Grade 12 Oak Bay High student Karlee Zaruk awarded the prestigious Schulich Leader scholarship. (Keri Coles/Oak Bay News)

Grade 12 student Karlee Zaruk awarded the Schulich Leader scholarship

Not only will Oak Bay High student Karlee Zaruk be the first woman on either side of her family to get a post-secondary education, she will do it with the support of one of the largest and most prestigious academic awards given to top high school students in Canada.

To put the chances of getting a Schulich Leader scholarship in perspective, more than 350,000 students graduate each year in Canada and each high school can nominate just one exceptional student per year. That means approximately 1,500 of the top students are able to apply for the scholarship. Of those top students, only 50 scholarships are awarded – 25 for students pursuing engineering and 25 for science, technology or mathematics.

Karlee Zaruk rose to the top and was chosen for one of the $80,000 scholarships to pursue her desire of a science education.

Looking at her academic record and her dedication to giving back to her community, it is not hard to see why she was chosen.

“Karlee is clearly a strong candidate and such a deserving winner of the award. The Schulich is very prestigious in terms of the STEM awards in Canada and is very rigorous in terms of academic excellence,” said teacher Scott Alexander who nominated Zaruk for the award. “Karlee has a zest for learning and she has taken those extra steps to get the grades she does. Karlee’s average is pushing the top 98, 99, almost 100 per cent average on her academic classes.”

Another large component of the scholarship is based on character, an area where Zaruk also shines. She has been volunteering for years in many capacities.

Since 2015, Zaruk has worked as a social support volunteer at Victoria General and more recently at the Royal Jubilee hospital through VIHA.

“I visit a bunch of patients who have been in the hospital for a prolonged amount of time. We provide them with company so that we can cheer them up a little bit,” said Zaruk.

She also mentors a grade 3 girl at George Jay elementary school through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Victoria.

“I visit her weekly. We’ll do activities together or go play outside. We’ll do journal entries,” said Zaruk. “I’m just there to basically mentor her and give her hope for what she can achieve one day.”

Zaruk has also gone further afield to help, having been involved with the Live Different program at Oak Bay High for four years. It’s a program that selects students to go down to Mexico for 10 days to build homes for impoverished families.

“I recently just came back from my second trip where I was a leader for the trip,” said Zaruk. “We built three houses and I was in charge of one of the builds. That was one of my favourite accomplishments because it has really opened my eyes to a world that I didn’t know about before.”

“Karlee’s character is just fantastic. She gives back to her community and understands the need to be outside of the school,” said Alexander.

Zaruk picked the University of Victoria as her top choice for schools, in part because of the quality science program and in part to stay close to family.

“I’ve got a little sister so I wanted to help support her through high school as well,” said Zaruk.

“Karlee works exceedingly hard. And she will take that same energy to University of Victoria. They are very lucky to be working with her,” said Alexander.

As for the future, Zaruk would like to work in the field of science, addressing environmental concerns. She is thrilled to have the scholarship support her on that journey.

“I was just ecstatic. I began to cry a little bit and was at a loss for words,” said Zaruk. “To be one in 25 in Canada, I just never imagined it would be me.”

Launched in 2012, the Schulich Leader scholarship is a $100 million program that funds 50 undergraduate scholarships each year.

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Zaruk (5th from left) has been involved with the Live Different program at Oak Bay High for four years. Select students go to Mexico for 10 days to built homes for impoverished families. Zaruk was in charge of one of the builds. (Submitted)

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