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Why Give | Impact stories

Finch Family Awards: Malley Richardson brings it full circle

UBC Okanagan celebrates ten years of the Finch Scholars program with a story of mentorship and innovation.

L to R: Malley Richardson, Jean Finch, Ken Finch, Dr. Christopher Collier

Over the past decade, Ken and Jean Finch have supported nearly 50 students at the UBC Okanagan campus. This year, the Finch Family Awards have come full-circle. The very first Finch Graduate Scholar, Dr. Christopher Collier, is now an assistant professor at UBC Okanagan and is the research supervisor for one of the newest recipients—Malley Richardson from Kelowna, BC.

Malley’s research is focused on using microfluidic diagnostic sensors to help mothers struggling with substance abuse and mental health challenges. Her interest grew from volunteering with the Karis Support Society in Kelowna.

“Many of these women have babies, and are unable to breastfeed them easily,” says Malley. “I hope to help women like that in my community—and all across Canada—by giving them a solution they can easily use to detect whether their breast milk is safe to deliver to their child or not.”

Malley was studying in Europe when Dr. Collier invited her back to the Okanagan.

“I was doing an international internship at a German university. My research was in 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs—very biomedical-focused,” she says. “While I was there, Dr. Collier emailed me to offer a research position at UBC Okanagan, where I did my undergrad. So I came back to Kelowna and joined his lab.”

As leader of the Collier Research Group, Dr. Collier focuses on developing microfluidic and spectroscopy technologies for biomedical applications. Malley explains microfluidics as taking a big chemical lab and shrinking it down to something that will fit in your hand on a single microchip.

“We then use a process to separate fluids into their separate chemicals. For my research, I’m trying to separate alcohol from breast milk for more accurate detection.”

Reflecting on the impact of the Finch family, Malley expresses gratitude for the opportunities the award has afforded her—and many other deserving students. Over the years, the Finch Scholars program has grown to include awards for undergraduate, graduate and Indigenous students across all the faculties at UBC Okanagan.

“It’s their generosity to the students,” says Malley. She emphasizes how much it means to recipients and how it changes their lives at university. “It alleviates many pressures of trying to fund graduate studies. It’s helped me focus on our research.”

Dr. Collier remembers how he felt a decade ago as the first Finch Graduate Scholar.

“Part of what made it special is I was able to meet and interact with Ken and Jean Finch—and hear about their commitment to making the Okanagan a better place,” says Dr. Collier. “That was quite meaningful to me—to have those experiences directly with the people providing the funding.”

For Malley, the opportunities provided by the Finch Scholars program and Dr. Collier’s mentorship give her the confidence to imagine a future where her research helps others.

“Working as a biomedical engineer or research engineer in a hospital is my final career goal—behind the scenes, working with equipment, troubleshooting equipment, and designing techniques to help patients.”

Seeing the Finch Family Award come full circle in his research group has been rewarding for Dr. Collier..

“I’m very lucky to have Malley in the lab group that I’m leading,” he says. “Hopefully, I’ve been a positive influence—but it’s her time to shine now.”