Laurentian University played host to 55 of Canada’s brightest teens for the month of July, as the university participated in the Shad Canada program.
The Shad program for high-achieving high school students is offered at 20 participating universities across Canada, and focuses on experiences in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).
Thomas Merritt, a professor in the School of Natural Sciences at Laurentian and one of the organizers of the program, said “it’s a big deal” for LU to host Shad, something that has been five years in the making.
Officially, Laurentian first hosted Shad in 2021, but due to the pandemic, the program was virtual last year. This is the first time the Shad students have physically been on Laurentian’s campus.
There is a rigorous application process, which goes in-depth into both the students' academics and extra-curriculars.
Merritt said more than 2,000 students apply for the program across Canada yearly, but only 1,000 are accepted. “There’s a lot of financial support,” he said. “The limiting factor here is the application process, not finances.”
Those participating in the program “tend to be very good students,” he added, and “they often have other things that they're really good at as well, whether it's sport, music or governance. It's a diverse group, we are trying to give them a transformational experience.”
At a time when so much focus has been on the wide-ranging impacts of Laurentian’s insolvency, Merritt said hosting the Shad program is a good news story for the university.
“We're absolutely going through a very difficult time,” he said.
“There's still some really wonderful faculty that are here. We lost some great people, and we've been able to keep some great people. So this is a way for the people that are here to really shine, come out, do some great work and interact with some students in a really positive way.”
The Shad students’ time at Laurentian has featured myriad diverse experiences, from workshops on poetry and chemistry to experiencing the great outdoors (including in Killarney and Chutes provincial parks).
“At some level, maybe we're developing the next generation of scientists, but really what we're trying to do is help these students grow in whatever direction they want to be growing in, whether it's thinking about science, or whether it's thinking about other forms of research,” Merritt said.
One of the participants, Shivalikaa Govind of Edmonton, said she has enjoyed being exposed to various fields of science through the program.
“That is a great learning experience for all the students here,” she said, adding she doesn’t know what she wants to do for a living when she’s older, but it will probably be something in the STEM field.
Govind said her favourite Shad activity has been visiting Laurentian’s School of Architecture, where the students were tasked with designing a tower.
“We got to knock it down at the end and see whose tower was the strongest to create,” she said.
Another participant, Vadim Melnik of Toronto, said he’s loved the whole Shad experience.
“I think one of my favourite things so far is just the sense of community here,” he said.
“And not only that, but the simulation of a university experience in general, because it's definitely a change of pace from a more familiar setting like, like back in Toronto.
“There's a lot of exposure to new material. I've had a chance to do a lot of things that I was curious about doing but never really had the chance to.”
Melnik said he especially enjoyed learning how to paddle a canoe while participating in Shad. He also enjoyed taking in a law lecture, as this is one of the fields of post-secondary study he is considering.
“I also really enjoyed the robotics lab, where we had to program the robot to try and draw something,” Melnik said. “That's very much out of my comfort zone. I just found it very interesting as a new experience.”
Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com. She also covers education and the arts scene.