From Small Town PEI to Bigger City Campuses: Alum share how there’s a Shad experience for everyone
Before Amitis Hajmaghani arrived at the Carleton University campus for Shad2023, she felt herself questioning whether she belonged there. As a student from a small high school in Cornwall, Prince Edward Island (PEI), she was asking herself the same questions that, unbeknownst to her, were on the minds of many of her peers: am I good enough at STEAM? Will the other students have more lived experience than me?
Though once Amitis arrived at Carleton, those doubts began to dissolve.
“Before the program started, I worried maybe I wasn’t going to be smart enough, and that I wouldn’t fit in, especially because there are kids coming from bigger cities and bigger schools. But on the first day when I arrived, it was just a bunch of students in the same boat, and we were all able to connect quickly and relate in some way.”
Amitis had been interested in pursuing medical science for many years, and so when she saw a girl she knew from school posting about her time at Shad on social media, she was intrigued. There weren’t any STEAM programs like Shad around her on PEI and she was interested in learning more. She watched a presentation about the program from her school peer, and knew it was something she wanted to experience.
“One of the main things that sold me was the fact that it was basically university life squished into one month. That was something that really appealed to me and other people in my class, the possibility of experiencing being away from home and on a campus, being around students on campus and being able to ask them questions. And now that I’m done the program, it really did help to experience that if you’re considering going to university somewhere away from home.”
Amitis was excited to spend her summer at Carleton University in Ottawa. The school is known for its neuroscience program, which gave her access to lectures and labs that allowed her to explore her interest in medicine.
“We had two science labs that were really neat and interesting, one that involved dissecting a rat and another where we mixed chemicals together and grew crystals, which was really fun.”
Reflecting on her time at Shad now, Amitis believes the program offered her the best of two worlds.
“Shad is an amazing way to explore post-secondary and STEM topics, while also providing a fun environment for socializing and meeting new people. Even though we were all really serious during our lectures and group activities for the Shad design project, there was also so much laughing and talking and just having fun with each other. It’s an experience I’ll never forget!”
Charlotte MacNutt-Lawson from Stratford, PEI feels the same way about her own Shad experience this summer. Living in a small, tight-knit community, she was excited to spread her wings and explore other parts of Canada. She had heard about Shad from a friend’s sister when she was in grade 6 and had been planning to go ever since. “I was actually really disappointed to find out I had to wait so long to apply,” she shared with a laugh.
Charlotte has always loved science and meeting new people and felt that Shad would provide her with the opportunity to do both. “I really wanted that connection with people across the country and I knew Shad would be the perfect way to do that.”
Charlotte loves biology and is taking a higher-level biology course this fall, so she was thrilled when she was able to visit the medical school during her time at Shad’s Memorial University campus this summer.
“Visiting the med school and learning from the professors there was one of the highlights of the month for me! I’d never been inside a medical school before, and it was exciting to tour around and learn about the program. We got to see cadavers and I was able to hold a 3D printed brain. It was wild! It solidified biology as my passion.”
As she continues her academic journey, Charlotte is grateful for some important lessons she gained at Shad, the biggest being that it’s about progress, not perfection, when working towards important goals, an insight she gained while working with her team on their design project.
“Going into Shad, I had always been a bit of a perfectionist, but I quickly learned I couldn’t be a perfectionist when working on our design project. We had a 20-page business plan due in a short amount of time and we were frantically trying to make changes in the final stretch until we finally recognized that it wasn’t going to be perfect, we had to stop. We realized it was about trying our best, it didn’t have to be perfect, and that’s such an important lesson that will be really helpful to me in the future.”
Shad’s design project is what motivated Alexandra Chow to apply to the program, something she continued to look forward to as she arrived at Shad’s University of Prince Edward Island campus this summer.
“I was excited for the design challenge because the people I know who had gone to Shad had talked about it and it sounded really fun. It also changes every year, so it’s exciting waiting to see what kind of problem we’ll be challenged to solve and be able to start planning for that.”
Alexandra was pleasantly surprised by the program’s breadth of activities and felt the mix of learning and group activities and games made for a well-rounded experience. And being able to experience it all on the East Coast was a bonus, since she’d never been there before and, coming from Vancouver, was enamored by the quaint charm of the smaller, historic city of Charlottetown, PEI.
One of Alexandra’s favourite activities took place during the campus’s camping trip where they visited one of PEI’S beaches on the Atlantic coast and competed to build sand animals.
“We had this “sandcastle contest”, which turned out to be sand animals, and we all had to build sand animals that were three feet tall, with 18 inches below ground and 18 inches above. And we only had 45 minutes. We made a whale, and it was a lot of fun, everyone just laughed the whole time.”
Alexandra enjoyed the quiet feel of the University of PEI setting, where most of the streets were pedestrian or bike only, which made it feel like a world unto itself designed just for students to enjoy. They visited local farmers markets where they ate a lunch of locally grown foods and enjoyed some truly east coast activities, like deep sea fishing.
“We drove about 30 minutes to the coast where we boarded three different large fishing boats. We went out to a few different fishing spots where the water was best for catching certain types of fish. They cut up some of what they caught to let us try some of the fish raw, which some students did! There were seagulls circling hoping some might drop for them,” Alexandra shared, laughing. “It was really neat; I’d never done anything like that before.”
When asked what surprised her most about her experience, she reflected that it really came back to the community they built during their month together.
“Despite the diversity of people from different backgrounds, from different places with different experiences, the community came together really quickly and formed a close bond. At each lecture, we had name cards placed around that sat us with different people each time, so we all got to know everyone, and no one was left out. By the end of it, we were all sad to be leaving each other because it already felt like we’d be friends for a long time.”
Now that Amitis and Charlotte are back in Prince Edward Island, and Alexandra has returned to Vancouver, each hopes to share their Shad experience with students in their respective cities to encourage their peers to apply to something they believe is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“It was just such an inspiring month. You realize the possibilities are endless when you spend time surrounded by such passionate, motivated, and dedicated people. Working together and collaborating around an important challenge just left me feeling so inspired and hopeful.”