Raising a Schulich Leader: Q&A blog series with parents of Canada’s top undergraduate STEM students
“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what your bank account was, the sort of house you lived in, or the kind of car you drove, but the world may be different because you were important in the life of a child.” — Forest Witcraft
Forest Witcraft’s famous quote captures the essence of Schulich Leader Scholarships and is a personal favourite of program Founder Seymour Schulich. Long before this prestigious award was bestowed on Canada’s top students, familial support systems fostered the exemplary character and giftedness this program is proud to support today and into the future. Ambition, curiosity, work ethic and empathy are but a few of the common attributes Schulich Leaders exhibit. Our administration wanted to uncover and spotlight the role parents play in raising such talented, driven and genuine Canadians.
The answers below were provided by parents of some of our scholarship recipients, sharing insight into the different practices and environments provided for some of Canada’s most talented science and technology innovators; the Schulich Leaders.
Featured in this article:
Doug Jones (DJ) of rural Nova Scotia - Father of Brad Jones, a 2017 Schulich Leader at Dalhousie University pursuing a BEng in Electrical Engineering.
James & Rebecca Cross (JRC) of Thunder Bay, Ontario – Parents of Emily Cross, a 2018 Schulich Leader at UBC pursuing a BSc. in Geology.
Karen & Rob Congram (KRC) of Stratford, Ontario – Parents of Ben Congram, a 2014 Schulich Leader Graduate in Mechatronics Engineering at Western University; 2021 MSc. candidate in Robotics.
How did you instill a passion for learning in your family?
DJ: My wife is a teacher and I was a college professor and business owner as Brad was growing up. We were constantly reading with both of our children and exposing them to different viewpoints, technologies and variety of experiences. I think that led to them questioning things around them and striving to learn.
JRC: Both of us are teachers by training and are curious by nature. We have a wide range of interests, and a passionate curiosity about the world around us – be it the physical/scientific world and the human/cultural world. We have been very intentional about involving both our children in our interests and making sure that they know that we don’t have all the answers, but we can always look to find them where we don’t know! The unknown is an adventure – and filling in gaps in our knowledge and understanding – “learning” – is fun. “What is that?” has been a central question to answer throughout our daily lives.
KRC: When our kids were young, learning was an integral part of our daily activities and conversations. Our house has always been full of books and puzzles, and the dining room table is constantly covered with newspapers. We read aloud to our kids until they could read on their own. During gatherings with extended family, the children have always been part of discussions about reading and current events. There is a lot of fun story telling and playful humour in our family gatherings and we love to play all kinds of games. For the most part, I think our kids were influenced to love learning by being surrounded by other people who loved to learn.
What activities were paramount to your child’s successful development?
DJ: I think having a variety of activities was important and not specializing in one particular thing. Playing sports was a very important part of Brads development. He always was motivated to push himself as far as he could go and was always looking for ways to improve. He excelled in many sports including baseball, hockey, track, soccer and volleyball. I think the variety of sports and teams as well as participating with different players was important in his development. Music was also an important part. Brad was exposed to music in school but also at home in piano, guitar and saxophone. In school, there were many activities geared toward STEM subjects that he really enjoyed. The science fairs, math camps, math teams and more were excellent experiences for him.
JRC: As broad a range of experiences as we could afford from a time and monetary perspective. Family travel – particularly long North American road trips, have been critical to fostering an interest in differences between people and places, and an excitement and wonder about seeking out the unknown. Hiking, camping and fishing helped foster a love of the natural world. Playing an instrument, dancing, and attending cultural events helped foster a love of culture and the arts.
KRC: We encouraged Ben to follow his passions and supported him as he did. As a young child, he loved watching hockey and following the stats, so we showed him how to find the information in the newspaper and asked him what he thought about certain teams or players. He has always been a very active person, so we found opportunities for him to be active. He showed in interest in cooking, so we bought him a cookbook and turned over the kitchen for him to cook a meal. There was nothing inherently significant about the activities, but we fostered an environment of following his lead as much as possible.
Were you involved at your child’s school? If yes, how?
DJ: My wife was a teacher in the same school as our children during their elementary school years so was heavily involved. I was also a coach for many sports teams at their schools growing up. I also ran STEM related activities at the schools in robotics and programming. We both enjoyed being part of the schools and played a small part in making the environment a richer place.
JRC: Yes. Both parents have been members of school councils and have volunteered at our children’s schools in a variety of other capacities from field trip volunteers to guest speaking on our areas of expertise.
Did your child engage in academic pursuits outside of the classroom?
DJ: Brad often participated in STEM-related events either as a participant or as a mentor. He attended Math Camps at Dalhousie University and often participated in Robotics and 3D design events that I led at the college where I was teaching. He would often find a topic area of interest and would jump in and try to learn how to do what he wanted to accomplish.
#1 Science Fairs
#2 Independent Scientific Research
#3 Public Speaking (i.e. TEDx, school presentations, USA X-STEM, Canadian
Science Policy Conference,
#4 SHAD programme,
#5 Superior Science
KRC: For the most part, Ben followed a typical academic pathway. In his junior grades, he attended a program once per week for gifted students. Starting in Grade 8, he began to reach ahead to take high school credit courses online. During high school, he decided to take a few Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) in addition to his regular schedule. One summer, he attended a math camp at Western University. And he has always explored learning through independent reading.
Did you encourage your child to take risks? If yes, how so?
DJ: I think being heavily involved in sports certainly presented our children with exposure to failure. I think this failure helped them to develop resiliency and adaptability that helped them in academic pursuits as well. We always believed that failure and struggle is important in developing coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills. We always encouraged our children to try new things and to embrace being uncomfortable. Taking risks always leads to something great.
JRC: Absolutely – but specific types of risk. For example, we have tried to teach our kids that trying and failing is just as important as trying and succeeding. In the effort, we test our limits, challenge our assumptions and knowledge, and grow our skills. In failure, we often learn as much or more than in success – we learn what doesn’t work, we learn alternate approaches and techniques, and we gain some resilience. A particular risk we encourage is to always have the courage to ask questions and try to grow a relationship. If our kids have a particular interest and want to get in touch with someone “famous”, we encourage them to try. If the person in question isn’t interested in the conversation or relationship, they won’t engage – and that is fine. But, if you don’t TRY, you miss the opportunity presented when they ARE interested in engaging! In Emily’s case, we encouraged her to ask questions of a famous paleontologist – and he was excited to make the contact, even when she was young. He encouraged her to send him questions, and he eventually became one of her research mentors that encouraged her exploration of paleontology in science fairs – supporting her passion and inspiring her to do research in the field. In our other daughter’s case, it was getting in touch with famous dog sled racers (“mushers”) who have become her mentors as she excels in the sport.
Can you share any experiences on what you think has led to your child’s success?
DJ: I think Brad seeing some of my businesses grow and some of my inventions get to market has helped lead to him to believe that there are really no limits to what he can achieve. His experiences in sports and academics have all played a part in his success. I think variety is the key for him. He always showed a key interest in have all played a part in his success. I think variety is the key for him. He always showed a key interest in Math and Physics but doing a lot of different and unrelated things has made him better rounded, more resilient and able to handle stress, and more confident in his abilities and potential. As he goes through Electrical Engineering Dalhousie I think he is now starting to realize the big impact he can have on the world around him.
JRC: We have worked hard to ensure that our kids have a very broad range of experiences, so that they can discover what they like and develop a passion for it through direct participation. We have also worked hard to be involved and supportive of these passions – whether we share them or not. Emily wanted the opportunity to participate in a fossil excavation? Great! We could arrange our travel route on a trip to include Dinosaur Provincial Park, and the opportunity to participate in the Bonebed 30 excavation. Julia wanted to meet Iditarod Mushers in their home environment? Ok – as a part of the same trip as the fossil excavation, we routed our travel to include meeting with mushers in Alaska. Yes, these may have added some measure of extra expense, but they were integrated within existing family plans wherever and whenever possible. The GREAT thing about it is that not only do our kids get to dig deeper into their interests and either grow their interest, or refocus, but we as parents broaden our experience as well, and learn to relate better to our kids. In coming to understand our kids’ interests and passions, they come to know that we support their choices. We can talk to them, engage with them, and hopefully encourage and inspire them as well.
We encourage our kids to have the courage to stand up for themselves and their values and interests, to trust their instincts. Emily wouldn’t have even started her scientific journey without the courage to stand up to naysayers and say “Yes, I can do paleontology research, even in Thunder Bay”. Both of our children have gained the passion and self confidence to write public officials about issues of concern – even the Prime Minister. Hopefully, we have and continue to encourage them to give anything they are interested in a shot – their best shot. No one can ask for more.
I think our approach has been be interested, be involved, be supportive. And don’t fall into the trap of dedicating your entire life and being to them – they need to see that you have passions and interests too, and participation in your interests is part of your kids’ learning to be interested in supporting others’ passions. Nobody achieves success alone, and relationship-building and networking are critical to achieving success as well.
We thank the Jones, Cross and Congram families for participating in this new blog series that spotlights unique methods used to nurture the development of their children who went on to become distinguished STEM scholars with the highest-potential for game-changing impact in the Canadian knowledge economy.