Before Shad, Luke Heimpel, a Shad2020 alum, had never thought of himself as a “leader”, at least not in the conventional sense. He figured his quiet, more introverted nature precluded him from effectively taking on a leadership role, and he felt comfortable acting as a support, using his many skills to help those more outgoing and assertive than he to head any team efforts of which he was a part.

The Shad Leaders with Shad Board of Directors member, Simone Cavanaugh, who led a workshop at McKinsey in Toronto

But his perception of himself started to change during his time at Shad and solidified during his time in the McCall McBain Shad Leaders Program. Luke realized he had the traits of a leader; he just hadn’t had the right opportunity to effectively nurture and demonstrate those skills.

“The program really challenged me to think about leadership and how I wanted to lead in the future. Before exploring these ideas and engaging with mentors in the program, I didn’t really see myself in that way, as a leader. But having the opportunity to practice leadership and understanding more what it means to lead, I realize it’s not only something I can do, it’s something I like to do. I feel confident providing leadership to others.”

Luke and Maya presenting as part of the Shad Leaders program

Luke was one of four Shad Alum who came together for the first year of the Shad Leaders Program, which aims to connect alumni of the Shad program with young people and university-aged peers so that they can build, broaden, and share their passion for science, social change, and community-building in the form of Shad Campus Clubs. Along with Luke, this year’s Shad Leaders included Khushali Shah, Shad2019, Emma LeCouffe, Shad2019, and Maya Samra, Shad2020.

The Shad Leaders program helps participating alum nurture their leadership skills, like communication, self-management, and critical thinking, through training that involves community outreach workshops, mentorship from outstanding community and industry leaders, and working as Program Assistants (PA) on Shad campuses to put these skills into practice. Following the program, the Leaders live the Shad values as community changemakers by acting as mentors to positively influence the next generation through the work of their Campus Clubs set up on their respective university campuses.

The Shad Leaders with Brock Hart, CEO of Overlap Associates who was one of the program’s amazing mentors.

For Khushali Shah, a current Chemical and Bioengineering major at the University of McMaster, the program provided her with an amazing opportunity to take what she has learned and share it with others through community workshops and in her leadership role as a PA at Shad’s McMaster campus.

“I really wanted to be a PA because I remember when I was a Shad, they were our biggest role models. Going back and being a part of the campus team was like going to Shad again, but with new insights and the ability to really make a difference in the lives of those younger than me by sharing those insights and my experiences post-program. Taking on that leadership role as part of the Leaders Program not only allowed me to give back to the new Shads, but it helped me to realize my own potential as someone taking the lead in different situations moving forward.”

Khushali working as a PA at the ShadMcMaster campus

Kushali’s experience highlights what is a big part of both the Shad summer program and the Shad Leaders Program: the focus on mentorship and the ability to draw on others’ experiences to help inform the choices mentees can make when forging their own path. Emma LeCouffe found the opportunity to engage with experienced mentors in the Leaders Program incredibly helpful as she navigates post-secondary and all the questions that arise when trying to decide where she wants to go.

“None of the mentors we talked to have had a linear career path, they all studied something and then ended up doing something different or bounced around and learned through different experiences before they landed where they are now. As of now, I’m still not sure what I want to do after I finish my degree, and it was really great to hear from successful people that I don’t actually need to have a set plan right now. That it’s normal to explore different opportunities and try different things, that’s what helps you to grow both personally and professionally.”

Emma and the other Shad Leaders are eager to share these valuable lessons with their peers and the youth in their community through the work of their Campus Clubs, helping to foster a willingness to take risks and explore the world of STEAM without limits among the younger generation who will go on to lead the generation behind them.

Khushali and Maya at one of the Leaders Program workshops

For Maya Samra, this means putting Shad’s “just say yes” mantra into everything, including giving back to the community in ways that help other youth learn the same lessons from Shad that have helped her in her own personal growth. To her, this is what the Shad Leaders program is all about.

“It’s important to say yes to opportunities not only for yourself, but to say yes to providing learning opportunities to others, like attending career fairs for high school students to share my experiences with those who might be interested in the same degree program that I am currently in or who share a similar career plan. Using those opportunities to show younger students that there are so many options available to them and they can explore their passion for STEAM and other interests in ways that are authentic to them. It’s important to try to inspire others to see that the world is open for them, and they can achieve whatever goals they set for themselves and to show them ways they can do that. To me, that’s leadership.”

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