Last September, I was asked to publish an article about SLxON, the inaugural Schulich Leaders networking event. I wrote about how people quoted the event as “the Olympics for Smart People”, meant to connect and celebrate “the best and brightest in Canada”.
And it’s true. Every time I attend a Schulich Leaders Conference, I am awed by the confidence, the poise, and the sheer talent of every Leader I meet. Every time, I sit in admiration as Leaders humbly dedicate their accomplishments to years of hard work and insightful mentors. And every time, I am astounded when Leaders confess that they, too, have quirky hobbies, procrastinate, and miss food from their home province (BC friends - where is the real sushi out here?!). When I was welcomed into the Schulich Leaders Network as a timid sixteen year-old in 2015, I didn’t even know what the Network was. I assumed that everyone would take the scholarship money that they’d worked relentlessly to earn, then move on their separate ways. Little did I know that winning the scholarship was only the beginning. From semesterly pizza dates to hilarious Skype chats with Leaders from other provinces, and of course, the annual Schulich conference, there is never a moment where I don’t feel connected.
On a sunny Saturday morning, I bid farewell to Scarborough, where I work as an Anatomy and Physiology tutor for aspiring nurses. An hour and a half later, I found myself in the state-of-the-art MaRS Discovery District in the heart of downtown Toronto. Having worked at the Toronto Health Centre for four months during my previous co-op, it felt pretty spectacular to re-live the downtown life, even just for one afternoon. I reunited with old Schulich Leader friends over the next half hour. Amazed and intrigued by the endeavours that fellow Leaders were undertaking, I joined new friends for selfies, snapped Polaroids, and chatted over delectable wraps and cheesy slices of flatbread. I was thrilled to meet the new 2017 Schulich Leaders from the University of Waterloo, who had just finished their first two days of university. It was also exciting to finally meet face-to-face with the Schulich Leaders that I’d communicated with virtually, whether it be through a chain of emails or in a Google Hangout.
Said networking session preceded the national Schulich Leaders Instagram Challenge. When the words “social media challenge” come to mind, I immediately conjure up snapshots of people spewing mouthfuls of cinnamon, planking, or standing apprehensively under buckets of icy water. At SLxCA, no spices were swallowed, but the goal of the social media challenge was attained - bridge the gap between Schulich Leaders from all across Canada. First, Schulich Leaders from different universities were grouped into teams, and we had forty minutes to make five photos or videos for the shared Instagram.
Aside from the one where my group lay flat on the floor to spell “SLXCA” with our bodies, the most memorable challenge was the selfie video, in which Leaders shouted words to describe the way they felt. Teams across Canada generated words that encapsulated my mood. Honoured. Inspired. Starstruck. Leader Talks followed the Instagram challenge, and each speaker was equally engaging. From journeying through Japan to journeying through depression, each Talk rendered me speechless. In fact, the day after SLxCA, I created a Google Doc full of ideas for my own Leader Talk for next year’s event!
During the next round of networking, I was assigned to a table with students from different universities across Ontario, where we discussed the role of arts in STEM. Initially, I wasn’t sure how the eight of us, each from unique STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) could spark a conversation about art. Bonding over a common annoyance towards the notion that “art is only drawing”, we shared our stories. A new Schulich Leader pointed out the role of graphic design in genetic engineering. Another Leader discussed her experience learning French for psychological science. Others shared their love for singing, acting, painting, and other artistic pursuits. I thought about aerial arts and figure skating, and how each precise, aesthetic motion is a testament to physics, anatomy, and physiology. We ended on the note that, perhaps one day, STEM will morph into “STEAM”, which includes the field of arts. And not just drawing.
I’m probably speaking on behalf of every Schulich Leader when I say that I was seriously, truly impressed and inspired by Dr. Julielynn Wong, who engaged everyone in a wise, yet funny, lecture about 3D printing for medical advancements. With a fun suitcase and portable 3D printer, Dr. Wong shared her goal of innovating medical devices that are made accessible through 3D printing. For instance, Dr. Wong’s Medical Makers team developed 3D-printed finger splints to assist a person with cerebral palsy. Her speech was so powerful and fascinating that two fellow University of Waterloo Schulich Leaders, Emily (physics and astronomy) and Mackenzie (biomedical engineering) created a UW Medical Makers chapter. Their first goal? Raise $6000 to purchase a 3D printer, while informing the public about the Medical Makers organization.
The event seemed to be over before it had even begun. Before I knew it, I was sitting in a cushy leather booth at the Prenup Pub with fellow Leaders, where we nibbled on meatballs while talking about everything from German beer to ballet to astrophysics. I savoured every moment before the hugs, final selfies, and goodbyes. Can we just fast forward to SLxCA 2018? I’m ready!