How a $100+ million scholarship fund gives Schulich Leaders “unlimited possibility”

A screenshot from the Zoom interview with Karlee and Spencer

Have you ever met someone and thought, “Wow, I don’t know how they do it”? Well, that’s exactly how I felt during my Zoom conversation with two of UVic’s current Schulich Leaders Karlee Zaruk and Spencer Hancock.

Karlee is currently a third-year biochemistry major, and Spencer is completing a concurrent major in mechanical and software engineering.

Karlee and Spencer are both recipients of the prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship, a scholarship that awards either $100,000 or $80,000 (CAD) to up to 100 graduating high school students who are pursuing a post-secondary degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) at one of twenty partner Canadian universities.

The Schulich Leader Scholarship places an emphasis on the intersection between STEM and entrepreneurship, based on founder Seymour Schulich’s belief in supporting promising and driven students who will help build a brighter future through scientific and technological advancement.

Each high school across the country can nominate one student for the scholarship. There isn’t just one way of becoming a nominee for the Schulich Scholarship. The process to become a nominee is a little different for every high school and it takes some preparation.

If you’re a high school student reading this, talk to your teachers and guidance counsellor about how you can become a nominee, check out your school’s website, or read more about the nomination process here. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get in touch with people if this is an opportunity that interests you. As Spencer says, “No one wins this scholarship alone.”

Of course, a Schulich Leader has to demonstrate academic excellence, but it’s also about involvement in the community and the student’s ability to think critically about how their life experiences have shaped their worldview.

Schulich Leader Spencer Hancock

After traveling to France in the ninth grade, Spencer explains that a spark was lit. “ I just wanted to experience everything.” This led Spencer to pursue everything from ski patrolling for a full semester, to being a surf instructor, to a UVic co-op term working on making water treatment efficient.

Spencer’s willingness to try new things and his ability to think outside the box not only made him a strong candidate for the award, but it’s also been beneficial in helping him think about what he’d like to do with his degree and career in the future.

He cites the wildly creative and inventive work of engineering and robotics design company Boston Dynamics as being a particular example of the type of work he’d like to do in the future.

For Karlee, it was her determined and motivated work ethic that set her apart from other nominees. Not to mention her commitment to community involvement. Beginning in high school, Karlee was an emergency room volunteer and later a social support volunteer at Royal Jubilee Hospital. She also participated in Big Brothers and Big Sisters as a mentor.

Karlee says that although she doesn’t know the exact job she would like in the future, she knows what she hopes to accomplish with her work. “What I want to do is something that has an impact on other people, and that I can connect with other people,” she says. “What drives me is helping other people. And I’d like to do that through science and incorporate all of the interesting and complex stuff I’m learning in my degree, to be able to blend them together.”

Becoming a Schulich Scholar provides many networking opportunities. Becoming a Leader connects you to other students across the country who have also received the scholarship, while also introducing students to innovative companies and a peek inside STEM related fields through job fairs. And of course, the scholarship provides financial security, allowing students to pursue studies and careers they are passionate about.

“[The Schulich Scholarship] has opened a lot of doors for me. We’re able to kind of see what’s out there,” says Karlee. “It’s enabled me to focus on school more without having to worry about finances. But mainly, it’s allowed me to pursue things that are really important to me, like volunteering at the hospital.”

Karlee Zaruk passing out cards at Priory Long Term Care Facility

“The scholarship gives you this sense of unlimited possibility,” says Spencer. “I think it’s given me the financial backing with which I can start something really cool and special.”

When asked about what they would like to say to potential high school students who would like to become Schulich Leader nominees, they offered sage advice that applies to students of any age.

“Believe in yourself,” says Karlee. “Because if you put the work in, you’re really capable of doing great and amazing things…The people who support you are the people who matter most. Find people who support you and don’t let go of them.”

“It’s the little things over time that build your character,” says Spencer. “And if you have a vision of who you want to be, I think you just have to ask yourself, ‘Is this a step in that direction?’… To care so much about something that you’re willing to make sacrifices for it, in the long run, that’s what matters… Don’t be afraid to be passionate and to care.”

For more information about the Schulich Scholarship and how to apply, check out their website. The deadline for nominations is January 27!

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