U of A’s newest Schulich Leaders share entrepreneurial drive, passion for solving world’s problems

Six exceptional first-year students begin STEM studies this September with help from one of Canada’s most prestigious undergraduate scholarships.


(Clockwise from top left) Jessica Hammal, Grafton Hopkins, Shubhkarman Jaura, Rajan Maghera, Jeffrey Sinclair and Benjamin Sharp are the U of A's newest recipients of the Schulich Leader Scholarship. (Photos: Jordon Hon; Jaura, Hopkins: Supplied)

Life has been far from easy since Shubhkarman Jaura arrived in Canada from India with his family three years ago.

His family was forced to sacrifice to make ends meet, limiting groceries and often "walking miles instead of buying bus passes," said the first-year engineering student.

Despite the struggle, he managed to thrive in high school, devoting his spare time to helping out Syrian immigrants and Winnipeg's homeless.

Jaura is now one of six University of Alberta students to receive the Schulich Leader Scholarship, given annually to 50 university hopefuls in Canada enrolled in a STEM-science, technology, engineering or mathematics-undergraduate program.

The award ranges from $80,000 for science students to $100,000 for those in engineering.

In high school, Jaura led a research team at the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron facility in Saskatoon, investigating toxic elements in Canada's soil. He also participated in the Global Space Balloon Challenge, designing a payload to examine the effect of harsh space conditions on plant saplings' growth.

He also won an award from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights for his essay, "Be the Change You Wish to See in the World," commemorating the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth.

"During the times of emotional or financial stress at home, I unburdened my heavy heart by writing poems," he said. "Watching my parents striving to settle in a new country motivates me to constantly step out of my comfort zone."

Jessica Hammal: Science for a better future

Syrian native Jessica Hammal also immigrated to Canada as a child, facing "countless obstacles in transitioning into an unknown world," she said.

Her experience inspired her to establish a community program in Edmonton called Connect in 2016, which welcomed Syrian refugees and brought together refugee girls for community activities and trips.

"This has truly allowed me to give back to my community while in turn expanding my worldview, and strengthened my identity and leadership," said Hammal.

She started trumpet classes for children and adults at her local church, and worked with the church choir to write music, supporting it all with fundraisers she organized.

Along the way, the chemistry major aced her high-school courses in science and math, determined to one day put that training to good use.

"At 12 years old, I knew two things: Science was the key to understanding everything, and that I someday wanted to contribute my scientific knowledge to improve the world's future," she said.

Jeffrey Sinclair: Pursuing dreams, accepting challenges

An aspiring aerospace engineer, Jeffrey Sinclair has been "building, creating and restoring" all manner of contraptions in his father's workshop in Springbank, Alta., since he was a young child.

"I am fortunate to have grown up in a household where such dreaming is accepted, and challenged," he said. "I learned woodworking and the basics of welding and metalwork at a younger age than my mother was comfortable with."

Once he figured out how an engine works, he turned his hand to designing what he calls "useful" vehicles-trucks with tracks to get over snow and ice, single-seater off-road buggies, and pedal-powered canoes and kayaks.

He built five tree houses with his father at nine years of age, "interconnected with suspended walkways and ziplines."

Beyond that, there is the universe to figure out.

"I love physics and frequently watch videos trying to wrap my head around quantum theories and the daunting task of determining the unknowns of our universe."

Rajan Maghera: STEM ambassador

Heading into a computing science program, Rajan Maghera calls himself a "STEM ambassador," working with STEM Alberta, a not-for-profit organization that empowers youth to take an interest in STEM careers.

In Edmonton's McNally High School, Maghera helped conceive an event called Walk for Water, in which students carried jugs of water for more than 10 kilometres to raise awareness of water scarcity around the world.

The event involved creating promotional material, he said, and locating about 500 participants.

"I see myself using prevailing computing science technologies to solve injustices and problems in the world, such as reducing carbon footprint or solving the water crises using AI," he said.

"I plan to expand my leadership network and experience, and engage in research among many science disciplines.

"Electric motors and autonomous driving technologies are causing significant disruption in the transportation industry. I want to be a part of that.

Grafton Hopkins: Technology for society

Starting his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering this fall, and hailing from Manitoba, Grafton Hopkins was part of a team that designed an off-grid communication device to help people recover from natural disasters.

The project was part of his stint with Shad Canada, an entrepreneurship program for students in grades 10 and 11. In addition to leading the presentation of the device proposal to the judging panel, he was selected as master of ceremonies for the presentation event and awards banquet.

He has also apprenticed as an auto technician for his family business, performing repairs and safety inspections.In his spare time, he volunteered at an elementary school, helping to prepare and serve breakfast to less fortunate children.

"I have chosen engineering because I love to understand how things work and try to improve them," he said. "I'd like to gain an in-depth knowledge of the physical world and apply it to real-world situations.

"I will use my engineering degree to start a business that explores and develops technologies for the benefit of society."

Benjamin Sharp: Aspiring astrophysicist

Benjamin Sharp's optimism and drive haven't been hampered by trying circumstances. The Crowsnest Pass native was raised by a single father after his mother died shortly following his birth. Last December his father also passed away after a fight with MS, and he now lives with his grandparents.

"It was a long and devastating struggle that was more than anyone should ever have to deal with," said Sharp.

Aside from his dedication to education, he volunteered at polling stations during the 2019 federal election and at debates for the Foothills riding. He has also tutored students through the Literacy Foundation.

With stellar grades in high-school STEM subjects, including top marks in his Grade 11 science courses, the first-year science student now aspires to be an astrophysicist, determined to put himself "at the forefront of innovation for the future-the future being space exploration.

"With problem-solving and collaborative entrepreneurship, we can expand our inevitable pathway to what lies ahead," he said.