Gifted world scholars choosing to attend SFU

Sep 05, 2002, vol. 25, no. 1
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Registrar and dean of student services, Ron Heath (third from left), with just a few of SFU's United World College graduates: (l to r) Volodymyr Gusak, from Ukraine; Diego Silang Maranan, from the Phillipines; Shermeen Chan, from Canada; Paschal Ssemaganda, from Uganda, and Vibhore Sharma, from India.

They are, to quote SFU's registrar and dean of student services Ron Heath, “some of the most amazing students I've ever had the privilege to know”, and this year, there will be almost 90 of them on campus.

“They” are graduates of the internationally respected United World Colleges (UWC), a group of 10 high schools located around the world dedicated to promoting international understanding through education.

Gifted scholars all, UWC students spend two years earning their International Baccalaureate diplomas - a credential that virtually assures their acceptance into any of the world's top universities. They could go anywhere, but to Heath's great satisfaction, they are, in growing numbers, choosing to come here: “I'm confident there are now more UWC graduates at SFU than at any other Canadian post-secondary institution.”

Ten years ago, UWC graduates were few and far between at SFU. Then, in 1994, Heath came to the aid of Lily Fong, a student attending the Lester Pearson College of the Pacific on Vancouver Island.

“Lily was from the People's Republic of China. She was a very good student, but her funding had fallen through. I was asked if SFU could find a way to help her continue her education. We gave her a scholarship, and she graduated with a 4.23 GPA in management systems science, one of the most demanding programs. She was such a great model, we thought, ‘Hey, we should do this every year.'”

Heath began to actively recruit UWC graduates, visiting several of the international schools each year to highlight SFU's reputation and scholarship program. (Because UWC students are selected on merit rather than financial means, many could not continue their education without substantial economic assistance.)

By 1998, there were several UWC graduates at SFU, “and we had the critical mass we needed to get other UWC students keenly interested in SFU,” says Heath.

“The students coming up hear from the ones who have gone before that SFU is a great school, and they want to come too. Our current students are our best recruiters.”

To Pearson College and recent SFU computing science graduate Sameh Al-Natour, SFU is simply “a bigger, more populated version of a UWC school, where you are free to innovate and participate.”

Likewise, Basia Pakula, a graduate of the UWC of the Adriatic and now a political science student at SFU, appreciates the university's “multicultural environment and open-minded, inclusive community.”

Her political science colleague and fellow UWC of the Adriatic graduate, Daniela Stoicescu, says “the diversity of ideas on campus is mesmerizing.” And UWC of the Atlantic graduate and kinesiology student Shermeen Chan says, “SFU is unorthodox, breaks the mould, and gives you utter freedom to pursue your passions.”

Heath says all the UWC graduates who have completed an undergraduate degree at SFU have gone on to graduate school. “They raise the bar wherever they go,” he says.

“When you grow up in a UWC environment, where community service, intellectual curiosity, and cultural tolerance is the norm, it becomes a way of life. You take it with you wherever you go. Our UWC graduates are going to be wonderful ambassadors for this university.”

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