Two University of Manitoba students received the prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship for showcasing outstanding skills in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
The Schulich Leader Scholarships Canada recognizes the significance that STEM disciplines will have on the world's future and is dedicated to encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurial-minded, technology innovators. 100 high school graduates pursuing STEM are eligible for this entrance scholarship at partnering universities in Canada.
Each high school is allowed to nominate one Schulich leader Nominee per academic year, and this year a student from Murdoch MacKay Collegiate and from Nelson McIntyre Collegiate in Winnipeg were recipients of the award.
Marina Caracas Le-Fort is a 17-year-old graduate of Nelson McIntryre Collegiate who is pursuing a major in computer engineering at the Price Faculty of Engineering at the University of Manitoba. Le-Fort is the recipient of the $100,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship.
Le-Fort says that when she found out that she was the recipient of the Schulich Leader Scholarship, she was in the process of getting x-rays on her ankle and had to wait until she was home to call back.
"So, we drove home and then I called her and she just told me I was chosen for the Schulich Engineering Award and I just couldn't believe it," says Le-Fort. "I left my room and I was like, how do I tell my mom this, because she was the only one at home at the time, and I just laughed and I was like, mom, I got it. She just started screaming so loud and hugging me."
Despite her success, Le-Fort has had to overcome some struggles to get where she is today. In 2016, Le-Fort and her family immigrated from Brasil to Canada.
"It was really tough at the start, just being thrown into this brand-new country, not knowing anyone here but my family. I just had to really adapt to that, being at a school where I had no idea what they were saying at first and I didn't know anyone and I think that's kind of when I started really focusing on coding since it is mostly in English."
In high school, Le-Fort and her friend Joseph created a Safe in St. Boniface, a project dedicated to providing people in the community access to information on community support and resources. The inspiration for creating this project was to provide the public with other resources rather than simply calling 911.
"It's an asset map with multiple resources and mobile services around all of the St. Boniface community and we tried to put the most amount of information, that digested information and all the important information in a map. The hardest part was really putting it all together in just one single sheet of paper and then also making them into flyers."
Le-Fort aspires to start up her own tech-engineering company that will create faster and fresher solutions to everyday problems or hidden problems.
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Rebekah Soneye is an 18-year-old Murdoch MacKay Collegiate graduate, who is pursuing a major in computer science at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Science. She is the recipient of the $80,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship.
Soneye remembers when she got the call that she received the scholarship, just like Le-Fort, she missed the initial call as well. At first, she believed the call was about her grad dress fitting, which she was expecting, but soon realized that it was from U of M and had the suspicion that it was regarding the scholarship.
"In my head I was like, this is not happening right now. She spoke to me on the phone and she told me that I was selected, I was speechless for like the whole call because she was explaining some of the other important parts of the information. After she was done, I just remember crying and like, oh my gosh, and I was home alone and my parents were at work so I was like, I need to tell someone and I called my dad. At first, my dad was scared, he was like, what happened and I said I got the scholarship. It was such an amazing moment, I don't think I can ever forget it."
In high school, Soneye created the Girls Tech Club which she says took off in her grade twelve year. The club was dedicated to interacting with other girls in her school and teaching them about coding, encouraging them to pursue a career in the field despite it being male-dominated.
"I felt like girls just didn't know what it was, they just didn't have good enough basic coding skills to take the class so I thought, okay, I could start something to encourage girls to join and it was an amazing process. I feel like I got more from it, even just doing it and teaching other girls how to code."
Similarly to Le-Fort, Soneye is also an immigrant. Originating from Nigeria, Soneye and her family moved to Canada in 2016.
"One thing that I think I took with me from Nigeria to Canada is trying to be the best version of yourself every time. So, I think coming here, I just worked and worked and tried to always be the best version of myself every single step...so I am definitely proud."
Soneye pictures her future as having her "own little empire," whether it's creating her own business or starting a nonprofit organization that targets a specific goal. She also offers advice for those applying for scholarships or anyone attempting to achieve a goal.
"My mom says this all the time, she says look to add value to your community and to people and every other thing will come. So, just add value and it can be something little, just a simple hi to a stranger, you could make someone's day so just look to add value."