Most students begin their first year of university with orientation, Frosh week, and maybe a new computer. Aidan Britnell, a first-year UTM undergraduate student, entered fall having lunched with U of T’s president and vice-president, attending a networking fair, and receiving a scholarship worth $80,000.

Britnell is one of four U of T students who were named Schulich Leaders for 2019. They are among the fifty students nationwide who were chosen from 1,400 nominees to be awarded this year’s Schulich Leader scholarships. The Schulich Leader scholarship is an entrance scholarship which awards student leaders in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

“I received the scholarship for science,” says Britnell. “It still feels totally surreal. I wasn’t expecting to receive it.”

The scholarship is considered to be Canada’s most coveted scholarship. According to the Schulich Leader website, there are more than three hundred thousand high school candidates from which 1,400 nominees are chosen to demonstrate their unique experience in community and business leadership, skills in STEM, and academic excellence for a chance to win one of fifty scholarships.

Britnell is in the “the computer science, mathematics, and statistics program” and “hop[es] to eventually receive a specialist in Information Security.” On average, a four-year degree in computer science, mathematics, and statistics costs $45,680 in tuition fees alone. With the scholarship, Britnell says that he is “able to focus entirely on school” as it “removes any financial burden.” 

Britnell attended King’s Christian College in Burlington, where he began working towards his career in computer science. What began as volunteering for his high school’s IT department turned into a part-time job.

“I managed our schools servers and network infrastructure. It gave me good operations experience. I really learned about the way pieces operate and work together,” explains Britnell.

Britnell recalls that he was on the phone with his boss, working on one of the school’s server network when he received the email notifying him that he had won the scholarship. “I was shocked. I [initially] thought it was a rejection letter.”

In grade 11, Britnell pitched and developed an app that integrated student cards onto students’ smartphones. “People kept losing their student cards. The school would have to print them on plastic [and] it was expensive.” He was able to create an app that allowed students to access their student cards through their smartphone’s integrated Wallet.

“I developed it in grade 11, and by grade 12, it was being used by all the students at my school.”

The change from plastic student cards to electronic versions was “simple [and] easy to use, but made a big impact,” and Britnell says that he wants to continue to make these types of changes throughout his work in STEM.

“The craziest thing in this whole experience has probably been the people I’ve met,” says Britnell. He joined Caleb Lammers, Adam Glustein, and Tommy Moffat—the three other U of T Schulich Leader scholarship recipients—at Massey College where they had lunch with U of T’s President and Vice President. “We had salmon. It was the fanciest meal I’ve ever had.”

Britnell is now a member of the Schulich Leader Network—a network which is comprised of all the Schulich Leader recipients nationwide—something that he considers more valuable than the monetary award.

“All the recipients in Ontario meet every September. We have access to job fairs that include companies like Google, IBM, and Hatch. It’s a meeting of like-minded peers,” Britnell explains.

It’s these people and companies that Britnell hopes to one day work with. For now, he is enjoying his time at UTM. “I really like it here,” he says. “It is great to be challenged, great to be busy and engaged. I’ve met a lot of great professors, like Professor Mike Pawliuk [who teaches] MAT102. He is really passionate and engaging.”

Britnell was first introduced to UTM through a high school cross country team meet at Erindale Park. He really appreciated the nature surrounding UTM and the small campus atmosphere and finishes by saying, “I’m glad I chose UTM.”

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