Community engagement pays off for scholastic duo

Two first-year SFU students have each been awarded sizeable scholarships for volunteering their time to programs and clubs at their high schools and in the wider community.

Together, Raaj Chatterjee and Nancy Lum received $140,000 in Schulich Leader Scholarships. The award is given to two high school students going into science, technology, or math programs who show academic excellence, leadership, and financial need.

Chatterjee, who received $80,000, is a jazz musician pursuing a degree in mechatronics. In high school, he developed an interest in the environment and sustainability — this interest led him to develop a composting project with his high school and eventually become co-chair of the Surrey Youth Sustainability Network.

Chatterjee said, “It started with my family first. My dad was really active in the community.” After that initial spark, Chatterjee went to leadership and sustainability camps and was inspired by seeing other people contributing in their communities.

Chatterjee acknowledged that it can be difficult to take that first step towards volunteering, mostly due to time restraints, but said, “You need to find something you care about and find friends [who] care about the same thing, and then just start somewhere.”

For Chatterjee, volunteering is about considering the bigger picture. He said, “I aim to make people think deeply about things they have never thought of before.” Namely, environmental issues and sustainable development. 

Lum, who received $60,000, is a kinesiology student who has clocked in over 700 volunteer hours with different clubs and organizations including Karing 4 Kids and Christmas Cheer. Like Chatterjee, Lum was encouraged to volunteer by watching local leaders around her. She said, “It’s really inspiring to be around people who are going out to help others.”

Little did Lum know that by helping others she was also helping herself. She explained, “I was transformed by volunteering.” When pressed about what she meant by this, she said, “When I started volunteering, I was not a confident individual, but over time and through volunteering I was able to build my character.”

She continued, “One of the biggest lessons I learned is that it is good to take opportunities, to challenge yourself, and push your limits. Volunteering is about pushing your efforts.”

Both Chatterjee and Lum have a clear idea of where these scholarships will take them: Chatterjee hopes to design something to help with sustainable development, as well as work and volunteer with the UN and Engineers Without Borders, while Lum wants to go into medicine and hopes to open her own practice where she can continue to help others.

Chatterjee and Lum both emphasized the importance of young people working to make a change in their communities. Lum said, “There is so much more to the school experience than studying and going to class, and a lot of that, for me, came out of volunteering.

“I would really encourage any student who has a little bit of extra time on their hands, and is willing to put themselves out there, to get more involved. The more you put into it, the more you get out of it.”