For the 2015 academic season, Schulich Leader Scholarships bestowed full undergraduate scholarships to fifty of Canada’s brightest young achievers excelling in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) subjects. Many recipients hail from small towns, overcoming the stereotype that only metropolitan cities produce engineers and doctors, and an overwhelming majority – two thirds - are female, strengthening powerful campaigns that fight for gender equity, both in the schools and in the workplace.
Overcoming adversity seems to be a common motif among this year’s Schulich Leaders, and is perhaps most candidly represented through a small batch of recipients who were able to rise to the occasion despite coming from humble origins.
This year, several recipients are immigrants to Canada, newcomers who were able to overcome language barriers, economic hardships, and social challenges to thrive in a new country and within a new education system. These students were determined in their pursuit of knowledge and adapted to a new climate through their dedication to academia and extracurricular endeavours.
“Without any prior knowledge of English and understanding of Canadian culture, I made quite a few embarrassing blunders at first,” says Lin Wei Tung, who immigrated to Canada with his family when he was 12 years old.
For Tung, managing his time efficiently, both as a student and the second-eldest of nine children, was the biggest challenge he faced. “I wanted to maintain the highest standard of school works while devoting many hours into volunteering,” he explains. “But I also had to take care of my younger siblings. I remember many instances of cradling my baby sister to sleep while studying biology and chemistry notes.”
Naturally, with nine children to support, tuition fees were a growing concern for Tung’s parents, one he was happy to alleviate upon his winning a Schulich Leader Scholarship. “After revealing the news to my parents, their worries of not being able to contribute to my tuition fees disappeared,” he says.
Nimra Dar, who immigrated to Canada from Saudi Arabia as a toddler, shared a similar experience. Dar grew up working in her father’s convenience store, and recalls discernible differences between her and her Canadian-born peers. “We didn’t have much money, and my father, who was an engineer back home, had to take odd jobs to make sure we had a roof over our heads. Both my parents had to go through many struggles so my siblings and I could have an education.”
To Dar, winning a scholarship took a huge burden off her family’s shoulders. “Given that my other siblings all had to take out loans for university, and that my mom doesn’t work because of back problems, we’ve been living off only my father’s income. This scholarship is going to be able to let me focus on just my education instead of trying to balance a student life, work, and sanity.”
In addition to the obstacles they faced in order to succeed, Dar and Tung also share a song of equal praise to their parents. “I always felt that I had to make my parents proud, because they put so much effort to give us a better life,” says Dar. For Tung, it was his father’s relentlessness that inspired him to achieve. “His successful journey is beyond any other life stories I have witnessed,” he says.
As Schulich Leaders, the two are grateful for the opportunities and resources that are now at their disposal. In fact, according to Tung, the scholarship has “ignited a stronger will” within him to become a doctor. “All it takes is a combination of perseverance, ambition, and most importantly, confidence.”