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Cathedral student awarded $100K Schulich Leader Scholarship

Becca Barbera has been offered not one, but two $100,000 Schulich Leader scholarships.

One is remarkable. Two defies words.

Schulich Leader Scholarships are Canada’s most coveted undergraduate scholarships. The entrance scholarship program was established by Canadian philanthropist Seymour Schulich in 2012 for students entering Science, Technology, Engineering or Math undergraduate programs at participating universities across Canada. The program ensures that Canada’s top minds entering STEM disciplines will become the next generation of technology innovators.

Every high school in Canada can nominate one graduating student each year to apply for the scholarship. Only one hundred are chosen from among 1500 applications nation-wide. Offers are based on four criteria: academics (90%+); leadership and creativity; entrepreneurship; and intent to pursue a career in tech, engineering, entrepreneurship & business enterprise, or applied scientific research.

Barbera, a Grade 12 French Immersion student at Cathedral High School, received scholarship offers from both McMaster University and the University of New Brunswick.

Even now, weeks after receiving the news, Barbera is in a state of disbelief.

Her teachers, however, are not.

“Becca is the type of student that most teachers wait their entire careers to have in class,” say Teachers Guy Larocque and Marzia Occhionorelli.

“She is a most sincere and honest individual consistently exhibiting maturity, responsibility, dependability and an outstanding work ethic.”

She’s also incredibly smart, with a near-perfect 99.6% average – from four Advanced Placement math and science courses no less – balanced by three co-op placements in the Engineering Physics Department at McMaster University, participation in regional, national, and international science and engineering fairs, and a part-time job. Earlier this year, she was invited to write a scholarly article on molecular dynamics and bioinformatics (nuclear energy) for a Japanese journal, Energy Review, which, in the world of academia means she’s not only published but peer reviewed. Other activities were more community-based and include a non-profit start-up, Stories of Joy, which Barbera founded and developed, serving as an ambassador for the Canadian Association for Girls in Science and Vision Zero Youth Network, and peer mentor for Grade 9 students at her school. Over four years of high school, she’s accumulated more than 700 Christian Service hours.

“It’s rare to have a student with such proficiency in all sciences,” says Science Department Head Kristina Salciccioli. “She is that amazing combination of an absolutely exceptional student and fantastic work ethic and this shows in her numerous accomplishments. She is also incredibly personable … her future is only limited by her imagination.”

Barbera has accepted the offer from McMaster University and will be entering the Engineering Co-op Program in September, following in the footsteps of her mother, a Mac Engineering alum. In addition to the Schulich scholarship, Barbera has received a $15K Faculty of Engineering Entrance Award, $6K Eng Research Experience Award and $3K McMaster Award of Excellence. She was also awarded a $3K McMaster Engineering Entrance Award from BASEF.

“While applying to universities, I knew that McMaster was my school of choice,” says Barbera. “The engineering program provides many opportunities for students to gain research experience before they graduate, and also has a variety of different specialization options, such as biomedical or nuclear engineering that not all universities currently offer.”

Being a Schulich Leader brings more opportunities again.

“This scholarship has quite literally changed my life,” she adds. Aside from the financial support, which will allow her to focus more of her time and efforts on school, Barbera will be joining an elite network of STEM scholars and be privy to various student enrichment opportunities throughout the year.

“This scholarship provides me with so many amazing opportunities – a lot of which I’m sure I am not even aware! I’m really looking forward to meeting other Schulich Leaders and having the opportunity to work alongside them. I know that having this scholarship title will help set me apart within my future endeavours, which will be very valuable in laying the foundation for my future in engineering.”

And while the scholarship was of her own doing, Barbera is quick to credit her teachers and her school.

“I am very appreciative of all that the Cathedral community has done for me, especially the support and guidance that all my teachers have provided. Many of the accomplishments that led me towards receiving this scholarship, such as co-op opportunities and science fair achievements, were experiences that my teachers first encouraged me to pursue.”

“I have full confidence that Cathedral has well prepared me for this next phase of my life and any new challenges that come ahead.”

Apart from her parents who she describes as her greatest mentors, Barbera was inspired by her teachers and the amount of time and effort they invest each day in their students. Marzia Occhionorelli, Barbera’s Chemistry teacher, played a particularly influential role in her life.

“Since she first taught me in Grade 10, her passion and brilliance in science completely invigorated my love for STEM and has continued to change my life in incredible ways.”

Barbera isn’t sure what area of Engineering she’ll pursue, but she does know that she wants a job where she can directly help people.

“I still have a lot to learn and do not yet know the exact way that I will make an impact, but I hope to contribute to something that will truly make a difference in this world.”

Of that teacher Anthony Di Pietro has no doubt. “Becca is a stellar student and a pleasure to know. She’s laser focused on her studies and I have no doubt that she has an impressive future ahead of her in the sciences. She’s also tremendously kind and personable and deserves every ounce of praise she receives.”

Becca Barbera is the third Cathedral High School graduate since 2016 to be awarded a Schulich Leaders Scholarship.

“It is a great testament to the quality of Catholic education at Cathedral High School and a tribute to our exemplary staff, student body and tradition of excellence,” says Principal Mark Daly.

“I am so happy for Becca that she has earned this incredible scholarship and award. She is a remarkable young woman who is a credit to herself, her family and to the entire Cathedral High School community.”

“We are so proud of her and CHS.”

Cathedral student awarded $100K Schulich Leader Scholarship