Raising a Schulich Leader: Q&A Blog Series with Parents of Schulich Leaders (Part II)
“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 upon Canada’s top students, family support systems fostered the exemplary character and giftedness this program is proud to support today and into the future. 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 recent scholarship recipients, sharing insight into the different approaches to raising some of Canada’s most talented science and technology innovators; the Schulich Leaders.
Featured in this article:
Luc & Kara Sirois (LKS) of Montréal, Québec – Parents of Katherine Sirois, a 2017 Schulich Leader at McGill University pursuing a BASc in Computer Engineering.
Jennifer Reichert (JR) of Winnipeg, Manitoba – Mother of Nikolaus Reichert, a 2019 Schulich Leader at University of Manitoba pursuing a BASc.
Questions and answers:
What activities were paramount to your children’s successful development?
- Science fairs. Katherine and Charlie saw hundreds of projects from the days they were born to their later teenage years. They were inspired to participate, developing their own project and stepping up to explain their inventions and discoveries to the public of all ages. Somehow, this constant exposure to young innovators planted an important seed, and set the bar in terms of what teenagers could, and even should achieve.
- For Katherine, Ringette was also important. Such team sports provide a strong sense of teamwork, of camaraderie, the great feeling of exhaustion and massive efforts. A wonderful way to develop our girls’ character.
- I would also need to mention participating to SHAD, where she met great and inspiring peers which open her minds on an array of possible dreams and made her feel more comfortable in our big country, as well as MUSIC, as playing in the school’s philharmonic orchestra forced her to be disciplined and feed another side of her personality.
- We could maybe add visiting tons of museums, science center and playing board games as a family!
- A key element of Nikolaus’ development was him learning to read at a very early age. Before he even started kindergarten, he was able to read. This allowed him to excel in school and learn much faster. At home, there was always a time to read alone or with family. We always made it a point to have media with educational value in the household. I also encouraged him to try individual sports such as archery and swimming. This became a valuable downtime for Nik, not only as a form of exercise, but as a way to instill competitiveness in him. Nikolaus had the opportunity to study piano, and then tuba in a concert band setting. This taught him not only commitment, practice, and patience, but to have a love of music.
How did you instill a passion for learning in your family?
Being clear on our family values. For the longest time, it almost became a riddle, we repeated and repeated, “What’s most important?” and children would answer “School”. We’d say “no, the most important thing is to love each other in this family”, then we’d ask again “What’s most important?” and children would answer again “Ok now it’s school!” but we’d say no again: “It’s learning!”. “But that’s the same thing!” the kids shouted. We’d promptly answer “Yes, school is part of learning. But learning is bigger than school. It must happen everywhere. And at school, learning everything, learning as much as you can has to be your goal.”
Trying to instill a sense of purpose. In their speech at our 25th wedding anniversary, we were surprised to hear our children expose how a very small thing, seeing the book “The world needs your kid: How to Raise Children Who Care and Contribute” lying around the house, had an impact on their view of their future. It made them realize that “Raising children who care and contribute” was an important quest for us as parents and that indeed “The World needs them”! They somewhat integrated such notions through the years and a dialogue happened on how they could play a meaningful role in the world.
Our effort to instill a sense of purpose included telling stories of inspiring citizens or family members, grandpa in particular who grew in a modest neighborhood and became captain of the Royal Canadian Navy and university professor. We tried to show by example by being ourselves, as parents, involved as volunteers in a number of organizations or causes, by working hard at making a difference for people in our day jobs as physiotherapist, engineer and entrepreneur. And not just to show by example, but also by being explicit at TELLING, at the family table, what we did and why we did it and how we spent all that time away from home…
- Igniting the inner flame. As adults, we often felt that in our own life which made a difference in our drive to build and step out of the beaten paths was an inner voice, butterflies in our stomach that pushed us and gave us the energy to do things, move forward. We developed the conviction that igniting such a flame was essential to raising the kind of children we wanted to raise, to contribute meaningfully to our children’s education. But how? We are not sure yet. We tried many things: Showing our own excitement, talking about our own dreams, making sure our children met and heard inspiring individuals, inspiring speeches, making the children become walk out of the beaten paths or contribute to others with kindness, selflessness and without self-conscience, and make them realize how they felt inside when it happens. We could not say “pursue your passion and your dreams” to teenagers, as figuring out what is their passion and dreams is indeed very stressful and a source of angst. But pursuing things with passion and excellence, that was easier to achieve at a younger age.
- Developing their voice. There again, confident young leaders find the words and ways to express the visions, emotions, ideas that move them and their surroundings forward. More than the ideas, the expression of ideas and emotions is the essential link to help them form and come to life, and to turn them into impact and contribution. But there again, how to help our teenagers find their voice, find their words? Schools and teachers helped tremendously. Presenting science fair projects gave them an opportunity to become as interesting as possible. Listening to great speeches, for some reason, and even more today with youtube, I believe helped. My eldest became got involved in comedy, even poetry, and her early successes fueled her pursuit of developing a great voice.
- Nikolaus’ passion for learning started at a very young age. I always was openminded in helping Nik to explore the possibilities around him. From Lego, to National Geographic, to the NASA Channel, we began to enjoy learning as a family. I made school work not only a priority for him, but for me. I knew that a good work ethic was incredibly important. I encouraged him to have a voice in family conversations, even when we discussed political events or world issues. I regularly discussed future goals with Nikolaus and gave him guidance and encouragement on where he should look next.
Were you involved in your children’s schools, if yes, how?
- During the later years, Luc got involved on Innovation Initiatives and with the Einstein Celebrations at their high school. This contributed to make the school better, but it was not clear it had a direct influence on the children. However, for twenty years, Luc has volunteered in local science fairs, contributing to organizing dozen and dozen of them, and helping the school get this activity off the ground. Every year, we would drag Katherine and her brother and sister to visit the fair and participants for days at a time. In addition, Luc’s volunteering outside of our children’s school did have a positive influence on them as it showed the importance of getting involved, of giving extras, of going beyond.
- I volunteered throughout my son’s schooling, from elementary to high school. Whether it was chaperoning out at field trips to the Zoo, to helping out at class craft time, to coordinating track and field day; I was always quick to sign up to help out. My most memorable experience was being a mentor at Nikolaus’ FIRST robotics team, Gophertronics. Nicknamed “Robot Mom”, I worked alongside students in his team in building a human sized robot. I helped students on the team develop skills in recruiting sponsors and assisted others in making practice game pieces from wood. This was a learning experience as well for me, sparking an interest in technology and trades.
Did you encourage your child to take risks? If yes, how so?
- Encouraging to take risks is maybe not the best definition for what we did. We encouraged children to always try, even if the odds were small, even if they did not have all the skills and experience needed. In contests, competitions, sports, difficult projects: You miss all the shots you do not take. But when you take shots, things get in motion, you get closer to your goal, openings widen and boom, you succeed where you would have never thought of trying. In some sense, yes, that might be considered taking risks. But what were the downfall, really? Not succeeding? Is that really a risk? It’s simply a step in getting better.
- Also, we encouraged Katherine (and our children) to sign up to as many extracurricular activities they could handle. This provided a beautiful way to learn how to be disciplined, organized, while having a good time, exploring new domains and learning new skills.
- I have never discouraged, and always encouraged Nikolaus in doing what he wants to do. I saw that there was a lot of knowledge in him from an early age. I taught him to never settle with what he was taught. I believe that the best risk I encouraged him to take was to speak at a TEDx event. He loved the idea of doing a talk, but the prospect of speaking to a large audience about his passion for STEM was a big risk. As I sat in the front row of the auditorium, watching my son speak of his love of Science and Engineering, I knew that all the risks we took for 18 years was worth it.
What type of extra-curricular activities and projects did they enjoy?
- For Katherine, all opportunities to MAKE, build something was always extremely enjoyable. In this sense, the Science Fairs were a wonderful activity for her as it motivated her to tackle ambitious projects and to bring them to completion. Camping. Living in the woods, a week or two every year, working for every necessity, enjoying simple pleasures, being in nature, somewhat we believe helped us raise kids of character. It was a way to press “reset”, to ground them to the realities of life, away from the electronics and comfort of today’s cozy lives. Plus there is something with nature that files peoples’ minds and inside.
- Nikolaus enjoyed a number of extracurricular activities. He was incredibly involved in STEM Clubs, such as GopherSpace, his high school’s high-altitude balloon club. In it, he spent a large amount of his free time programming Arduino computers to record the weather as the balloon flew to 30000m in the air. Another aforementioned school group he was a part of was Gophertronics. Nikolaus founded the club in his senior year with others at Garden City Collegiate, leading programming and other parts of their team. Outside of school, Nik has volunteered with the Manitoba Marathon as an amateur radio operator, providing communications for event staff and medical personnel.
Can you share any experiences on what you think has lead to your child’s success
It is hard to pinpoint what made a difference in our ability to raise young people with character. We tried many things, and the answer might be somewhere part of these ideas.
Give space and freedom to make messes.
Katherine always always repeated, to whoever wanted to hear it, that having a corner of the basement where she was allowed to mix any potions she wanted, run any science experiment she wanted, even if it meant making stinky and awful messes, was a key factor of her developing curiosity and passion for science. Later, the workshop, stocked with electronic components, tools, and books, also contributed to developing her “maker mindset”.
Traveling. We dreamed of a huge, year-long, trip around the world with our children but this was not realistic in our situation, and not necessarily the best idea. We would rather dedicate a solid decade of our lives to create memorable annual trips for the children. Each one had to have a special experience, always be related to meeting people, learning through experience or pushing your limits. Visiting the Rockies with grandpa and grandma. Hiking, and doing repelling, in the jungle. Presenting a scrapbook about Canada in a primary school in Central America. Visiting WW battlefields in Europe. Visiting Ann Frank’s home in Amsterdam… How exotic the trip was is not important. The key success factors were: Meeting people, getting prepared, getting involved, living an experience. And the most impactful trips were often the least expensive, like camping.
- I believe that staying open and involved with my child’s education is essential for their success. However, him having a good standing with his school and having other mentors is equally as important. Not only did his mentors at Garden City Collegiate challenge and encourage him to go above and beyond, they recognized his strengths and helped him to succeed, leading him to become a Schulich Leader.
It is fair to say that the parents of Schulich Leaders have guided the children towards exploration in both fascinating and challenging environments to help them thrive. We thank Luc, Kara and Jennifer for these invaluable insights to share. It should be noted by Luc and Kara Sirois believe that with parenting, you must fundamentally go back to the basics: “Make them feel safe, loved. Push them to be as good as they can be. Give them the inner belief that their contribution matters for the world, and that they have a responsibility to live up to what their mission will be, whatever it will be”. Sage advice from parents who have the ‘proof in the pudding’ of raising children who are making a dent in our universe.
Stay tuned for future insights from parents of our Schulich Leader Scholars.