Generation next: Congram named 2014 Schulich Leader

Paul Mayne // Western News

Ben Congram of Stratford Northwestern Secondary School (Stratford, Ont.) has been named a Schulich Leader Scholar, awarded to 40 nationwide high school students intending to enrol in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) areas of study.

The kids at Camp Kintail in Goderich simply know him by his nickname Aragorn, the fictional Ranger from the North in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings triology. But at Western this fall, Ben Congram entered the Faculty of Engineering under a different title – Schulich Leader Scholar.

The Stratford, Ont., native, who graduated from Stratford Northwestern Secondary School, landed at Western as a much sought-after student. Congram was offered scholarships to attend the University of Waterloo ($15,000) and Queen’s University ($36,000), but accepted the Schulich scholarship, which will see him receive $80,000 over his four years at Western.

Schulich Leader Scholarships are awarded to high school students intending to enrol in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) areas of study. Forty students are selected from across the country, two for each participating university. Saskatchewan native Mark Krammer entered the Faculty of Science this fall as Western’s other Schulich Leader Scholar.

“When I first got off the phone, after I heard about this, my dad asked what the phone call was about,” Congram said. “I said, ‘I think I just won a scholarship.’ I was shocked. It took a few days to really sink in what had happened.”

What shocked Congram didn’t surprise others.

Stratford Northwestern principal Martin Ritsma jokingly said he’d do anything to keep Congram in his school.

“When you look at Ben, you’re looking at a total student,” Ritsma said. “He does it all and he does it with such grace and humility, it’s absolutely frightening. It’s a tribute to Ben, his family and our school. This young man has graced our school for four years and made it a better place.”

Congram’s list of accomplishments runs the gamut of academic, athletics and extracurricular activities. He achieved a 99.2 per cent average in his Grade 12 courses, including 100 per cent in physics, calculus and functions; won three Cooper-Standard Awards for excellence in business, science and mathematics; and received the Evelyn Johnston Scholarship for Mathematics.

Last year, he won the 2013 Canadian Senior Mathematics Contest, placing 14th in the world out of almost 8,000 contestants.

Outside the classroom, Congram is an accomplished Nordic skier, competing in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) Championships, was a member of his school’s track and field team and worked at his school’s radio station. He tutored younger students through the school board’s Strategic Outcomes for Academic Progress (SOAR) program for gifted students as well as Grade 9 math students during his spare period.

A resume like this, Ritsma said, is something to brag about, but that’s the opposite of Congram. In fact, Congram didn’t tell his classmates he won the prestigious scholarship.

“He allows things to settle where they settle, and with his ability, this tends to end up on the right side. He allows the spotlight to shine on others,” Ritsma said. “Ben wouldn’t tell everyone, so when I made the announcement at school, you could almost hear a pin drop.”

Congram made the most of his high school experience and will miss his time at Stratford Northwestern, but is looking ahead to his next adventure.

“I think there is definite excitement in coming to Western,” he said. “It’s a new opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to the whole experience and getting involved as much as I can.”