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Fourth-year student Morris Huang has been recognized with the Difference Maker Award for his leadership through the student-run non-profit, Global Spark. (Photo courtesy Morris Huang)

Morris Huang (Year 4 MSE) has been named the first recipient of the Troost ILead Difference Maker Award.

The award was established in 2020 by the Bodhi Tree Fund, a private giving foundation. Sanjay Malaviya, a long-serving member of the Troost ILead Board of Advisors, launched the $50,000 award to accelerate the career of a graduating student with a vision to make a positive difference in their communities and beyond. Candidates are evaluated on their leadership experience, the strength of their vision, and their character.

Learning about the award came on an especially significant day for Huang — his iron ring arrived in the mail only 15 minutes after receiving the phone call with news of his win.

Over the last year, Huang has helped lead Global Spark, a student-run education non-profit. Launched at the University of Toronto as Global Engineering Week, Global Spark seeks to bridge theory and practice within global development education by helping students connect what they learn in the classroom with on-the-ground work in areas such as climate change, renewable energy and, most recently, vaccine distribution.

“We don’t just want to teach students, we want them to mobilize in tackling some of these big problems by engaging them through course curriculum, implementing new course content, assignments, activities and tutorials,” says Huang.

Huang says that Global Spark’s material is taught in more than 100 courses at eight universities, including the National University of Singapore, the University of Central Asia and the Chinese University of Hong Kong – Shenzhen, and has reached more than 10,000 students to date.

Outside of the classroom Global Spark organizes design competitions, student fairs and Canada’s largest social impact hackathon, Hack the Globe, to help students explore the application of their own global development solutions. Working with partners such as Google, Boston Consulting Group, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund, this year’s Hackathon and speaker panel each drew more than 1,000 registrants from 40 countries.

Huang participated in the Troost ILead Summer Fellowship, an experience that he says gave him key “invisible” ingredients to grow Global Spark from a team of two to 70. He says the Fellowship gave him the opportunity to be challenged by his peers, and other student club leaders, and to ask hard questions about Global Spark’s purpose, culture, and his own assumptions about their work.

“I had to step back and ask, ‘Do I really understand what it is that we do? And, after I understand it, how can we improve on it?’ Learning how culture is shaped and how to build culture was the big thing that I learned [in the Fellowship], and continue to think about as we build Global Spark.”

“Having empathy is a key factor in what makes successful student leaders, and leaders in general,” adds Huang.

Asked how he mobilizes empathy in his own leadership practice Huang explains, “Being a leader means being able to connect with my team members. This is one of the most important things. I’m always open to feedback because what I’m ultimately trying to do is figure out how I as a leader can create the best experience for you when you’re on my team.”

Next year, Huang will bring his passion for education innovation to the Delft University of Technology where he has been accepted into the master’s in Engineering and Policy and Analysis (EPA) program. His vision is to increase access to quality education for K-12 and post-secondary students around the globe whose households may not have the means to access educational opportunities.

“I’m excited to see how models and simulations and data analytics and the policy-making process merge to create the impact that we envision,” says Huang. But he won’t be giving up his work at Global Spark which he calls his most challenging and rewarding experience to date.

On what the Difference Maker award means to Huang: “In the same sense that you don’t have to be given a position or a title to be a leader, or experience leadership, you also don’t need to be given a title or position to be a difference maker. Making a difference can be a long process, and very iterative. Tackle, get feedback, come back and work together, and work again.”

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Fahad Pinto
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