Lena Schreyer would rather not be known as a super-achiever – despite excellent grades, on-campus mentoring and community volunteerism. Instead, the third-year Science and Neuroscience student would prefer to be seen as someone who follows her passions and is willing to risk failing.
“I do recognize I am involved in a lot of things. Sometimes people do not understand or aren’t able to wrap their heads around the fact that I do this because I love it. I find it very energizing to do the things I do.”
Schreyer is one of just 10 Canadian students to receive the prestigious 2020 3M National Student Fellowship Award, 3M Canada and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) announced May 21.
The award honours postsecondary students for outstanding leadership in their lives, communities and schools. The award brings a $5,000 scholarship and one year of working with and learning from other award-winners to improve teaching and learning at postsecondary institutions.
Schreyer is the first Western student in five years to receive the fellowship.
“Lena captures so well the spirit of what it means to be a Western student – a young scholar deeply dedicated to her community, her campus and her fellow students,” said President Alan Shepard. “I am thrilled the country will get to know more about her contributions through this award.”
During her high school career, Schreyer logged more than 700 volunteer hours, served as students’ council co-president and was a three-sport athlete. Awarded the Western National President’s Scholarship upon her entry to Western in 2018, she immediately set to work making a difference here.
On campus, her volunteer work has included leadership roles with Active Minds, a national non-profit organization supporting mental-health awareness and education for students. She has been a mentor for incoming Scholar’s Electives students and volunteer co-ordinator for the charity committee on the Science Student’s Council. Last December, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) awarded her one of its scholarships.
Off campus, Schreyer volunteers weekly at Ronald McDonald House, which helps families who have a child sick with cancer, and spends time every weekend at the SARI Therapeutic Riding facility for children and adults with disabilities.
She also spends about four hours a week with Create Change, volunteering alongside its founder Shannen O’Brian to help empower young women across Canada and in Ghana to become leaders.
But the commitment that makes her proudest is as director and facilitator of Beecuz, a youth-led organization that helps elementary-school pupils improve their mental health. A social enterprise Schreyer founded in high school, Beecuz is part of Western Entrepreneurship’s Accelerator program and the Social Enterprise incubator at Pillar Non-Profit Network.
“Lena epitomizes academic achievement and volunteer commitment,” said Science Dean Matt Davison. “What’s so impressive is that she thinks and acts beyond her own interests as she works towards the wellbeing of others – whether it’s behind the scenes helping families deal with children’s cancer or in front of a classroom mentoring peers towards mental wellness.
“Western Science is so pleased Lena has been named a 3M Student Fellow – it’s a rare honour for any student – and we’re really proud to be able to help shape her academic and personal journey.”
Schreyer is entering her third year at Western and was aiming to become a paediatrician until a Western-led Impact experience in Guatamala last February made her realize she has a larger breadth of options than previously believed.
“I’ve kind of settled right now on not knowing (what comes next) – and that’s OK,” she said.
She said the community and extracurricular pursuits – more than 20 hours a week – don’t suck time or energy from her schoolwork. On the contrary, they fuel her academic drive.
That hasn’t always been the case. Her struggles with mental illness when she was younger, including hospital stays and treatment, have been “a really transformational experience in learning what is important to me in life,” she said.
She draws on that experience when asked what advice she would have for other students.
“Don’t get involved because you feel you should or because it looks good on a resume,” she said. “Do something because it makes you happy, because it’s something you find meaningful, because it energizes you. Practise self-compassion. It’s OK to make mistakes. That doesn’t have to define you. Those will shape you, so take every opportunity.
“For me, no matter what I do, I want to do it fully, being fully present physically and mentally. I want to have that mindset of, ‘It doesn’t hurt to try. It doesn’t hurt to dream big. I might be capable of accomplishing something big, so why not give it a try?’”
She said her family in Kitchener has been a vital support through both her public successes and private struggles. “My family has been with me through the highs and the lows.”
And receiving the 3M Student Fellowship is definitely one of the high points, she said.
“It’s just such an incredible opportunity to connect with other students who have similar passions. It’s an incredible honour.”