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South Surrey students vie for scholarship

Local teens in running for prestigious award to top-ranked Cambridge University

Four South Surrey students are among 34 Canadian teens in the running for a full-ride scholarship to one of the world’s top-ranked universities.

Semiahmoo Secondary’s Akshiv Bansal, Lloyd James and Fred Zhu, along with Southridge School’s Prem Ramani, were in Toronto Monday, as finalists for the Blyth Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholarship – an award worth $150,000 – being interviewed by the award selection committee.

It is the largest financial award available to Canadian students pursuing undergraduate degrees. It leaves winners with no expense unpaid, covering everything from airfare and tuition to pocket money.

For Semi, the announcement marks the third year in a row that the school’s students have made the University of Cambridge shortlist.

Last year, two Semi students – Tristan Downing and Pradeep Venkatesh – were shortlisted, and Downing learned in January that he was selected to receive one of three scholarships. Awards also went to Victoria’s Chloe Houle-Johnson and Ontario’s James Rickards.

Downing, who went on to help Canada win bronze at the International Physics Olympiad in Estonia last July, is now studying at Cambridge’s Pembroke College, on track to complete his masters of engineering.

For Southridge, this is the second year in a row that a student has been shortlisted. Olivia Podmore made the list last year.

Senior school academic director Jan Holt described Ramani as “a very strong candidate” for the award.

“Because he’s such a renaissance sort of guy; all-round in all sorts of ways.”

In addition to taking several advanced placement courses, Ramani is involved in the debate program, community service and music, she said.

The teen told Peace Arch News he has his eyes on a career in law, and described making the Blyth shortlist as “a really awesome opportunity.”

And while getting through the application process was no small feat – those interested have to submit a list of academic achievements, provide three letters of recommendation from teachers and a member of the community and write a 1,000-word essay exploring the discipline they wish to study – Ramani said the effort pales in comparison to the potential reward.

“It was nothing compared to how much it’s worth,” he said.

Lynne Porpaczy, who is the district co-ordinator for Surrey’s International Baccalaureate program, said news the Semi trio made the list this year was “very exciting.”

“Last year, we had two and I was amazed. With three nominated this year, I am stunned,” she said.

“It is a serious nod to the quality of education offered by Surrey Schools’ IB program.”

Bansal, James and Zhu “far exceeded the mark” when it came to the award criteria, Porpaczy noted.

All three are interested in the sciences: James in theoretical physics; Bansal in experimental physics; and Zhu in natural science, with a focus on biomedical engineering.

Cambridge, James said, is his “number one” choice for post-secondary studies.

At the same time, he said it is “ironic” that all of his test papers are being sent overseas, given that he was born in South Wales.

Bansal, who is also a finalist for the Canadian Merit Scholarship Foundation’s Loran Award, said his parents have long touted the advantages of going to university – “their lives were so much better because of it,” he said. And while they have also “strongly” encouraged him to consider a career as a doctor, he said he’s more interested in something research-oriented.

Zhu said he is keeping his options open, but “wouldn’t mind” becoming a professor.

Semi is one of only two Canadian schools to have three students nominated for the Blyth scholarships this year.

The scholarships are presented to students who “have shown academic excellence, intellectual depth, personal integrity and success beyond their studies.”

Award winners are expected to be announced in January.

 

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