Each year, the Loran Scholars Foundation awards Canada’s largest undergraduate scholarship, to the next generation of great leaders. The scholarship is valued at approximately $100,000. With over 4,000 applicants last year and an intensive interview process, the foundation aims to make an investment in the future of Canada by providing their scholars with the resources and money they need to develop their impact on the world. As of September 2016, UTM became home to one of the 31 newest Loran Scholars: Devon Bourgeois.
Bourgeois is a first-year computer science student, who chose to pursue his post-secondary education at UTM. Although Bourgeois was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, he and his family moved to West Kelowna, British Columbia for the start of grade nine. Bourgeois explains that moving from a very large city like Edmonton to Kelowna, which has its population spread throughout the mountains, was a bit of a change. Now for the rest of the school year, Mississauga will be his home away from home.
Growing up around computers and technology sparked Bourgeois’ interest in pursuing computer science.
“My father worked in the IT division of the military for a long time, so I was always surrounded by technology,” Bourgeois explains. “It just became a passion growing up—it was always something that I could do with my friends, video games and whatnot, and I was very interested in the goings on behind the scenes.”
As for universities, Bourgeois toured University of Toronto St. George, University of Waterloo, and UTM before making his decision. Ultimately, he felt that the community of UTM was a lot stronger than his other two options.
“I find that sometimes when you’re in a very large campus that’s spread out, like the St. George campus or the Waterloo campus, it can be hard to get connected or feel like you’re part of something,” he says.
“That wasn’t the case at all here. There’s always people laughing, and there’s always something going on. It just feels a lot tighter and more personal.”
Although he is nervous about the transition from high school to university, Bourgeois explains that the community aspect of UTM, in combination with his outgoing personality, took the difficulty out of making new friends.
“It’s definitely a lot more challenging here in university than it ever was in high school, but that’s good. It’s good to be challenged, it pushes your limits. I’ve been able to meet so many people through orientation week, through my residence and dons, and through the Colman Cups. It has been a lot of fun,” Bourgeois says.
Throughout high school, Bourgeois dedicated a lot of his time to volunteering and growing as an individual. His accomplishments, alongside his quality of character, helped him earn the title of Loran Scholar.
Bourgeois credits his high school counselor and hearing counselor for steering him towards applying for the scholarship.
“I’m unilaterally deaf, I can’t hear out of my right ear. I’ve been living with it for so long that you can barely tell in normal conversation, but I always had someone in the school district who would liaison with me and follow up and make sure I was doing alright,” he said, referring to his hearing counselor.
After looking over Bourgeois’ resume, his hearing counselor suggested he apply for the Loran Scholarship.
“It’s essential for students who have a lot of leadership experience and potential. It’s not so much a reward for doing well in school as it is an investment in our futures. It’s more like, ‘We think you have the kind of personality and you can go out and make a difference in this world, so here’s a bunch of money, go make it happen,’” Bourgeois says.
Bourgeois’ list of leadership experience is quite extensive. At the age of 14, he began working at McDonald’s, and quickly worked his way up to management position. He volunteered as an audio engineer, mixing sounds for musicians through his church group, and worked with a food shelter and a resource center which provides essentials for those in need, such as washing machines, job connections, and internet access.
He also helped co-found his student council. After sitting down and discovering the division between student and faculty issues with his high school’s principal, Bourgeois brought in a proposal to create a forum for students to bring their concerns to, which then would be communicated with the heads of the school. The principal at the time sent Bourgeois and a female student from his class to research and study High Tech High School in San Diego. Instead of having a principal, the American school has a school board that supports a student council responsible for all decision-making.
After the trip, Bourgeois’ high school successfully implemented a student council, which has worked towards change over the past two years. The council built greenhouses on the roof, started a recycling program for the school, and turned a large plot of land beside the school into farmland for a food bank.
“I think it was not so much specific achievements that I had done that made me stand out. I think it was more the breadth of things I had done, because for me it wasn’t important to be the best at something, but it was very important to be giving my time to as many things as possible,” Bourgeois says.
Reflecting on the application process, Bourgeois explains that the first part took about a month.
“I have never written more essays in my life. It’s a three or four-round interview process. It starts with every applicant writing about a dozen essays, like 3000-word essays on a variety of topics to feel out how you think and how you react to different situations,” he says.
From there, the foundation chose approximately the top 400 candidates across Canada, and sent them to regional interviews. This includes a full day of interviews, where candidates sit with panels to discuss details of their past and their goals for the future. These interviews are typically held in major universities. Luckily for Bourgeois, his interview was held at the University of British Columbia, located in his city.
After the regional interviews last year, the Loran Scholars Foundation narrowed the batch of candidates down to 81 individuals. The foundation flies these students to nationals, a three-day interview process located in Toronto.
“It’s really cool at regionals—meeting so many people who are like-minded as you. But when you get to nationals, it’s a whole other level. All the people I met there, every person did something different, but they were all things that were so incredible,” Bourgeois says. “It was definitely a feeling of awe; do I really belong in this kind of group? I still kind of get that feeling sometimes, because I don’t really have one big thing that I’ve done, like some of the other scholars, but that’s not really what it’s about. It’s more about the quality of character.”
In the immediate future, Bourgeois hopes to get more involved in things off-campus. He’s looking to do more volunteering around Mississauga, specifically with Evergreen, a foundation that plants trees and shrubs. In the long-term, Bourgeois would like to move into software engineering or artificial intelligence.
“I’d like to be the next Bill Gates, but that doesn’t come without a lot of hard work,” he says.
Bourgeois’ advice for his peers is simple: “Stop procrastinating and just go do it. You waste a lot more time than you realize just putting things off until right before they’re due or before they need to be done. It’s a lot more relaxing, and definitely helps keep stress levels down if you can sit for a day and have nothing coming up, rather than having everything piling up.”