Katie Brown vividly remembers reading Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, a book spotlighting how scientific innovators and technology are being used to solve humanity’s biggest problems. It ignited in her a love for science and the drive to create a better society.
She was 12 years old at the time.
“I believe I have the ability to achieve this,” Brown said. “The biggest mistake people make when they’re wanting to make a difference is believing the actions of one person can’t make a change. When you feel that way, that is when you really need to step up. Even the smallest actions make the biggest difference.”
This passion, and her actions to date, have been duly rewarded as she’ll begin her undergraduate studies at Western this September as the recipient of an $80,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship.
Launched in 2012, the $100-million scholarship program funded by Canadian philanthropist Seymour Schulich provides for 50 undergraduate scholarships across top Canadian universities each year. The program aims to allow the country’s most promising students to pursue their dreams and become global leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Two scholarship recipients are selected at each of the 20 participating universities, with five universities receiving an additional two scholarships for attracting the most applications. Students heading into engineering receive $100,000 while those planning to study other disciplines within science receive $80,000.
Brown had just turned 13 when, unlike most teenagers, she wanted to begin making a difference – not just in her hometown of Brampton, but globally. Part of a Take Action summer camp, led by the Me to We organization, she made her first volunteer trip abroad to Ecuador. She followed that up with a similar trip India the next summer.
“These trips deepened my belief that I can play a part in overcoming some of the world’s problems,” Brown said. “It was a chance for me to learn about the things I was passionate about. It seemed like an amazing opportunity to learn about the world and have that independence. Those were two of the most amazing times in my life, it completely sparked my passion for tackling some of the world’s biggest problems. That’s something that still holds true today.”
Brown kept her love for social change going throughout her time at Heart Lake Secondary School, leading both the environmental and Be The Change clubs and supporting local and global causes through fundraisers and drives. She even took her Grade 11 Biology in Costa Rica.
“I completely believe one person’s actions can make a difference. I’ve tried to get involved in just the little things,” said Brown, who was school council president during her graduating year. “Picking up one piece of garbage is doing something. But bigger than that is if I can inspire other people and empower them to take action as well, that’s really where you’re having the biggest impact. It’s about building our teams of change-makers.
“At times I get nervous and stressed with what’s going on around the world, but also confident that if we have people willing to take action, we can overcome these issues. It’s possible.”
Heart Lake guidance counsellor Amy Spadijer, who nominated Brown for the scholarship, said sees a student who eagerly took on a multitude of leadership roles in the school community with humility and passion.
“She can always be counted on to support and help her peers and is a champion for creating space for positive change,” Spadijer said. “Despite her free time being occupied by various leadership roles, Katie is still able to maintain more than impressive grades and is focused on her academics. She has been, and will continue to be, a role model for those who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with her.
“It is my personal hope that Katie, no matter what she decides to do, finds something that continues to ignite her passion for making a difference and helping others.
Last summer, Brown took part in the SHAD program (summer enrichment program for high-achieving high school students). There, her fascination with science and technology broaden further as she worked to create a product farmers could use to undo damage caused by flooding, through the use of chemical, biological and engineering principles.
It’s these sort of experiences, she continued, that have provided her with skills she will use to promote positive change as a Schulich Leader as she begins her science degree (physics) at Western.
“I’m pursuing physics because I know this field holds incredible potential,” said Brown, who spent her summer teaching at a robotics camps in Brampton. “Many of the world’s greatest problems need to be solved by combining a deep scientific understanding of the issues, advanced use of technology, and, most importantly, strong, relentless leadership to make it happen. This is where my skills, experiences and passions intersect.”
Brown looks forward to pursing a dual degree (Ivey Business School) while at Western – “an amazing combination that will allow me to create the most change” – and cannot wait to finally become a Mustang this fall.
“I’ve heard from a lot of students and alumni that there’s an amazing sense of community among the students,” she said. “I want to go above and beyond my studies and really get involved in everything that I can, be it athletics, opportunities to do research, leadership capacity. I really can’t wait for all the opportunities at Western.”