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Space exploration, robotics, climate change: Coquitlam teen’s career pursuits foreseen thanks to $100K scholarship

Rowan Zawadzki receives one of Canada’s most prestigious honours for high-school students
Rowan Zawadzki - Gleneagle Secondary $100K scholarship
Gleneagle Secondary Grade 12 student Rowan Zawadzki is a recipient of the $100,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship, considered one of the prestigious in all of Canada for individuals pursuing STEM careers.

“I was speechless because I had trouble processing the news.”

Imagine getting a phone call with someone on the other line telling your Grade 12 mind that you just won $100,000 toward a four-year post-secondary education to aid in your long-term goals.

You’d likely would be sharing the same feelings as Rowan Zawadzki experienced when he found out this month that he was one of the 2021 recipients for a prestigious Canadian national scholarship for high-school students wishing to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).

Known as the Schulich Leader Scholarship and described as one of the most coveted awards in the country, the award sees more than 300,000 candidates every year who are narrowed down to 1,500 nominees and 100 winners.

Zawadzki was one of those lucky ones out of Coquitlam and, in an interview with Tri-City News, he said that he never expected to win, but also relied on his skills and talents throughout the application process.

“I was in the car with my parents and sister when I got the call [...] my dad broke out laughing and my mom and sister started to celebrate,” he explained of how he received the news from enrolment services advisor Melissa Kuipers at UBC, where Zawadzki plans on attending after graduating Gleneagle Secondary this June.

“I never expected to win, but why should that stop me from trying? I put a lot of work into my application, and I’m so thankful to see that work pay off. I have a lot of respect for anyone who applied, because just choosing to apply is something to be proud of. If you applied for this scholarship, it's proof that you believe in yourself.”

As a child, Zawadzki said he’d always had an interest in three key areas: electronics, mechanics and programming. 

But as he grew older, his interests expanded to robotics and space exploration, but also environmental solutions, which he believes can be created through STEM research and will be able to kickstart the gears while studying at UBC’s Vancouver campus in the fall.

“After I make it through my first year, I want to specialize in engineering physics. This program focuses on project-based learning and will teach me a variety of important skills. I’m not sure what I want to do after university, but in this program I can study many areas of science and engineering, which allows me a lot of options once I graduate. [...] Ultimately I want to be part of a start-up company that works to solve climate change issues on our planet.”

UBC is one of 20 research-based universities that’s partnered with the Schulich Leader Scholarship.

While he may not know now what he wants to do after graduating, Zawadzki has been diving deep into researching ways to shape the global community’s future.

In exploring the "wonders of the universe," he claims there’s still more knowledge to discover and hopes to accomplish such feats wherever his career may take him. “Humanity is entering the planetary revolution, and soon we are going to become a multi-planet society,” said Zawadzki.

“I am leaning towards a job related to space exploration (which ultimately solves problems on our planet). Through university, I hope to learn a lot about as many subjects as I can. There is so much I’m interested in, and so much I don’t know but I definitely want to take my love of technology and create solutions for our planet.”

At the end of the day, Zawadzki is grateful for his $100,000 honour and believes his videos and robotics projects were what solidified his unexpected prize, along with the help of many other people he sought counsel from during the process.

He encourages upcoming students thinking of following in the same steps to apply regardless, adding submitting your name can help in achieving even the smallest of academic pursuits.

“It is not just about the money that will allow me to focus on my studies, but also the connections I am making with other Schulich winners,” he remarked.

“Obviously I’d like to thank my parents, for always supporting me and even renovating our garage so I could work on my projects. I’d also like to thank a lot of teachers who have taught and supported me through the years. I’d especially like to thank Ms. Mulder and the T.A.L.O.N.S. program at Gleneagle. Without this program, I would never have worked on my robotics projects or won this scholarship. I also had an amazing mentor from UBC, Griffin, whose passion and knowledge of robotics inspired me to follow the same path.”

You can learn more about the Schulich Leader Scholarship program by visiting its website.