When Angéline Lafleur and Jeremy Leigh were told that they’d won the 2020 Schulich Leader Scholarship, it came as a total surprise to them both. Upon receiving an invitation to meet virtually with a uOttawa representative, they both assumed it was a formal interview to narrow down the list of applicants. They nervously answered the call, determined to stand out from the rest.
Turns out, the University of Ottawa had all it needed to know about these two driven students who were eager to make their mark in quantum computing and mechanical engineering.
This year, 100 Schulich Leader Scholarships were awarded to entrepreneurial high school graduates who have enrolled in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) program at one of 20 partner universities in Canada. Get to know this year’s recipients!
Angéline Lafleur is taking the quantum leap
While Angéline Lafleur was working in a computer repair shop as part of her high school co-op program, a client asked her supervisor whether it was wise to trust a girl to fix computers. She remembers the incident because it was one of her first experiences with discrimination.
“Both my parents are electrical engineers, so from a young age, I was exposed to all kinds of science and technology. Since I grew up with a lot of opportunities to participate in STEM activities with other girls, I didn’t understand, at first, why some people said there was a lack of women in these fields or that STEM was not welcoming to them. It was later on, when I found myself alone in my technology classes, that I realized something was amiss. I can certainly understand why a girl wouldn’t want to go into a field where she feels alienated.”
As a kid growing up in Ottawa, Angéline attended many science and technology camps for girls, where she conducted lab experiments and learned the basics of computer programming. Over the years, she took part in several programs and workshops for girls in engineering and robotics, including a few with uOttawa’s Makerspace.
In high school, she participated in the Shad summer program, where she spent a month in entrepreneurial and STEAM (STEM plus arts)-related seminars, labs and hands-on learning at the University of Ottawa. She also helped teach computer programming and coding to youth in her community, and was a mentor in the Technovation program, which invites groups of girls to develop a mobile app that helps solve a relevant issue in their community.
But it was after meeting one of her role models, Na Young Kim, a quantum computing researcher at the University of Waterloo, and participating in the Quantum Cryptography School for Young Students (QCSYS) program at the Institute for Quantum Computing that she decided on an area of focus. Currently enrolled in the Physics and Electrical Engineering program at the University of Ottawa, Angéline plans to follow in her role model’s footsteps and pursue graduate studies in quantum computing.
“It was Na Young Kim who introduced me to the field and really inspired my career choice. Quantum computing is a new field that will greatly influence and change the way we live. It’s something I’m passionate about and I’m really looking forward to playing a leading role in advancing this transformative, cutting-edge technology.”
One of Angéline’s ultimate goals is to reinvest in the scientific and technological community that enriched her childhood. To assist the Ontario Ministry of Education in implementing its new elementary-level math curriculum, Angéline is working with a group of this year’s Schulich Leaders to develop resources that will help educators teach their students computer programming.
With the funds her family saved through the Schulich Leader Scholarship, Angéline is collaborating with her high school, École secondaire catholique Garneau in Orléans, to offer a grant called eSTIMe (esteem) to a girl who has completed the technology program at her school and is looking to enrol in a STEM program at the postsecondary level.
“I want to encourage girls in STEM, because the problem is not with them. It’s more the way STEM is presented. I'm really interested in making STEM welcoming for everyone and demonstrating that anyone with a bit of curiosity, a desire to learn and creativity in logic can go into STEM. To all the girls who are interested in this: know that there is a community of women in the world who support you.”
Jeremy Leigh: An athlete who gives back
This year, like many students attending university outside their hometown, Jeremy Leigh has begun his undergraduate career under very different circumstances than the Schulich Leaders who preceded him. For the fall term, he will be joining his fellow mechanical engineering students remotely from Campbellton, New Brunswick, through online learning.
Luckily, it’s not in Jeremy’s nature to shy away from a new challenge. With his family and community by his side, he’s ready to embark on the next phase of his academic journey.
“I’ve spent my whole life with my younger sister and my mother,” says Jeremy. “My father died when I was two, so I grew up in a single-parent family and I think it has made me more independent. I’ve had responsibilities that others my age don’t necessarily have, and I’ve often had to learn things for myself. I am fortunate to have grown up here in Campbellton. My hometown has afforded me numerous opportunities and I’m very grateful to the members of my community for all the support they’ve shown me. I was really looking forward to spending my first year in Ottawa, but I appreciate the extra time I get to spend here at home with my family, my friends and everyone who has helped me become who I am today.”
Jeremy has found ways to give back to his community by promoting health and wellness through sports. In 2016, he participated in Le Grand Défi des Héros du cœur, a cycling initiative that motivates francophone students in New Brunswick to raise funds to increase physical activity in youth in participating regions. With the money raised, they bought a fleet of stationary bicycles for local youth and other members of the community.
Jeremy also competed in the 2017 Canada Summer Games in swimming, and in the 2019 Winter Games in cross-country skiing and biathlon. He has served and continues to be an athlete representative on the high-performance committee for Cross Country New Brunswick, making sure that athletes are heard, and that their needs are met.
“Sports have played a huge role in my life,” says Jeremy. “I’ve learned so much from being an athlete: leadership, teamwork, motivation, perseverance and commitment, as well as how to manage my time and set goals. I looked up to a lot of athletes when I was young, and they really inspired me to give back to my community, take on a leadership role, encourage my teammates and always maintain a positive attitude.”
Jeremy’s former employer and long-time mentor, André Boissonnault, has also been a great source of inspiration for the young athlete. Before his last year of high school, Jeremy worked for André’s engineering and surveying company as an inspector overlooking the piping process in sewer systems.
“André always manages to see the positive side and find solutions to problems. I don’t think he ever sleeps,” says Jeremy. “He is really knowledgeable. He likes to learn and share his knowledge with others. He is available to help, no matter what the challenge is. I really look up to him and I aspire to help others, the way he does.”
Jeremy has an entrepreneurial side as well. At the age of 12, he created his own company to help seniors in his community with yard work and general chores. He’s also very curious about how things work. As a kid, he spent a lot of time dismantling and reassembling appliances and trying to repair things ranging from cameras to lawn mowers. So, for him, mechanical engineering seems like a natural choice.
“It’s an area that can satisfy my need to understand how things around me work,” says Jeremy. “I want to understand how devices are built and why they’re designed the way they are. I’m particularly interested in cars because they have several systems that work in tandem to form a well-functioning unit. With global warming being a serious issue, we need more efficient and greener means of transportation and construction methods. The automotive world is evolving, and I truly want to be part of the change and to contribute to the development of environmentally responsible solutions. I am proud to be one of uOttawa’s 2020 Schulich Leaders and am looking forward to rising to the many challenges I’ll be facing over the next five years.”