are in dangerous situations. In addition, they are exploring ways that they can introduce technology to survivors of domestic violence in order to provide them with sustainable long-term career benefits.

Selected for the Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection incubator at SFU, Haiven has partnered with transition homes in the Lower Mainland, and is currently working on its charity status, raising funds and completing its alpha release.

In her (limited) spare time, Paige enjoys agility training, hiking and kayaking with her fiancé and dog, and swims, runs, does ballet and plays the violin. She hopes to maintain her fluency in the French language by one day working in Quebec or France, both considered AI hubs.