CANMORE – The past two years have not been easy on students, but it has also afforded unique opportunities for extra-curricular innovation projects like those seen at Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy (OLS).
For two students and a teacher, those projects have earned them some major recognition.
Projects such as MindFuel and iGem were the most meaningful for students Alison Stanley, Seth Perez and teacher Luc Arvisais. Teams and club members have changed over the last three years, but this core trio has consistently challenged themselves to develop their abilities through application to a diversity of environmental projects.
Stanley has earned the prestigious Schulich Leaders Scholarship, which provides her with $100,000 for four years of post-secondary schooling. She received the scholarship through both the University of Calgary and McGill University but has chosen to attend the former.
“The University of Calgary, I was up for another scholarship, so I had an interview for that one,” Stanley said. “It was a similar scholarship and that was an opportunity that aided me because they could put a face to a name.”
Stanley has chosen to study engineering at the school, something that has come from her experience with the iGem team.
“I was able to work on real world problems from a high school setting and being a part of the design process really interested me,” Stanley said. “Something in my career and my life that I want to do is make a change in the world. Climate change is really important to me and being a part of the design process of finding solutions is really cool to me.”
Perez earned the Edward Power Scholarship Award from Boilermaker International, valued at $5,000. For the scholarship, she had to complete an essay on greenhouse gas offsetting, something that greatly interests her.
“Part of the process required me to discuss any sort of technology that could be regarded as aiding the environment with the current climate crisis,” Perez said. “I was able to write an essay about carbon offsetting and negative net emissions. It was pretty easy because of my position in the sustainability club.”
The sustainability club is an extra-curricular activity that focuses on applying change in the local area. Through the club, members like Perez have set up the first composting program within the Christ The Redeemer School Division, and purchased seven tower gardens to be used in the school’s food class.
Perez has chosen to attend the University of British Columbia, with a focus on biochemistry.
“I think UBC has a lot of good merits and I have heard good things about their research,” Perez said. “I really enjoy the biochemistry process in the body in terms of studying them, and I think there is a lot of opportunity for research both biologically and chemically. I think it is a really large field I can delve into.”
Arvisais, the teacher for Perez and Stanley, has also earned recognition as the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for STEM Teaching Excellence. He was also the runner-up for teacher of the year in the inaugural Earth Prize competition.
The STEM award honours teachers who spark a lifetime of curiosity by inspiring young people to reflect, to question and to challenge.
“It is a community-nominated award, so a bunch of people write and nominate based on activities and changes you have made in your school community,” Arvisais said. “I don’t know if there is a better teaching award in this nation. It is just a basic recognition of some of the projects we’ve had and successes we have had with both Seth and Alison.”
When the pandemic hit, Arvisais and his students in the clubs began having Zoom meetings and forming teams with High River for their synthetic biology and genetic engineering program, among other projects.
“We did data crunching for greenhouse gas emissions for global conferences and provincial conferences,” Arvisais said. “It really is for making a difference in the educational community.”
The programs Arvisais and the students began to develop would then start to have greater influence in the school.
“Our genetic engineering programs evolved into junior high synthetic biology genetic engineering programs,” Arvisais said. “Not only did the group projects in STEM that were part of my nomination get done extra-curricular, but they had a trickle-down effect into our classroom.”
For Arvisais, the award is about showing he is making a difference in the lives of the students he teaches.
“It helps me go forward,” he said. “You always wonder if you are making a difference. It is fulfilling to know you make a difference with a few students.”