Meet the new STEM kids on the block

September 6, 2022  — 
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McGill’s newest Schulich Leaders Scholars. Top row (l to r): Maya Foster Thompson, Kristina Kerkelova, Sophia Li, Tavio Ficaccio, and Nicolas Dolgopolyy. Bottom row (l to r): Josh Gertsvolf, Aerin Brown, Allison Tsypin, Alexander Lyakishev, and Eya Ibrahim

McGill’s 2022 Schulich Leaders are 10 high-achieving go-getters from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island with academic and extra-curricular accomplishments that might make the rest of us consider a high school do-over.

These enterprising students begin the fall term at McGill with the distinction of having won Canada’s premier Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) scholarship.

“I was mostly in shock for the first few days,” recalls Sophia Li, of Vancouver, about receiving word of her $100,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship. “I was thrilled, grateful, and excited to be heading to McGill.”

Fascinated by technology and its impact on our daily lives, Li is studying Software Engineering. “I chose this program to learn how I can leverage software and engineering ways of thinking to solve everyday problems.” She also likes that co-op work terms are part of her program, allowing her to apply her studies to practical experiences.

Record McGill cohort

McGill alumnus Seymour Schulich, BSc’61, MBA’65, DLitt’04, created Canada’s largest undergraduate scholarship program. The scholarships are awarded to outstanding, entrepreneurial-minded students – future technology innovators – who are embarking on STEM studies at 20 partner universities in Canada. One hundred Schulich Leader Scholarships were awarded this year, including 10 to incoming McGill students, the largest new cohort of Schulich Leaders to date at the University.

For Alexander Lyakishev, winning the scholarship “means freedom. It’s as simple as that. The freedom to stop worrying about financing my undergraduate degree and to have the time to discover what truly inspires me to change the world.”

The Mechanical Engineering student from Toronto is eager to check out the Formula Electric and rocketry student design teams at McGill, participate in a summer research program, and gain real-world experience through an internship. “Being chosen as a Schulich Leader made all that possible,” says Lyakishev, who envisions himself at the helm of an engineering start-up developing manufacturing technologies to accelerate advancements in robotics or aerospace.

Five of McGill’s 2022 Schulich Leaders are Faculty of Engineering students who have each received a $100,000 scholarship: In addition to Lyakishev and Li, the list includes Aerin Brown (Surrey, B.C.), Nicolas Dolgopolyy (Montreal), and Kristina Kerkelova (Winnipeg).

The five other Schulich Leaders are enrolled in Faculty of Science programs and each received $80,000 scholarships: Tavio Ficaccio (Calgary), Maya Foster Thompson (Dartmouth, N.S.), Josh Gertsvolf (Ottawa), Eya Ibrahim (Victoria, B.C.) and Allison Tsypin (Pointe-Claire, QC).

Long-standing ties to McGill

Tsypin’s unique connection to McGill dates to her childhood.

“It was at the age of seven that I first enrolled to be a research subject with Talwar Child Development Team at McGill, earned my first wages, filed my tax return, and contributed to my RRSP, to the astonishment of bank officers,” she recounts.

“Since then, I participated in more than a dozen studies in their cozy building [on] McTavish and experienced first-hand how McGill professors and postgrads conducted their research. From profs to undergrads, everyone seemed to me so grown up, and cool, and smart. I wanted to be among the best, and now my dream came true,” says Tsypin, who has won many mathematics competitions and chess championships in Canada and the U.S. and is also a black belt in karate.

Tsypin says she has always tried to help her hard-working, supportive family financially. Winning the scholarship will allow her to pursue her scientific interests at McGill and focus on her academics “without worrying about money every moment.”

Tsypin, who is fluent in French, English and Russian, is an Honours Mathematics student. She’s passionate about the subject – “in all its aspects, both theoretical and practical.” As for future career aspirations, Tsypin says: “I hope to make a scientific breakthrough by combining the mathematical concept of chaos theory with the power of AI. I would love to lead a team that analyzes historical data about disruptive events in disparate fields, revealing patterns and creating reliable predictive models applicable widely: increasing transport infrastructure capacity, ensuring communication network redundancy, and more.”

Importance of STEM disciplines

Schulich Leader Maya Foster Thompson just competed at the Canada Games in August as part of Nova Scotia’s rowing team before starting her Computer Science studies at McGill. “I love to program and problem solve and I am very interested in developing new and innovative technologies,” says Foster Thompson.

Looking ahead to a future career, Foster Thompson says: “I have been interested in developing and working with artificial intelligence – and working to solve issues in AI such as algorithmic bias. However, I would also like to explore my options as there are so many branches of computer science that interest me.”

The gratitude among recipients for the scholarships extends to Seymour Schulich, the businessman and philanthropist who established the $100-million scholarship fund in 2012 and contributed an additional $100 million in 2020. The scholarship program was born from Schulich’s recognition of the importance of STEM disciplines for future prosperity and a desire to encourage outstanding students to become the pioneers of tomorrow in innovation and global scientific research.

“His generosity continues to have an immense impact on the lives of many students, myself included,” says Lyakishev. “I hope to have the opportunity to help others in the future, as he has helped me.”

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Article courtesy of The McGill Reporter

Article courtesy of The McGill Reporter