Major national scholarship for high school graduate
August 2, 2018
Jenna Harris intended to seek employment this summer to make some money and get work experience under her belt.
The Cawthra Park Secondary School graduate stuck to the plan despite winning a major national scholarship.
Harris is one 20 recipients of this year’s TD financial package awarded to students in their last year of high school who have demonstrated leadership in improving their community. The scholarship has a value of up to $70,000 and includes up to $10,000 yearly for tuition, $7,500 annually for living expenses, summer employment for up to four years, mentorship and networking opportunities.
To be considered for the award, candidates are also required to have a minimum overall grade average of 75 per cent in their most recently completed school year.
Harris couldn’t contain her excitement when informed she was an award winner.
“I was in an early morning math class last April when I checked my email and saw the message,” she recalled minutes after her first day at her summer job at a Brampton retail store on July 17. “I reacted by letting out a ‘cuss’ word and my teacher was taken back. I was so thrilled I just couldn’t hold back. Everyone in the class was happy for me.”
Harris’ parents – Wayne Harris who was born and raised in Montreal and Angelique Harris who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago at a young age – helped her through the application process.
“They prepared me for the interview and they reviewed my essay before it was submitted,” the math & science tutor pointed out.
Each applicant was required to submit a 600-word word essay describing their community leadership experience.
At the start of Grade 12, Harris started looking for scholarship opportunities.
“The Loran and Schulich scholarships were also at the top of my list, but my applications for them were unsuccessful,” she said. “If I didn’t get one this year, I would have applied when I entered university as there are several scholarships available for first-year students.”
Melanie Riley, a teacher at Cawthra Park, said Harris is one of the most disciplined and conscientious students she has taught and worked with at the Mississauga regional arts school.
“She possesses sound intellect, keen analytical skills and the ability to follow through on projects,” Riley said. “Jenna is not only a self-motivated individual, but also a hard worker. These characteristics provide her with the ability to keep up with her school work in a disciplined and highly sophisticated manner. Some students can be overwhelmed by the demands of academic courses. She, however, thrives under the pressure and produces excellent work without compromising her creativity.”
Harris helped establish her school’s first Black Students Association (BSA) in June 2017 after learning about some of her classmates’ experiences with prejudice and discrimination.
“One of the things I am most proud of where Jenna is concerned was her response to the need for a safe space for Black students in the school,” noted Riley. “With the inundation of news reports in the community that directly impacts Black bodies, Black-identified students needed a safe space to come together as a community to talk and support one another. Her response was to create the BSA of which I am the staff advisor. The space that she created for her peers is uplifting as it yields a positive and accurate representation for Black students and it’s educational.”
The teenager chose McMaster University over the University of Waterloo, which is the only other institution she visited, to pursue biomedical engineering studies.
The University of Guelph, McGill University and the University of Western Ontario also accepted her.
In 2016, Harris participated in McMaster University’s Learning Enrichment Advancement Program (LEAP) that delivers innovative summer courses in the university’s state-of-the-art engineering laboratories.
A year later, she attended the university’s ‘Eng Overnight’ event at McMaster that’s part of Science Odyssey which is a 10-day celebration of STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) in Canada.
“I liked the environment and everyone was pleasant,” said Harris who organized a ‘Take Back the Night March’ around her school to raise awareness about violence against women and raised money for UNICEF’s ‘Train a Teacher’ program. “Those things stuck with me and played a huge role in my decision to attend McMaster.”
She was turned on to biomedical engineering in Grade Eight.
“Up to that point,” I had no idea what I wanted to do,” Harris said. “But then I realized I liked biology and I had an interest in engineering. I found there was an intersection between the two. My career goal is to develop biomedical devices that people in underserved communities in Canada and around the world will be able to access.”
Senior chemistry teacher Jane Chan Singh taught Harris in Grade Nine. During a parent-teacher interview, she told Harris’ parents that their daughter ‘will do great things’.
“I was thinking I might go into physiotherapy, but when she said that, I figured I could do bigger things,” said Harris. “She saw something in me that I didn’t see at the time.”
Chan Singh said Harris is a leader, humanitarian, accomplished dancer and an emerging scholar.
“Her academic performance in every subject and her commitment to her community is evidence of a high personal work ethic, intellectual capability and the ability to work effectively with a diverse group of fellow students,” she added.
Going to school in the United States to pursue graduate studies in engineering is an option Harris will strongly consider after completing her undergraduate degree.
Her other interest is dance.
Harris recently graduated from the Collective of Black Artists (COBA) Youth Ensemble.
“I realised at a young age that I wasn’t good in sports, so dance became an outlet for expression,” she added. “I have been dancing since age two and my parents enrolled me in COBA when I was five. It’s something I would like to continue doing recreationally or even teach a few classes on the side.”
Charmaine Headley, COBA’s co-founding artistic director, said Harris has been a significant contributor to the arts program for the last 11 years.
“Her development and growth as a young adult is a reflection of the holistic benefits of living and learning in and through arts,” she said. “It is important that our leaders of tomorrow display academic excellence and are socially driven to improve conditions of our world, elements that Jenna exemplifies.”
Harris is the younger of two children. Jordan Harris is enrolled in Wilfrid Laurier University’s computer science program.