Media & Press

Students from Smallest Towns Winning One of Canada’s Biggest Scholarships

1 September, 2015

20% of Schulich Leader Scholarship recipients hail from towns of 8,000 or less residents

For decades, students residing in smaller towns across Canada have shared the same mentality regarding success: that it doesn’t come easy. It’s a story as old as folklore – in order to ‘make it’, one must leave his/her rural community for the big city, where resources are plentiful, the lights are bright, and information is far more accessible.

However, thanks to The Schulich Foundation’s staunch efforts to promote Schulich Leader Scholarships to aspiring students across Canada, this outdated perspective is finally being kicked to the curb.

For the upcoming academic season, fifty Schulich Leader Scholarships were awarded to students who’ve excelled in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. This year, nine of fifty students selected nationally come from rural parts of Canada.

For at least five of them, they were introduced to the scholarship thanks to the Foundation’s presence at their respective schools. While agreeing with the doctrine that coming from a small town has its challenges, they attest that it also helped their chances at being selected.

“It’s harder to get recognized on a bigger scale when you’re from a small town,” explains Sandra Smeltzer, selected by Queen’s University with an $80,000 engineering scholarship. “But there was also more opportunity. Teachers were always there to help, and it was easy to get involved with extracurricular activities.”

“There are tons of opportunities to get involved,” adds Allyson Evans, who will attend Dalhousie with a $60,000 scholarship to pursue a science degree. “You just have to find them.”

According to Wesley Finck, an aspiring engineer set to attend the University of New Brunswick, community involvement is a key component to getting recognized. For example, each of these students have a passion outside of academia: for Mary Hickox, selected by Queen’s towards a science degree, it’s dance; for Smeltzer, figure skating; for Somerset, fundraising. “For students looking to succeed, I would say join as many clubs as possible.” says Finck.

As tuition at major universities is often a major financial strain on families, receiving the Schulich Leader Scholarship allows winners to focus solely on their studies. “I’m awestruck by this opportunity,” Hickox admits. “I come from a low-income family, university itself would put a financial strain on my family, so this scholarship, it’s hard to describe the impact it’s had on my life.”

Naturally, coming from tightly knit communities, the reception for scholarship winners has been nothing short of incredible. “It’s really a great honour to receive this,” says Victoria Somerset, who will attend Dalhousie for engineering. “People I’ve never met are coming up to congratulate me in grocery stores and malls, and I’m so lucky to have received this opportunity. I believe this gives me a real chance to give back to the community, and teach others that with passion and determination, you can achieve whatever you want to.”

According to its president, David Stein, the Schulich Foundation “hopes that universities and other rural high schools promote this prestigious scholarship opportunity to potential candidates on an annual basis.” He notes that the Foundation takes great pride “in helping identify budding scientific innovators in all pockets of Canada.”

Somerset, reiterating Stein’s sentiments, adds, “One thing about this scholarship is that Schulich notices people regardless of where you come from, and gives others in our community hope. Even though you come from somewhere really small, it’s ok to have really big dreams.”