Love of math and community add up to success for 2021 Schulich Leaders

Posted on Tuesday, September 28, 2021

 Madelin Rioux's portrait, right, and her scuba diving, left

Madelin Rioux

By Leah Geller, a science writer based in Ottawa.

On that cold March day when Madelin Rioux found out she had been awarded a Schulich Leaders Scholarship, she just couldn’t stop smiling. “I’ve worked since Grade 9, so the idea of being able to solely focus on school was really exciting,” she says.

The scholarship is one of Canada’s most generous awards, valued at $100,000 for engineering and $80,000 for science and math students. It aims to cover all the financial needs of the “best and the brightest” STEM students throughout their undergraduate degree, so they can devote their full attention to their studies and become part of the next generation of technology innovators.

Every high school in Canada can nominate one graduating student each year, but only 100 students across the country receive the award. Madelin was told she was one of those selected from a pool of about 1,500 nominees because she was really well-rounded in terms of balancing academics and other aspects of her life.

“I went to high school in the town of Collingwood, Ontario, and took every math and science class that I could,” says Madelin. “I also volunteered as a cheerleading coach and became a manager at McDonald’s at just 17 years old.” Just before COVID-19 hit, she also took up scuba diving, exploring coral reefs in the Cayman Islands and shipwrecks in Lake Ontario.

Madelin credits a reference letter from her physics teacher for putting her on the radar when it came time for uOttawa to select its two Schulich Leaders. According to her, the letter said that she was always asking questions, always digging deeper for answers."

Madelin is in uOttawa's data science co-op program — a double honours degree in computer science and math. She’s especially excited about going back to in-person learning, exploring the city and meeting new people.

While she may eventually want to work for a few years in computer science for a large company like Google, Apple or Tesla, that’s not her ultimate goal. “In the end, I want to start my own company. I would just love to be my own boss.”

 Affaan Ali's portrait, left, and him teaching math class, right

Affaan Ali

As for Affaan Ali, he didn't always excel at math. He became proficient in the subject thanks to a tutoring service his parents enrolled him in during Grade 8. Within the year, he was so good at math that he began tutoring others. He eventually went on to run his very own math tutoring business in his hometown of Cornwall, through its youth entrepreneurship program.

“I loved tutoring, so in Grade 10, I pitched the idea of an in-person math tutoring business to the city and received a grant of $3,000. I ran the business for a year until COVID-19 hit, when I started volunteering at my school to help out the teachers during my spares. I figured if I could support others to become comfortable with math, why not?”

Affaan also helped organize math contests for local youth and participated himself in the prestigious Waterloo math contest, where he was school champion each year. Along with his passion for math education, Affaan is a talented musician. “Music has always been my favourite hobby,” he says. He played clarinet in the high school band, which won a gold medal at the Cornwall Kinsmen Music Festival, and he won a silver medal for his solo at the same event.

Despite Affaan’s extensive accomplishments, he was stunned when he found out he was getting a Schulich Leader Scholarship. “I was shocked,” he says. “I never imagined I would ever win.”

Affaan credits his parents — both doctors from Bangladesh who faced barriers preventing them from practising in Canada — for his success. "My father eventually went back to school and got licensed as a registered nurse, while my mother focused on raising the family", he says. "I'll always be grateful to them for the sacrifices they made. Without them, I couldn't have gotten this award."

Affaan is excited about attending uOttawa and pursuing a joint honours in mathematics and economics. “Math is one of my passions and economics is something that interests me in my personal life, so when I saw this program, I thought it was perfect for me. My hope is to go as far as I can in math and one day apply it to create something new that might better the world.”

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