SURREY â€” A Surrey whiz-kid known for his leadership skills is being recognized by the Seymour Schulich Foundation with an $80,000 scholarship.
First-year student Raaj Chatterjee, whoâ€™s studying mechatronics systems engineering at SFUâ€™s Surrey campus, was sitting at home when he found out about the award.
â€œI was very excited. I want to do something with renewable energy or electric car design in the future,â€ he said. â€œI think weâ€™re moving towards something sustainable, but not fast enough. Weâ€™re still stuck in the old ways in terms of policy.â€
Chatterjeeâ€™s interest in the environment and sustainability was sparked during his time at Semiahmoo Secondary School, when he spearheaded a couple of projects, including a composting initiative.
â€œI was planning to do it for a while. I contacted a bunch of waste companies, but then thought, we could just put a composter in the cafeteria and dump it in the bigger one out in the courtyard,â€ said the 17-year-old.
His passion for a greener Earth also grew through volunteering at the White Rock Social Justice Film Festival over the years.
â€œI learned a lot there because we watched a bunch of documentaries that really opened my eyes,â€ he added.
Chatterjeeâ€™s leadership skills were put to the test two years ago at a camp dubbed the Metro Vancouver Youth Sustainability Tool Box.
â€œThat one was really good for teaching people environmental leadership, mainly in schools,â€ he said. â€œAnd just the friends I made from that really helped.â€
Following the camp, Chatterjee and a few friends organized a conference at Science World to teach their peers what they had learned.
â€œAround 120 students attended the eight workshops. Presentations were done by organizations or other youth, a sort of by youth for youth format,â€ he said.
The resume doesnâ€™t stop there. Last year, Chatterjee was the co-chair of the Surrey Youth Sustainability Network, a group who presents leadership clinics at local elementary schools.
Together with his family, Chatterjee also developed a biweekly homemade food delivery program for North Surreyâ€™s homeless. After attending a funeral, they noticed food was left over and suggested it be brought to the Front Room shelter around Gateway SkyTrain station, now Keys: Housing and Health Solutions.
â€œIt grew from there. We have around 20 families cooking every two weeks, with around 60 to 80 people being serviced,â€ he said.
When his nose isnâ€™t in the books, Chatterjee finds time for his second passion â€“ music. Last year, he was the recipient of the Best Surrey Trumpet Player award at the Envision Jazz Festival in Surrey.
Asked if he ever gets tired of all the recognition, his answer is short and simple.
â€œI try to stay neutral and humble.â€