Three Edmonton Grade 12 students are among the recipients of this year’s Schulich Leader Scholarship, one of the richest awards in Canada for students studying science, technology, engineering and math.
Rajan Maghera from McNally High School and Jessica Hammal from Archbishop MacDonald High School were each awarded $80,000 to study at the University of Alberta in the fall. Yosamin Esanullah, from Jasper Place High School, was awarded $100,000 to study at the University of British Columbia.
For Maghera, the offer came in mid-April, when he and all other high school students in Alberta were staying home, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was sleeping late, it was almost 12, which seems late, but it’s pretty normal for all of us right now,” Maghera recalled. “I got a number from an unknown caller. I thought it was a scam call, but I answered it.”
The voice on the other end of the line was from the University of Alberta, offering him an $80,000 scholarship to study computer science.
Maghera has always been a “tinkerer,” interested in computers and computer science.
In the past year, he built a program to share sports results from McNally teams on social media and, in an effort to build hype around school sports games. He also works with Millennium STEM, which plans events for high school students interested in science, technology, engineering, math and leadership. He’s also the McNally valedictorian this year.
“It’s very exciting,” he said “All that money, I can use it on research. I don’t know what, exactly, I am going to do next, but I am very happy to have all these opportunities.”
Esanullah was similarly surprised by the call saying she had won. She was out hiking in early April, near her home in Edmonton, when she took a wrong turn and stepped into a half-frozen river. She started for home, wet and cold, when her cell phone rang.
“I had to run home in my soaking sneakers,” Esanullah. “It was really windy out. I thought, ‘this day cannot get any worse, they are telling me I didn’t win the scholarship.'”
She was wrong. The call was someone from UBC, offering her $100,000 to study mechanical engineering.
“My day got so much brighter,” she said.
Esanullah says she hopes this scholarship will help her study aerospace engineering eventually and, one day, fulfil her dream of becoming an astronaut.
While in High School, Esanullah worked as a page in the Alberta legislature, formed a social justice group, and volunteered through Kiwanis international.
Winning the Schulich scholarship is a point of pride for Esanullah, and also her parents. They came to Canada with Esanullah when she was three years old, emigrating from Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
”We’re immigrants, we came here for the sake of education,” she said. “We faced some financial hardships, because of that. So getting the scholarship felt like a sigh of relief, I knew I was going to be OK.”
Hammal shared a similar sentiment. She and her family immigrated to Canada from Syria 10 years ago.
“When my parents moved here, they gave up everything for me,” Hammal said. “I do everything I do because I’ve seen what they’ve done for me and I want to make it worth it, every single day.”
Since coming to Canada, Hammal has remained involved with her Syrian community in Edmonton, largely through St. Nicholas Church, which has a large Syrian population. She teaches trumpet in her church music program, is in the choir and is frequently involved in fundraising to support refugees. She helps lead a kind of marching line at the church, which performs around Easter and other religious celebrations.
Hammal will use her $80,000 scholarship to study general science, with hopes of getting into the neuroscience program in her second year.
More than 1,500 nominees are collected for the Schulich Leader Scholarship each year, from high schools across the country. It is awarded to just 100 winners across Canada, with scholarship offers made between March 1 and June 15.