They are among the best Canada has to offer, and they are coming to Western this fall.
Flora Jung of Sir John A. MacDonald Secondary School in Waterloo and Blake VanBerlo of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School in London have been named the two Western-bound recipients of the 2013 Schulich Leader Scholarship, a program that supports undergraduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Created by Seymour Schulich, a noted entrepreneur and philanthropist, and for whom Western’s medical school is named, the scholarships are valued at $60,000 each.
The Schulich program allows all Canadian secondary schools to nominate one student for the award, looking for candidates who demonstrate a track of academic excellence and show exemplary leadership in their communities. Once selected, nominees note the university they plan to attend and each institution selects two candidates as winners.
Up until recently, Jung wouldn’t have called herself an “exceptional student.” And even if the 17-year-old won’t tout herself as such today, it’s no doubt she is.
Jung will be coming to Western eager to study Biomedical Science and join the university’s Scholar’s Electives Program.
Originally from South Korea, Jung came to Canada at the age of 7. She admits she never felt academically inclined until high school, when her teachers helped her see she really enjoyed studying science and math. She modestly credits these teachers for the academic drive and success that will bring her to Western in September.
And while Jung was her high school’s Gold Medal winner and the recipient of its Governor’s General award for her high academic standing, it was the initiative and leadership she showed that made her stand out among her peers.
In Grade 10, she took charge of her school’s Key Club, a Kiwanis Service Leadership initiative that encourages high school students to get involved and volunteer in their communities. It is the biggest high school volunteer initiative in Canada.
“I was just seeing that there wasn’t something like that already. It (volunteering) was a grad requirement and students were having trouble finding opportunities and finding joy in it,” Jung said. “I wanted to bring that (joy) to the school and have fun volunteering, doing it with your friends.”
Bridging the gap between her school and her community, Jung helped fellow students get together and enjoy volunteer opportunities with local food banks, environmental initiatives and the city’s infrastructure department.
“She started the whole thing. She really showed her initiative and leadership skills. There are other chapters of it in schools, and ours is the biggest chapter and she is more than responsible for that,” said Linda Pernfuss, a guidance counsellor at Sir John A. MacDonald, who nominated Jung.
She noted Jung, who won the Kiwanis Key Club Award, has truly made a difference at the school and has been the deserving recipient of numerous awards.
“She really has high standards and sets her bar pretty high. She’s also very personable, a really likeable person, too. So, those things combined, and I think she’s going to do really well. She’s very highly respected by staff and students.”
Jung has dedicated much of her time to volunteering in the community, being a team leader at the local food bank and helping to raise 90,000 kg of goods in the region in a 24-hour period for a national fundraiser. She also volunteers at the hospital, working with kidney patients and helping medical staff in any way she can.
This year, she was recognized by Canada Trust as one of Canada’s 70 community leaders.
Once she is done her undergraduate studies, Jung hopes to attend medical school. She picked Western because of its reputation and the academic opportunities it would provide, she said.
“When I walked onto the campus, everyone was so friendly. The student atmosphere and the campus is amazing and the Scholar’s Electives Program was academically appealing,” she added.
Jung is looking forward to enjoying the campus and her classes this fall.
Blake VanBerlo has had a few leading roles on the high school stage. But the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School student is gearing up for his biggest role to date – as one of 40 young Canadians to receive a Schulich Leader Scholarship.
Western will be familiar ground for VanBerlo, who will be attending Engineering this fall, as both parents – Mark VanBerlo (BA’84, King’s) and Lori Allen VanBerlo ( BA’87, King’s) – are Western alumni.
While earning a scholarship is never guaranteed, VanBerlo brought to the table not only high academic marks, but a weighty extracurricular resume including high school trustee, four years of school plays, a member of his school’s hockey and soccer teams, a reader at St. Peter’s Basilica and a volunteer at a local nursing home.
While VanBerlo may have momentarily forgotten about the scholarship, what with a January application deadline, he certainly recalls getting the phone call.
“They called my house and I’ll never forget that day,” said VanBerlo, who at the time of the call was hanging out with a classmate after school. “My mom told me the phone was for me and they said, ‘Hello, Blake, we’re calling with what we think will be some good news for you.’ Oh wow, I just went insane. I think I said thank you a lot of times. It was mind-blowing.
“As soon as I got off the phone I was running around the house. I told my parents and my mom cried. I think my dad cried, too, perhaps more about the lack of education payments.”
His principal, Linda Thomas, who nominated VanBerlo for the scholarship, said his drive in academics, fine arts and community made him stand out from the rest.
“Blake is exceptional for his excellent leadership skills, his character, communication, a great listener, enthusiasm about life, talented musician,” Thomas said. “Overall, his humility is what stands out. I am so thrilled and excited about the opportunities ahead of him. Blake is ‘going places.’”
While he had an early interest in science – also applying, and being accepted, at the universities of Waterloo and Toronto – VanBerlo decided to make the jump to engineering.
“I looked at both areas – science, engineering – and, the thing is, I love science, but I also like being creative,” said the 18-year-old. “What better way than engineering to combine the two, where I can apply my skills and solve problems with my own creative solutions.”
VanBerlo expects his life to change this fall with his time taken by school, extracurricular, of course, and summer co-ops. So for now, he’s going enjoy the next couple months.
“This summer will be my last summer of doing, well, anything I want,” VanBerlo said. “Western will be here soon and I can’t wait.”