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'Shocked': Barrie teens stand out among scholarship applicants

Bear Creek's Lucy Duncan and Maple Ridge's Shreya Jain will travel to Toronto next month to take part in interviews for the Loran Scholarship

Lucy Duncan and Shreya Jain are both still a little bit in shock following the news that they have been short-listed for a prestigious scholarship.

The Barrie high school students were named as 2024 finalists for the prestigious Loran Scholarship last week and will travel to Toronto next month to take part in interviews for the chance to be named one of this year’s 36 Loran scholars.

Redeemable at 25 partner universities, the Loran Award is valued at more than $100,000 over four years, including mentorship, funding for summer work experiences and participation in an extensive network of past and present scholars. 

Lisa Paul, who is the manager of community engagement and communications with the Loran Scholars Fund, explained finalists are selected because they show strength of character, commitment to service and leadership potential, all in unique ways.

In addition to being heavily involved in the arts, 18-year-old Duncan strives to give a voice to other young people. She currently serves as a student trustee with the Simcoe County District School Board and has been a loud voice with her environmental activism for several years, even having a 2022 rally at Queen’s Park in Toronto with Aware Simcoe on World Water Day to bring awareness to the Alliston aquifer in Tiny Township.

The Grade 12 student at Bear Creek Secondary School in south-end Barrie says she applied for the scholarship after having met others who had done so in the past, but admitted she wasn’t expecting anything to come of it.

“I didn’t have a lot of confidence that I was going to get it, but I figured you don’t want to sell yourself short … (and) I applied anyway,” she said, adding learning she was named one of the 36 finalists was “surreal.”

“On the surface I was pretty calm … but then I processed it and I was shocked," Duncan added. 

Duncan says she’s considering studying biochemistry at university, but has yet to decide where. No matter where she ends up, she told BarrieToday she intends to continue advocating for solutions to problems like climate change and health.

“We are already seeing some really devastating impacts of (climate change)... ultimately it is people in my generation and even younger than me who are going to see the worst of it as the years go on if we don’t make a change," she said. "I feel like if we can look at problems with an optimistic lens it can provide us a whole new world view for how we can solve these issues that people older may not necessarily have."

As for what she thinks may have set her apart from the pack, Duncan says she thinks her environmental activism may have helped.

“They say the things they look for are leadership and service to your community, so I think my work in the environmental movement helped to showcase that.”

Maple Ridge Secondary School student Shreya Jain, left, and Bear Creek Secondary School student Lucy Duncan, right, have both been named as finalists for the prestigious Loran Award. Images supplied

Jain, 17, co-founded and currently leads the debate team at Maple Ridge Secondary School, also located in south-end Barrie, works part-time at her local library branch and is involved in game-theory and economics research, where she models a variety of different things using computer simulations using what she called “agent-based models.”

“With the computer, we build these virtual environments and try to model situations such as the prisoner’s dilemma and other economic concepts,” she explained.

Jain, who is in Grade 12, says she has her sights set on several options as she looks forward to her post-secondary education.

“I am looking through all of my options, but I am really interested in math so I have been applying to several math programs,” she said. “Statistics is what I am really interested in right now. That includes data and actuarial signs and biostatistics … and giving back to the community is my main priority.”

Ken Wesley, teacher advisor for the school’s debate team, described Jain as having a “patient and encouraging demeanour”, and commended her leadership skills.

“Shreya is a big presence in the school,” he said noting as a result the teen is often nominated for staff-sponsored awards and recommendations.

“Shreya's commitment to her academic success, to school culture, and to the greater community with her work at the local public library, as well as being there for her friends, is exceedingly rare in someone her age," Wesley added. "There is no doubt in my mind that Shreya will continue to make a significant impact in her community, and well beyond, well into the future."

Jennifer Behan, Gowan’s English teacher, described the teen as the “definition of a life-long learner."

“(She) will undoubtedly find success in the future through her sheer determination, hard work and superior intelligence,” said Behan.

Both Barrie students admit that winning would allow them the opportunity to focus solely on their studies and community involvement, without the stress of finances.

“The financial support would be amazing to allow me to focus on my studies and get involved in the community. I also really like the Loran community itself," Jain said. "It seems very supportive and focused on really developing you as a person both personally and professionally and I really wanted to be involved in that.

“I would get to grow so much faster and take risks that I might not otherwise have the chance to take," she added. 

“It would be a big weight off of my shoulders,” said Duncan, adding the opportunities that come along with the scholarship are also priceless. “Connecting with other scholars from across the country, access to summer internships and leadership opportunities would really help propel me into my career after my undergraduate.”

As for what advice Duncan would give to fellow students as they prepare for their own futures: “Do what you’re passionate about," she said. "If you try to do things purely for the sake of getting into a school or getting some big award, it usually ends up showing that it’s not something you actually care about.

"It’s so much easier to invest your time when it’s something you’re truly passionate about … and I think that’s what has helped me get to where I am," Duncan added.

The winners are expected to be named in March or April.