Schulich Leader creatively resolves career tug-of-war

Elizabeth Olsson is a dancer and Schulich Leader Scholar. (submitted photo)

Elizabeth Olsson draws inspiration from her mother, her grandfather and a host of others who have been mentors en route to her journey to Western.

All of them had the courage to step out of expected roles and become leaders in their fields, and Olsson admires that.

“I want to be an inspiration for women wanting to go into STEM and engineering. I want to be a role model in the same way they have been,” Olsson said.

Olsson, from Surrey, BC, is enrolled in Engineering and is one of six incoming Western students awarded a prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship this fall.

Elizabeth Olsson

Elizabeth Olsson, Schulich Leader Scholarship winner. (submitted photo)

Her mother is a veterinarian and her grandfather is a chemical engineer, so the tug-of-war between possible career choices was fierce.

“At the vet clinic, seeing my mom and these strong intelligent women in action and saving animal lives led me into medical and science things.” At the same time, her grandfather lobbied her to use her problem-solving skills in Engineering.

Olsson intends to specialize in biomechanical engineering: combining the life-sciences aspect of the vet clinic with the precision of engineering.

“I’ve always loved math, always,” she said. “My favourite science is physics because it’s math and science combined into one.”

Her exceptional math and science grades led to her being chosen to work as a technician in science labs at her school, Sullivan Heights Secondary School. She loved preparing equipment and chemical solutions and learning from teachers who supervised the labs. “It gave me insight into what working in science and STEM was really like.”

While earning top marks in her courses, Olsson also spent several hours each week with the school’s dance team: first as dancer and then as coach as well. A long-time dancer in jazz, ballet, pop and musical theatre, she choreographed routines that led to the team’s first-place finishes at several competitions. “It started as a hobby that turned into a leadership role,” she said.

Her well-rounded activities in high school included writing poetry and dabbling in piano, saxophone and guitar. She won top prize in a school-wide poetry/performance contest in which she wrote and recorded a poem and then danced the piece onstage.

Elizabeth Olsson holding a cat in a vet clinic

Elizabeth Olsson works part-time at a vet clinic and is a Schulich Leader Scholar. (submitted photo)

As much as she will miss her dog Griff and three cats when she heads east to Western, she is excited to meet new people and to stay in residence.

She and her mother visited campus in January and were impressed. “The campus is so beautiful. I love the old buildings and everything is so clean and people are so friendly.”

The visit cemented Western among her top choices, even before she received the email in late May that she had been awarded a Schulich Leader Scholarship. “I woke up, checked my email and I had to re-read it about four times before I believed it.”

Created by Canadian business leader and philanthropist Seymour Schulich in 2012, the $200-million Schulich Leader Scholarship program encourages high school graduates to embrace STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines in their future careers.

The program provides 100 undergraduate scholarships, of $80,000 for students entering science, technology or math programs and $100,000 for students pursuing engineering degrees, across top Canadian universities each year.


Olsson, Schulich Leader Scholar 2020


Profiles of all six incoming Schulich Leader Scholarship winners can be found here.