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Surrey Grade 12 students Elizabeth Olsson (Sullivan Heights Secondary) and T.J. Poddar (Enver Creek Secondary) are among this year's recipients of Schulich Leaders Scholarships, awarded to the most promising students heading to top Canadian universities to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Both have received $100,000 engineering scholarships, standing out from 1,500 nominees and emerging as two of only 100 winners from across Canada.
Olsson said she has her mom to thank for encouraging her to apply.
"I'm on the more mathy, engineering side of things, and she told me about it," she said. "It was the first scholarship I applied to this year. I didn't really think I was going to get it."
Poddar said his interest in STEM came from his father, an engineer who sparked his curiosity for figuring out how things work through hands-on problem solving.
"From when I was really little, I remember him showing me new stuff on the computer, or even a card trick," he said. "One of my most fond memories is spending hours trying to figure out why a card trick worked. It kind of built and grew on me, and in a sense, his tendencies became my own."
In her essay, Olsson wrote about her goals for the future and how coaching Sullivan Heights' jazz dance team has provided her leadership skills and allowed her to make others feel included and valued. She said she hopes her work in the future allows her to influence and inspire other young women the way many females in her life have inspired her.
"I have some women role models in my life who are great at science and math and they've always inspired me, and my goal is to do the same for other people and be a strong, intelligent woman engineer," she said.
Poddar's essay spoke to his lifelong interest in engineering and his desire to make technology more accessible to solve real-world issues and make a positive impact through his work.
"Some of the world's leading engineers work on the bleeding edge and new technologies, but often it takes decades for that technology to come down to a level where regular people get a chance to use it," he said. "There should also be people working on technology that's accessible, that more people can get their hands on, rather than on just the high end of things."
Both Olsson and Poddar were taken by surprise when they found out about their scholarship wins. Olsson received the good news in an email on a Saturday morning.
"I woke up and it was the first thing I saw," said Olsson. "I had to read it a few times to actually process that they were offering it to me. I was in shock. I called my mom downstairs and told her and we all started freaking out."
Poddar happened to hear about his win with a phone call while having breakfast with his family.
Olsson is headed to Western University in London, Ont. this fall where she'll study engineering, while Poddar is entering the computer engineering program at Simon Fraser University. Though they are both unsure what they want to do when they graduate, they each expect their first year of university will guide them on the right path.
"I have two main interests, one being medical engineering because I work at a vet clinic and working with artificial limbs would be really interesting to me," said Olsson. "And, in the opposite direction, physics. I love physics and anything to do with space, engineering and how that works."
"I want to be able to work on things that change how people live their lives," said Poddar. "My chosen field has so many opportunities to help communities across the world, and I want to be one of the frontrunners in that field, that are actually making change for people."