Four computer science and two software engineering students named 2021 Schulich Leaders

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Cheriton School of Computer Science welcomes Saptarshi Bhattacherya, Alicia Bremer, Andrew Dong, Heidi Hon, Kushal Mujral and Eric Pei — six outstanding first-year students who have distinguished themselves academically as recipients of the prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship. 

The Schulich Leader Scholarships are a national undergraduate STEM scholarship, established by entrepreneur and philanthropist Seymour Schulich to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurially minded, technology innovators. This year, the Schulich Foundation is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and in 2021 the foundation has awarded up to 100 scholarships to students across Canada entering university. 

Since 2012, Waterloo has ranked as the top recipient with the largest number of qualifying applicants. Last year, the Schulich Foundation began providing the University of Waterloo with more than double the number of awards.

“Congratulations to Saptarshi, Alicia, Andrew, Heidi, Kushal and Eric on your Schulich Leader Scholarships,” said Raouf Boutaba, Professor and Director of the Cheriton School of Computer Science. “We’re delighted that you have chosen to pursue your studies in computer science and software engineering with us.”

To date, Waterloo has admitted 46 Schulich Leader Scholars, including the incoming 2021 cohort of Schulich Leaders. Learn more about the six high-achieving computer science and software engineering students who have received this prestigious national award.

Saptarshi Bhattacherya • Software Engineering

photo of Saptarshi BhattacheryaIn high school, Saptarshi Bhattacherya developed a mobile app, called Chemfriend, that automatically balances chemistry equations and helps students check their chemistry homework. Wanting to maximize his impact, he made the app free.

“I have always been interested in engineering because of the inspiring motivation behind it — developing innovative solutions to problems that will ultimately help other people,” says Saptarshi. “Through my own engineering endeavours, I have tried to better the lives of others with good user experiences. In the future, I hope to cultivate more positive user experiences through the software I build.” 

Saptarshi has also developed a visual aid for the deaf and hard of hearing, called VADAR, which provides real-time transcription of words being spoken to its wearer. VADAR taught him the true potential of technology and how it could be used to democratize parts of the human experience. Ever since, he has tried his best to realize an altruistic vision of technology.

Throughout high school, Saptarshi was also involved in several extracurricular activities, including being the lead software engineer in his school’s robotics team, which won first place in programming in the FLL provincial championship of 2017. He was also a member of the environmental club, leading a team to win first in Caring for our Watersheds Competition of Central Alberta.

At Waterloo, Saptarshi is most looking forward to the amazing opportunities he will be exposed to and meeting a community of people who are united by their desire to build a better future for all. When asked about his future career aspirations, Saptarshi says he hopes to work using AI for equity, making sure that everyone has access to the entirety of the human experience.

Alicia Bremer • Computer Science

photo of Alicia Bremer Alicia Bremer has always enjoyed math and problem solving. After learning to code during the pandemic, she realized that she wanted to pursue computer science. She especially likes how code can be applied in many ways to address real-world issues. One of Alicia’s proudest achievements from high school is participating in Students on the Beamlines, an opportunity for young people to create a novel research project on Canada’s national synchrotron light source facility with the help of mentors and experts.

The experience allowed her to study the effects of pesticides on beeswax with a team. She’s also proud of a waste classification app that she built on her own.
 
Throughout high school, Alicia was also involved in many extracurricular activities, including track and field, cross country, basketball, band, jazz band, green team, book club and debate club. These activities, along with maintaining a high GPA, are what she believes helped her stand out as a Schulich Leader. 
 
“I decided to attend the University of Waterloo because I really like the computer science program, especially the opportunity to do co-op every other term and gain real-world experience,” Alicia says. “In addition to participating in the co-op program, I’m looking forward to meeting new people while at Waterloo.”

Alicia enjoys running, which she says helps her maintain a good work–life balance and stay healthy. When she’s studying, she stays on task by taking lots of breaks and using a to-do list to organize her work.

Andrew Dong • Computer Science

photo of Andrew DongAndrew Dong started participating seriously in math contests in Grade seven and was quickly drawn to the pure, abstract nature of mathematics. At the same time, he did several coding projects and liked the feeling of creating something new on his own. Through these and other experiences, Andrew decided that computer science was the right program for him. In high school, he was an executive of his school’s math and computer science clubs, where they discussed interesting topics that went beyond the school curriculum.

In Grades 10 and 11, he organized his school’s student-run hackathon, SpartaHacks. He was also active in sports, playing on the tennis, badminton and volleyball teams. Two of Andrew’s most notable achievements were qualifying for the Canadian Mathematical and Computing Olympiads. he believes that his involvement in contests and enthusiasm to share ideas and organize STEM-related events are what helped him stand out as a Schulich Leader. 

Andrew is eager to gain experience in his field of choice through Waterloo’s co-op program. “I’m looking forward to using Waterloo’s co-op program to sample a diverse portion of the industry and discover what kinds of jobs I like and don’t like,” he says. “I also hope to do some co-ops in other countries, such as the United States or somewhere in Europe.” 

Andrew enjoys physical activity, such as running and basketball, or music-related hobbies, such as listening to classical or pop music and playing the piano, which he began at the age of five. 

Andrew is looking forward to being on campus in September and believes the computer science program will be challenging in a fun and growth-inspired way.

Heidi Hon • Computer Science

photo of Heidi HonHeidi Hon first started programming in middle school where she learned JavaScript. After that, she explored many different areas of STEM, but was most fascinated by the power of simple logic to solve complex problems, which is what drew her to computer science. Since ninth grade, Heidi has been involved in STEM extracurriculars, including the math team, the programming / hacking team, VEX Robotics Competition and she acted as a mentor and referee for FIRST Lego League.

She was also the founder of her high school’s STEM committee, which worked to empower the community and make STEM accessible to students of all ages and interests.
 
Heidi says she chose to attend Waterloo because of its culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration. “I’m most looking forward to surrounding myself with other super strong students in the Faculty of Mathematics,” says Heidi. “Everyone has a unique combination of skills — technical, problem-solving, communication and more — and I love learning from others’ strengths and successes.”

Heidi is also looking forward to growing as part of a community of Waterloo students who she says are strong in academics, extracurriculars, and all aspects of school and work life.

Kushal Mujral • Software Engineering

photo of Kushal MujralKushal Mujral has been intrigued by technology since he was a kid, but a robotics course in high school is what really fueled his passion for STEM and programming. Throughout high school, he was extensively involved on the robotics team and spent countless hours outside of school working on robots. When Kushal was in the role of head programmer in later grades, his team won multiple design and innovation awards, including coming in first place in the International Midwest Remote VEX Competition. He has also volunteered with several organizations in his community and created a coding tutorial series in Scratch that has helped more than 4,500 people.

When asked why he chose the University of Waterloo, Kushal says because it has one of the best software engineering programs in the country and the co-op program is the largest and most reputable in the world.

“I was in the car on my way to school when I got an email from Waterloo’s Student Awards office about the Schulich Leader Scholarship with ‘thank you’ in the subject,” says Kushal. “I assumed it was an email saying ‘thank you for applying’, meaning I hadn’t won. Instead, it turned out that I actually won! My father and brother were in the car, and I told them with a very straight face so I could see their reactions. They were yelling for joy! After that I couldn’t stop smiling and rereading the offer letter for the next few days.”

While at Waterloo, Kushal is most looking forward to joining the design teams and robotics clubs, as well as experiencing co-op and gaining a better understanding of the intricacies of software engineering through his studies.

Eric Pei • Computer Science

photo of Eric PeiEric Pei loves problem solving and mathematics. Both fueled his choice to study computer science at Waterloo. During high school, Eric was involved in many clubs, including programming, robotics, mathematics and model United Nations. His proudest achievements are his strong performances at the Canadian Computing Olympiad, a contest where students spend two days solving algorithmic problems entirely on their own.

Eric placed 9th in 2020 and 6th in 2021 and says the experience taught him about competing, problem solving and perseverance. He believes these qualities helped him stand out as a Schulich leader. Eric says the 2021 Canadian Computing Olympiad had just ended when he checked his email to see that he had been awarded the Schulich Leader Scholarship. 

“I was happy and surprised because I wasn’t expecting to receive it,” Eric says. “Fortunately, thinking about the scholarship did not negatively impact my performance at the Olympiad. Receiving the Schulich Leader Scholarship has given me confidence in my future because I now know that the Schulich Foundation is willing to invest in me.”

When asked about the habits that help him achieve his goals, Eric says that he doesn’t consciously think about maintaining a work–life balance, but believes it’s important not to overwork himself. He remains on task by removing distractions and enjoys having large blocks of free time so that he doesn’t need to worry about working quickly.

Eric is looking forward to learning more in his mathematics and computer science courses at Waterloo, and is excited for the possibility to live and work abroad during co-op. At the moment, he doesn’t have a particular place in mind, but is interested in trying the unique experience of living outside Canada. He is also looking forward to connecting with friends that attend Waterloo.

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