The email to Katja Murray informing her she had been named a recipient of a 2020 Schulich Leader Scholarship arrived on April 21. She opened it, and immediately began screaming.
“Everyone in the house said, ‘are you okay?’” she remembers. “It was really great, and I don’t think we stopped talking about it for at least 24 hours.
The York Road resident was shocked to learn that she would be one of 100 students across Canada to receive one of the most coveted undergraduate STEM scholarships. A 2020 graduate of Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School, the award guarantees Murray up to $100,000 for her education in engineering at Western University in London, Ontario.
Murray at first didn’t think she would qualify for it. She knew she was applying at Western, where her parents, Angela and Mike, met as undergraduates. Both parents have instilled the value and importance of education in their four children (Gabe, Katja, Matthew and Ella). Angela runs her own dental practice, St. Davids Dental, while Mike holds a PhD in Chemistry.
During a visit to the Holy Cross student services office, she was completing an application for the Western National Scholarship, when a guidance counsellor took her aside and encouraged her to apply for the Schulich.
“I was sure it was quite a long shot,” she says, “but I thought I’ll just apply, what’s the worst thing that can happen, I don’t get it? I know a lot of kids, me included, who think they wouldn’t qualify for these bigger scholarships, but I’m really glad I applied.”
Murray will be attending Western in September for a double bachelors degree in engineering and business, with the business component completed through Western’s prestigious Ivey School. She plans to major in biomedical engineering when the time comes to choose a specific direction.
“I think there is a lot of opportunity there for expansion and growth,” she explains. “There’s a lot of cool stuff biomedical engineers can do. The ability to synthesize something in a lab instead of having organ donations so people aren’t stuck on a donor list for years. Anything that could help, that would be great.”
The stringent program will take five years, and she has already been offered a research position at Western for summer, 2021.
Holy Cross Principal Andrew Boon isn’t at all surprised Katja has earned the scholarship. He had just finished meeting with her this past Monday as she came to the school to record her salutatorian speech for the class of 2020’s drive-by graduation ceremony coming up June 23.
“She is an amazing student,” Boon says. “She approaches everything with such a positive attitude. Even today, when she arrived, she was smiling and so eager to do her speech.”
He adds that through her involvement in many activities at Holy Cross (hockey, swimming, lacrosse, choir, chess club, mathletes, reach for the top), she has shown leadership and a willingness to help others be their best.
According to Niagara Catholic District School Board policy, the graduates with the top five averages throughout their four years of high school are finalists for valedictorian. Murray was one of those top five, and finished second in voting amongst her peers. The second place finish earned her the honour of being the first student to address her class with her salutatorian speech at graduation.
Boon is quick to add, too, that she is also the graduate with the highest Grade 12 average this year, at almost 99 per cent.
And that average wasn’t earned taking a lot of easy electives. Her Grade 12 credits include physics, chemistry and biology, as well as all three maths (data management, calculus and advanced functions).
“I really enjoy math,” enthuses Murray. “I think it’s a little bit misunderstood, but I think it’s really beautiful, because you always know if you’re right, or if you’re wrong. It makes things simple.”
What September looks like for Murray at Western isn’t all that certain yet. Correspondence with the university has promised that about 25 to 30 per cent of her time is to be spent in class, with the rest spent learning online. Physical distancing rules will be in effect, students will be expected to wear masks in classes, and residences will be restricted to single occupancy. Whatever shape it takes, she’s excited to get started.
“This is such an incredible opportunity, and I really want to make them proud, and show them that I deserve this. The goal is to make Western proud.”
And Boon is certain that will be the case. “She has such a bright future ahead of her, and she’s going to change the world. Kind of selfishly, I hope that when she’s done, she comes back to our community to apply what she’s learned.”