“They really want us all to succeed”: Former Schulich Leaders reminisce about the program’s positive impact on them

Student life
Awards and recognition
 Magdalena Richardson's portrait, right, and her working in the lab, left
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Schulich Leaders scholarship program, two former uOttawa recipients currently working in STEM discuss their university experience and how the award helped shape their career paths.
 Reed Bell's portrait, left, and him on a hike, right

By Leah Geller, a science writer based in Ottawa.

Magdalena Richardson has never been afraid of going after what she wants.

When the 2013 Schulich Leader recipient found out that uOttawa professor Jeff Lundeen was using particles of light to test and apply ideas from quantum physics, she seized the opportunity. Looking to do her physics honours thesis on quantum optics, she found his office, knocked on his door and convinced him to let her work in his lab at the state-of-the-art Advanced Research Complex (ARC). 

In 2016, Magdalena decided she wanted to do her co-op placement with Steve MacLean, Canadian astronaut and former president of the Canadian Space Agency. So she called him at his laser research lab at Quebec’s Institut national de la recherche scientifique, where he agreed to hire her as a co-op student. She flew out to her hometown of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, drove her car all the way back east, and worked with him and his team near Montreal for the summer.

“It was there that I discovered that I really enjoyed the engineering side of the work,” says Magdalena. “I feel good when I’m building things.”

Today, Magdalena is in her final year of electrical engineering at uOttawa and her dream is to work in aerospace research. She is a member of the uOttawa Rocketry Team, which builds and flies small rockets. She works mostly on the rockets’ avionics, the electronic systems used for its communication, navigation and display. She also makes sure to spend at least one day a week on hobbies that have nothing to do with school, including bookbinding and hiking.

“I’m so grateful for the Schulich Scholarship. It allowed me to leave home to study, explore Canada and use my French at school,” explains Magdalena. “The financial support meant I could focus completely on my physics degree, which was really demanding, and when I struggled with burnout, the Schulich staff were incredibly supportive and kind, checking in to make sure I stayed healthy. They really want us all to succeed in finding something personally fulfilling and worthy.”

Magdalena’s goal is to work with the Canadian Space Agency and contribute to the research lab it’s building on the moon, which she learned about at a Schulich alumni event.

“There continues to be so much opportunity to engage with the Schulich community — whether through conferences and lectures, or networking with this group of people who are so vibrant and high-octane.”

Reed Bell, a 2015 Schulich Leader, wasn’t actually planning to go to uOttawa, but when the University offered him the scholarship, he couldn’t pass it up.

“I went to uOttawa not having toured it at all, hoping and praying I’d find success there and enjoy the campus. I met my girlfriend during frosh week, became friends, started dating and recently got engaged. That’s what happened thanks to Mr. Seymour Schulich’s money,” Reed jokes.

The 25-year-old chemical engineer attended a small high school in Owen Sound, where he was co-president of student council, a student trustee on the local school board and top of his class in science and math. He also spent a lot of time working and volunteering for the local YMCA, and coaching and mentoring younger athletes in cross-country running and track and field.

Today, Reed is working in Kingston with a nylon manufacturer that creates material used in performance applications such as airbags and tents. “The company encourages us to innovate and contribute beyond our typical duties and responsibilities. The Schulich is intended to reinforce STEM innovation and entrepreneurship, and that has really helped me excel here.” 

Reed believes that the professional development opportunities offered by the Schulich Leaders program, such as conferences and networking with other Leaders, really elevated him in the candidate pool when it came time to look for jobs. “I had no problem finding co-op placements and work terms, or even a full-time career,” he explains. “I didn’t have to compromise in what I chose to do with my degree.”

The generous award also allowed Reed to pursue the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experiences that he may not otherwise have enjoyed. “I did a unique four-month internship in China, which didn’t pay very much, but allowed me to study at a university there, and was also able to travel through Europe in my first year. The scholarship really changed my whole life.”