Two local teens recently proved once again that students here are among the best in the country.
Sarah Hallikas and Fraser Gibson, both 17-year-olds going into Grade 12 at Fort Frances High School this fall, recently returned from a month-long program for some of the best and brightest students across Canada.
The Shad Valley program teaches business and entrepreneurial skills, as well as promotes advanced studies with hands-on experience, for students who pass the rigorous screening process.
“At Shad, students are encouraged to explore potential career opportunities; they are immersed in workshops, lectures, projects, and recreational activities with an emphasis on science, technology, and entrepreneurship in hopes of increasing their self-confidence and developing skills in problem-solving, effective communication, leadership, and teamwork,” the program’s website reads.
“Shad Valley participants are routinely recognized as the leaders of tomorrow,” said Jack Pal, vice-president of Shad International.
The program, which started in 1981 and is based in Waterloo, Ont., boasts that 85 percent of its alumni pursue science or engineering degrees in university, and 50 percent pursue Master’s or doctorate degrees.
Some 525 students were chosen to participate this year, with 50 percent males and 50 percent females. They are sent to one of 10 university campuses across the country.
Hallikas spent her four weeks at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She explained that successful applicants could rank the 10 universities in terms of where they would most like to go.
New Brunswick was one of her top choices because she had never been to the East Coast before. “It’s so beautiful down there,” she said last week after her return.
About 60 other “Shads,” as the students are called, also went to the New Brunswick campus, and Hallikas said she made many friends she plans to keep in touch with.
Social time included a western night, where the students learned how to square dance, and a hip-hop night, complete with rappers and DJs to entertain the group.
There also was a camping trip and a visit to Prince Edward Island to meet Shads attending the program in Nova Scotia.
On the first day, the students were taken to a mall and told to walk around and find things to innovate and improve. But the focus of the four-week program was on learning.
“There wasn’t really a typical day,” Hallikas explained, noting there were lectures with various guest speakers including university professors, labs, seminars, hands-on activities, and an hour of fitness every day.
All 525 Shads also had to participate in a group project over the course of the month.
“The main part was to create a disaster preparedness project,” Hallikas noted. “It was really about entrepreneurship and business.”
Students were put into groups of about eight and had to create their own company and product.
“My group made an attachment to a ventilation system to detect harmful chemicals,” Hallikas said. If the unit detected anything harmful like chemical or biological agents, it would shut down the ventilation system, sound an alarm, and notify authorities.
Each team’s project was judged, and one from each of the 10 campuses was entered to participate in the RBC/Shad Entrepreneurship Cup.
While Hallikas’ group didn’t win, she was thrilled with the overall experience. “It’s gotten me so much more interested in sciences, like chemistry and biology,” she said.
Shad also has helped her narrow down her choices in terms of a future career. Hallikas hopes to attend the University of Waterloo or Toronto once she graduates from Fort High, and is considering a career in the medical profession.
Gibson, meanwhile, spent his four weeks at the University of Waterloo. Like Hallikas, he enjoyed the emergency preparedness project, though his group didn’t advance to the cup, either.
“They taught us the design process, and entrepreneurship,” he remarked.
Gibson said there was never a dull moment, with their days beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 9:30 p.m.
The Waterloo group spent time skating and camping, and went to Stratford to see a Shakespearean play. “It’s a great program,” Gibson enthused.
Both Gibson and Hallikas now are doing a paid work placement at Abitibi-Consolidated here until the end of August. The placement is another benefit of the Shad Valley program.
Gibson is working in the maintenance department while Hallikas is in the environmental section, counting pitch molecules in wood pulp samples.
Beyond the academics, both students felt the Shad program was rewarding in other ways.
“It’s just such a good program. You learn so much about people and about yourself, too,” Hallikas enthused. “It totally beat my expectations.”