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2022 Schulich Leader Kai Chen (Year 1 MechE) hopes to use his passions for aviation and the environment to work toward sustainability and better accessibility in the aerospace industry (Photo: Submitted)

Kai Chen (Year 1 MechE) has twin passions for aviation and the environment.

Chen grew up in Saskatoon, near the airport, where he developed his love of aviation and even worked on a ground handling team. As a high school student, he and his friend co-founded SK Eco-Solutions, a non-profit that collected plastic bottles and recycled them into 3D printing filament.

“We were, I think, the first people in North America to do this,” he says. “We found sponsors, purchased the machine, and gave the filament away to schools in our city. When we graduated, we decided to hand over the project to our school’s environmental team, who will keep it going.”

Chen is one of five U of T Engineering recipients of a 2022 Schulich Leader Scholarship at the University of Toronto. The Schulich Leaders combine skills in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — with leadership experience, and they’re all energized to problem-solve for a better world.

The community leadership, innovation and tech know-how embodied in Chen’s story are the characteristics that define the Schulich Leaders. The four-year scholarships, valued at $80,000 for science, technology or mathematics students and $100,000 for engineering students, were founded by philanthropist Seymour Schulich through the Schulich Foundation. Starting in 2023, the values will rise to $100,000 and $120,000, respectively.

Seymour Schulich made his entrepreneurial mark in the finance and mining industries, and became one of Canada’s most generous philanthropists. Since establishing the Schulich Leaders program in 2011, he has donated $200 million to the scholarship endowment. Supporting young people is his passion and proudest achievement — and his book, Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons, is full of mentoring advice for young entrepreneurs.

“This scholarship completely changed my life,” says Chen. “It’s a massive confidence booster because obviously somebody believes in me. It also relieves so much financial pressure.”

The Schulich support not only helped him finance the move to Toronto, but also gives him the opportunity to explore U of T Engineering’s stellar suite of extracurricular opportunities related to his passions, such as the Aerospace Team.

“The University of Toronto is delighted to welcome our 2022 Schulich Leaders,” says Meric Gertler, president of U of T. “They are Canada’s future researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs — leaders who will make a mark on our world for the better. We’re so grateful to Seymour Schulich and the Schulich Foundation for the opportunities they are providing to these outstanding young learners.”

Meet the 2022 U of T Engineering Schulich Leaders

Mahjabeen Ali, Computer Engineering

An active volunteer and a youth council leader at her local community centre, Mahjabeen Ali is a graduate of a STEM-focused high school, the Scarborough Academy of Technological, Environmental, and Computer Sciences @ W. A. Porter Collegiate Institute.

Lauren Altomare, Engineering Science

Torontonian Lauren Altomare comes to U of T with big dreams to help people with mental illness. Planning to specialize in biomedical engineering and artificial intelligence (AI), she hopes to combine the two to launch an innovative startup that uses AI technology to treat and prevent mental illnesses.

Kai Chen, Mechanical Engineering

Kai Chen hopes to use his passions for aviation and the environment to work toward sustainability and better accessibility in the aerospace industry. A former Air Cadet, he has also already co-founded an environmental nonprofit that helps schools recycle plastic bottles into 3D printing filament.

Armaandeep Dhanoa, Engineering Science

A passion for research has already led Armaandeep Dhanoa to placements at university labs, where he helped scientists investigating ways to detect skin cancer and how fertility rates affect the workforce. He’s excited to expand his potential for problem-solving at U of T, including specializing in machine learning.

Robert Firsov, TrackOne

For Robert Firsov, open-minded enthusiasm brings opportunities — from volleyball medals to captaining his school’s robotics team. With a passion for the automotive industry, he hopes to participate in U of T’s student car-design teams. And eventually, to create innovative, sustainable solutions for vehicles.

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