When Muhammed S.’s sister broke her femur bone in an accident, he became aware of the financial barriers many people face in accessing medical technology. From that moment on, he was determined to make medical technology more affordable and accessible to everyone.
Now, the first-year engineering student at the University of Alberta wants to merge medicine and artificial intelligence to create innovative solutions to health issues.
“Nothing can be more gratifying than having a positive impact in someone’s life,” says Muhammed.
Before even beginning his U of A studies, Muhammed has already collaborated with a local software company to design affordable and accessible technology that can allow patients with Parkinson’s to eat with more ease.
Muhammed is one of six U of A students to receive the Schulich Leader Scholarship, awarded annually to 50 students embarking on undergraduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in Canada.
Muhammed seems to find inspiration wherever he goes. Wanting to help fundraise money for his community’s veterans, and take part in similar initiatives, he became a member of his city’s Royal Canadian Sea Cadet (RCSCC Calgary) program. “Beyond all the marching and drills, I saw Sea Cadets as an organization that was making a positive mark within the community and wanted to be part of this impact.”
He refined his computer science skills by participating in— and winning — several provincial and national hackathons and robotics competitions. He also places a high priority on mentoring and passing along his knowledge, introducing robotics and computer programming to children and also tutoring math and science at his local library.
“Engineering involves finding solutions to real-world challenges,” says Muhammed. “I have always hoped to make a change in the world, and through engineering, I can be part of a change in revolutionizing the world through my work.”
Divya Prasad has a stellar future ahead of her — that is, if she has anything to say about it. While she’ll be studying computer science at the U of A, her goal is to specialize in software and become the founder and CEO of a startup technology company focused on creating innovative products for the space industry.
She’s already off to a strong start as the youngest member of the admin team on AlbertaSat, a group of students and faculty who design, build, test, launch and operate small satellites.
Prasad is used to challenging herself, even when no one is watching. During one of the quarantines for the COVID-19 pandemic, she set up shop on her garage floor, wanting to create a VR headset that would be compatible with any mobile device. She succeeded — and further fuelled her passion for STEM. “I realized that I was eager to partake in and creatively originate solutions in STEM.”
Her experiments sparked her to explore the U of A’s WISEST programs, and she became one of just 38 students chosen for the summer research program. During her time in the program, she constructed a website interface in only six weeks with predictive text models designed for Plains Cree users.
To Prasad, who finds inspiration in tech innovators like Steve Jobs, leadership means using creativity to lead others and revolutionize the world.
“The space and aerospace industry has so much potential to innovate and rapidly change things.”
Coding changed the entire trajectory of Hunaid Khan’s life.
“It gave me meaning and a purpose in life. It gave me the ability to bring a change in the world,” he says. Now he hopes to build his skills as he studies computer science.
One of Khan’s first ventures was building an online transcription tool that would allow users to convert YouTube videos into organized blocks of text. Then, rather than having to sit through a lengthy virtual lecture or explanatory video, students could effortlessly create study notes and use all the text data in whatever way best suited their learning style.
“I never expected that this could become so popular, and it made me realize my passion for coding and how it can make a difference.”
He also has experience as a front-end developer, completing an internship at building-U, where he managed their website and strategized content placement, leading to increased website traffic. And he sharpened his coding skills by participating in multiple hackathons, where his team took home two awards.
Khan knows coding can solve many problems — including one in particular that has caught his eye. After noticing that cryptocurrency communities often lack safe and consistent communication channels, his ultimate goal is to lead a platform that helps connect people in those communities.
“I have always been fascinated by blockchain, the underlying technology behind cryptocurrencies,” he says. “It can be utilized to build highly secure services that can better serve the world.”
Growing up, Rion Schulz spent most of his time outdoors, and he wants to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities to enjoy the beauty of nature that he and his friends did.
Though he’s just starting his BSc in engineering, he already has his sights set on earning a master’s as well. “I chose engineering because I believe that this field of study, alongside my pre-existing skill set, would most strongly complement my goals and ambitions to create change in the energy industry.”
He wants to develop his expertise and gain as much knowledge as possible as he works to encourage all communities to adopt renewable energy technology — and he’s already well on the way.
Schulz participated in the development of the Three Nations Energy solar farm, which supplies renewable energy to the Indigenous community of Fort Chipewyan. He also played a key role in a program at Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to equip remote cabins with solar panels and battery storage.
“These technologies have a much smaller carbon footprint relative to traditional electricity generation methods, which allows for a cleaner planet.”
If that weren’t enough, Schulz also wants to make roadways greener — he was involved in a Natural Resources Canada Zero Emission Vehicles Awareness project with a goal of educating people across Canada about the benefits of zero-emission vehicles.
“I am determined to lead by example in the disruption of traditional energy practices, while influencing environmental stewardship and promoting a global energy transition.”
Throughout their childhood, Geli Ferriss constantly changed what they thought they wanted to be when they grew up, from an artist to a scientist to a teacher. It ended up being a natural disaster, the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire, that guided them toward the path they’re on now.
Ferriss’s family lost nearly all their possessions in the fire, and spent some time displaced in Leduc. Their father, sensing the difficulty they were having coping with the trauma and upheaval, gave them a sketchbook and some materials to reignite their childhood love of art — and as Ferriss says, “something clicked.”
The fire also taught Ferriss the value of flexibility and reinvention, and infused them with a desire to leave their own mark on the world — to create “something that can’t be destroyed by a wildfire.” So they decided to try their hand at coding and quickly realized it was the perfect venue for their creativity.
“I took to computer science like a fish to water. I was able to show off my creativity, flexibility and problem-solving skills to find solutions to problems I never even knew existed,” says Ferriss. “And I learned to be more confident in myself by having confidence in my code.”
While Ferriss is fascinated by the narratives in video games and the endless ways players can interact with the content, they’re also passionate about making games that are more inclusive and accessible.
Ferriss doesn’t know whether they want to work with a big company or as an indie developer yet, but they do already know first-hand the hours of work that go into making any type of game. For a Grade 12 project, Ferriss made a four-level role-playing game, Qey, single-handedly creating every art asset, line of code and piece of dialogue.
For Colin Chan, it all started with a science fair.
For his entry in the Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair, he wanted to develop a bioplastic utensil to serve as an alternative to plastic cutlery. He tested out prototype after prototype, mixing and moulding for hours, before landing on the final product — which ended up earning him numerous awards at the fair. Holding that spoon, Chan recalls, “I felt like the world was at my fingertips.”
His participation in the science fair also made him realize how much he enjoyed sharing his knowledge with others. Consequently, when STEM Fellowship’s internship program was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he became the Alberta Outreach Ambassadors regional lead for the organization.
“I wanted to address the lack of student resources with activities that offered entrepreneurial and contemporary perspectives on STEM.”
His interest in mechanical engineering in particular was fuelled by participation in his high school’s VEX Robotics team, which he co-captained during his senior year and which during his tenure attended provincials for the first time, placing fourth.
Chan says the tenacity it took to craft spoon after spoon in search of the perfect plastic alternative, paired with the leadership skills he’s developed, will serve him well in his future goal of founding a company that specializes in creating replacements for combustion engines.
“As the automotive industry looks to find alternatives for gasoline engines, I want to play a role in these endeavours by helping develop alternative technologies such as electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells, or even improving the efficiency of existing hybrid cars.”