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Canmore grad makes quantum leap, bags $100K scholarship

“I was just yelling at my parents, ‘come look at this,’ and we were all jumping up and down. It was really exciting.”

CANMORE – McMaster University, the University of Calgary or McGill University?

This was the $100,000 question for Grade 12 Canmore student Nami Dwyer, Our Lady of the Snows (OLS) Catholic Academy 2024 graduate.

Dwyer had her pick of the litter of the three prestigious post-secondary schools offering her a chance to study science unencumbered by financial barriers with the Schulich Leader Scholarship.

“Science has always – from a young age – been a passion,” said Dwyer.

“At school, science and math have always been my favourite subjects. And I think recently, I’ve kind of found a cross between science and math, but also leadership and community, and those are the areas I want to pursue in the future.”

Glimpsing at Dwyer’s impressive resume of projects and activities over the last four years, she’s well on her way to trailblazing that pursuit.

From attending the United Nations COP28 Climate Change Conference in Dubai last year as one of four Canadian youth delegates, to kickstarting energy efficiency projects within her school division, it should come as no surprise Dwyer was selected as one of 100 high school students across the country for the STEM-based scholarship, with eyes from three different universities no less.

Receiving the first offer from the same university where scholarship benefactor Seymour Schulich studied was the “dream” for Dwyer and made the choice of schools a no-brainer.

“It was about two months ago now and I was just sitting at the dinner table,” she said.

“The first offer I received was from McGill and that was my dream … the Schulich scholarship from McGill.

“I was just yelling at my parents, ‘come look at this,’ and we were all jumping up and down. It was really exciting.”

Dwyer said it had to be McGill for the school’s reputation, endless opportunities and her love of Montreal.

“Is it maybe also because your dad went there?” chimed in OLS high school teacher Luc Arvisais, divisional STEM lead and Dwyer’s nominator to apply for the scholarship.

Arvisais’ contributions to instilling a STEM culture within the school have been instrumental in six OLS graduates receiving the coveted scholarship over the last eight years, beginning with his daughter, Alina Arvisais, in 2017.

The OLS teacher of 12 years spoke highly of Dwyer, who was also OLS’ 2024 valedictorian.

“There’s a lot of people that learn really well, but she is really organized, tracks everything really well and is probably one of the faster learners that we have,” he said.

But the Schulich scholarship isn’t about high marks. Though, it doesn’t hurt. 

“A lot of these kids have really good marks,” said Arvisais. “The Schulich Leader Scholarship, apart from being a network in Canada, allows you to explore. So, you don’t have to take the same rigor and you have more time for projects.

“You don’t have to worry about keeping an 80 or 90 per cent [grade point average]. It’s specifically about making things work in the real world, doing projects that are meaningful and develop, and not just textbook learning.”

One of those projects Dwyer said she is most proud of was a recent undertaking where she and fellow classmate Miriam Purnhauser, as part of OLS’ sustainability club, conducted a school-wide energy audit.

“Based off the energy efficiency results we found, we did a presentation for Alberta superintendents and trustees, and [Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools] actually took the initiative to continue this project across the school board,” she said.

“We worked with an engineer to do the energy audit and they actually officially hired that engineer to work for the school board and cut carbon dioxide emissions.”

That project will save the school division over $1 million and cut CO2 emissions by 25 per cent over two years.

Dwyer and Purnhauser were awarded a $2,500 grant from the Canmore Rotary for project development, followed by a $15,000 ATCO energy grant directed towards project implementation in the school division.

Dwyer’s curiosity, entrepreneurial spirit and leadership, supported by mentors like Arvisais and groups such as Canmore Rotary and the Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, have taken her to the local Canmore radio station Mountain FM to communicate climate action plans, to local waste facilities to investigate sunscreen contaminants, as well as across the country and overseas to give presentations on her work.

She’s also bilingual in her mother’s native tongue, Japanese, from studying the language at home and spending time abroad as a student in Japan.

Though she is no stranger to spending time outside the Bow Valley, she said she will miss her friends and family come fall and is focused on soaking up the summer break with loved ones.

“When I come back, I’m excited to visit them and coming back to the school, too. I’m hoping to just pop my head in and say hi to the teachers, because I know I’ll miss all of them a lot, too.”

As for education and career plans, Dwyer said for now she is in an exploratory phase. She will be pursuing a Bachelor of Science at McGill, with the first year focused on foundational knowledge.

“I do know I’m interested in more biological sciences, potentially,” she said. “But it’s gonna give me the opportunity to really explore and be flexible with where my program goes.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.

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