'Curiosity and courage': Pearson scholars eager to make their mark at U of T Scarborough

Pearson Scholars
U of T Pearson Scholars clockwise from top left: Vimbainashe Chimhande, Benjamin Koshy Jacob, Diego Arreola Fernández, Mathira Kawser, Ahnaf Rahman and Saniya Karwa.

Mariam Matti

Ahnaf Rahman likens receiving the University of Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship to receiving a “lifeline” during a difficult time.

“After navigating the quirks of online high school during a deadly pandemic, the news of this scholarship felt like a lifeline to me,” said the first-year U of T Scarborough student who moved to Malaysia from Bangladesh with his family when he was nine.

Calling the scholarship an “exceptional opportunity,” Rahman (left) said he was happy to tell his parents – whose business suffered losses due to COVID-19 – that they wouldn’t need to worry about his university finances.

Rahman made the remarks during a recent virtual reception that welcomed the 36 scholarship recipients to the university.

U of T President Meric Gertler said the event has become a highlight since the “Pearson scholars embody so clearly the distinctive strengths and values” of the university.

“Your academic excellence, your international orientation, your commitment to leadership and the world around us – these ideals unite the U of T community across an incredibly wide array of backgrounds, perspectives and disciplines,” President Gertler said.

The scholarships are considered U of T’s most prestigious and competitive scholarship for international students – awarded to those who demonstrate exceptional academic achievement and who are recognized as leaders within their high school. This year’s recipients were chosen from a total of 1,761 applicants.

This is the second year the welcome reception was held virtually due to the pandemic. While most of the scholarship recipients are now on campus, some haven’t been able to travel to Toronto yet due to the pandemic.

Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students, said the university is attempting to provide as many in-person experiences as possible, but some activities will remain virtual so that everyone can attend.

“All of us at U of T, including the deans of your academic divisions, the principals of the colleges you are a part of and the many faculty and staff you interact with constantly, are working hard to make your virtual learning experience as enriching and seamless as possible,” she said.

Katherine Beaumont, senior director, global learning opportunities and international student success, said that while the hybrid start to the school year may be challenging at times, it will prepare the group for real world challenges.

The 2021 cohort of scholars represents 21 countries from around the world – and is serving as an informal support network for several of the new students who started meeting virtually this past summer.

“I have already made some friends,” said Mathira Kawser (left), who is studying social sciences at U of T Mississauga. “Having the Pearson scholars has been a very good thing for me because they have been a good support system after I moved in.”

Joseph Wong, U of T’s vice-president, international, said the Pearson scholarship recipients embody two important qualities that go beyond their accomplishments: curiosity and courage.

“The fact of the matter is all of you will be successful,” he said. “The real opportunity for all of you is to start crafting the story of your life, and I would encourage you to not rest solely on telling your story by recounting your accomplishments and achievements.

“You will have those and those will dot and animate your narrative, but rather let curiosity and courage drive your story.”

Meet this year’s cohort of Pearson scholars at UTSC:

Zahra Akil Allidina

Allidina Zahra Akil

Oakland Mills High School
Kenyan student in Maryland, U.S.A.

Co-op Management and International Business

“Hi! My name is Zahra Akil Allidina. I was born in Mombasa, Kenya, with roots in India, and studied in the United States. I am an effortless composition of various cultures and heritages. If I am not taking a walk in the great outdoors or binging a show on Netflix, then you will find me learning a new language or chasing sunsets.

“I have had the privilege of advocating for my community through serving as an appointed Executive Board member on the Maryland Youth Advisory Council, co-founding the Student Voice Council, organizing interfaith activities, and volunteering at various organizations. I aspire to be of service to humanity by reducing social inequities and economic instability and by bringing about reform through sustainable development. I am eager to innovate and create systems that encourage socially responsible behaviors and reinforce ethical values in business. At the University of Toronto, I hope to enhance my leadership skills, create dialogue, and relentlessly seek opportunities to learn through the Co-Op program.

“I am truly humbled to be a recipient of the Lester B. Pearson Scholarship. This scholarship plays an instrumental role in allowing me to realize my dreams. I look forward to joining the Class of 2025 at the University of Toronto!”

Vimbainashe Chimhande

Chimhande Vimbainashe

Goldridge College


Co-op Life Sciences

“Hello! My name is Vimbainashe Chimhande. I was born and raised in the beautiful African country of Zimbabwe. I’m beyond thrilled to become a Pearson scholar. For me, versatility is the spice of life! Outside the academic classroom, I read a lot, debate, and learn as much as possible about music. I love learning and growing. That desire to learn helped me obtain Top in the Country awards for IGCSE Business Studies and AS Global Perspectives and Research. Most people consider growing up in Africa as a disadvantage; I see it as an opportunity to step-up, be a problem solver and do something worthwhile. The greatest inventions and discoveries known to humanity were a result of someone trying to solve a problem. The COVID-19 pandemic reaffirmed my belief that healthcare should never be sidelined. I hope to play a role in boosting the quality of healthcare in Africa. My dream is to one day live in an Africa where excellent healthcare is not a luxury product. I’m tremendously grateful and excited that I get to be part of the UTSC community!”

Haris Malik

Haris Malik

Roots Ivy International School, River View Campus

Co-op Computer Science

“An auto enthusiast, a social activist, a sports fanatic or a studious person? Well, a blend of all I guess.

“Hello, everyone! I am Haris Malik from Islamabad, Pakistan. To begin with, it is of great honor to be awarded the Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship Award. At the University of Toronto, I intend to major in computer science, a field that I find incredibly intriguing and practical. An academic background of seven A-Level subjects with an AICE Diploma is a clear testimony of my interest in interdisciplinary fields, henceforth, I will be more than happy to explore, experience, and experiment in different areas of study, while at college.

“Aside from my academic interests, I have been deeply involved in various social causes to alleviate the miseries and improve the situation of my fellow countrymen. Therefore, I stand as the founder and president of Behtar Pakistan Movement, comprising of high school and college students, who work in collaboration with the local prison administration for the welfare of the juvenile prisoners.

“Furthermore, I consider myself to be a passionate cricketer and follower, having represented my former hometown, Abbottabad, on different cricketing tournaments and events. Similarly, Taekwondo has always been amongst my favorite physical sports and becoming the national Taekwondo Champion is an achievement of which I am highly proud.

“This fall, I look forward to meeting people representing all parts of the world and expanding my knowledge about the world beyond my region. Whether we are working on a coding project after school or hosting a charitable fundraiser on campus, I hope that you will all enjoy my company and I yours.”

Dmitriy Prokopchuk

Dmitriy Prokopchuk

International School of Belgrade
Russian student in Serbia

Co-op Computer Science

“Hello! My name is Dmitriy Prokopchuk and I was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Since then, I have had the privilege of living in four different countries and three different continents. All of these experiences have contributed to my multicultural upbringing, making me who I am today.

“My life motto is to always do my best, which has helped me master many endeavours, ranging from varsity sports to academics. However, as Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda once said: ‘There is always something more to learn. Even for a master.’ I constantly seek to learn from others and to apply this knowledge in meaningful ways, such as teaching others and contributing to my community. I particularly take pleasure in problem solving and have a love for learning math and computer science. I have a breadth of experience in mathematics competitions that I have used to coach and teach others. Moreover, I have a knack for creative pursuits, leading to my participation in debate, high school plays, writing competitions, and becoming a writer and editor for the school newspaper.

“Outside of academics, you can find me making jokes, playing basketball and volleyball, sleeping, reading up on math and computer science, spending a ‘normal’ amount of time playing video games, jamming to some rock, painting, or watching chess.

“I am incredibly grateful to be awarded the Lester B. Pearson Scholarship, and I cannot wait to learn from all the unique individuals at the University of Toronto.”

Ahnaf Rahman

Ahnaf Rahman

Fairview International School
Bangladeshi student in Malaysia

Co-op Management

“Hello! My name is Ahnaf Rahman, and I am from Bangladesh. I feel extremely humbled and honored to receive this unparalleled opportunity at the University of Toronto, which I could not have achieved without my most profound source of inspiration: my parents. We migrated to Malaysia when I was nine years old and despite the obstacles my parents faced, they were determined to prioritize the future of my siblings and me. I have always admired their altruism, benevolence and determination since childhood, which has shaped my academic and extracurricular experiences in high school. For instance, I often felt guilty by how much my peers and I overlooked the precious community service component in our IB curriculum. I took accountability for this situation and thus designed a website that helps students connect with NGOs around Malaysia for meaningful youth volunteerism opportunities. From coding this website, promoting it around my school and organizing this platform’s inauguration event, I was amazed by how technology can serve as an agent of change for organizations since it can help address the needs of marginalized groups in an unprecedented manner. I was certain I wanted to pursue this field in the future, hence I am thrilled to further develop these skills through the co-op program in management and IT.

“I have also been blessed to be elected as the Student Council President in my high school. By serving the needs of our diverse student body, I caught a glimpse of the vibrant and multicultural community I am exhilarated to join in Toronto. I am extremely grateful to be associated with the glorious history of the Lester B. Pearson Scholarship, and I look forward to embracing this opportunity to continue honoring the legacy of my parents, community, and country.”

Toey Saralamba

Toey Saralamba

Regent’s International School Bangkok

Social Sciences & Humanities

“My name is Toey Saralamba and I’m currently a music scholar at Regent’s International School Bangkok. As you would probably expect from a music scholar, I play the cello in the school orchestra, lead the string ensemble, and act as a ‘music ambassador’.

“Although I’m currently studying in Bangkok, I have also studied in Sydney and Budapest. My experience studying abroad made me appreciate the value of English in the modern world. English allowed me to communicate with people from various backgrounds and consequently come into contact with more perspectives. I wish to become an English teacher to provide students with the same opportunities I received by learning English. My time abroad also led me to realise that in Thailand, teachers are less valued than in developed countries. I hope to change this. In the past few years, I have taken as many opportunities as I could to develop skills and knowledge that would help me become a better teacher in the future. These opportunities included working as a tutor, acting as a mentor in the school’s mentor and mentee program, and investigating the effect of the time students spend reading per week on their academic achievement.

“The Lester B. Pearson Scholarship is an amazing opportunity for which I’m immensely grateful. I aim to make the most of the next four years and use the skills I acquire to improve the education system in my home country.”

Tanya Kaur Talwar

Tanya Talwar

Amity International School Pushp Vihar

Co-op Psychological and Health Sciences

‘The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.’ (Socrates)

“My name is Tanya Kaur Talwar, and I take pride in being a student of the teachings of ancient philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and modern thought leaders like Peter Drucker, Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, and many more. I strongly believe that every day is an opportunity to experience how little we know about our universe, our fellow humans, and most importantly, about ourselves.

“I am a high school student from India who conducted cognitive psychology research at the age of 14 and relentlessly pursued it to prove that there are no slow learners in a classroom. I represented this project at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2018, to encourage the realization that teaching methodologies determine the speed and quality of our comprehension.

“Given the depth of ambiguity regarding the cosmos, the number of people crowding academia is highly underwhelming. A fundamental reason behind this is the growing learning poverty in schooling systems today.

“Philosophy, psychology, and educational policy are amongst a few of my academic interests. My interests in psychology helped me win many quizzes and competitions, including India’s largest psychology quiz.

“I am honored and exhilarated to be a recipient of the Lester B. Pearson International Scholar Award for the class of 2025. I intend to fully utilize every resource that is made available to me at the University of Toronto to further my understanding of human behavior and our cosmos, as well as to eradicate learning poverty and equip many others like me to discover research at an early age.”

Katarina Šotić

Katarina Sotic

New Hall School
Serbian student in the United Kingdom

Co-op Computer Science

“Hello! My name is Katarina Šotić, and I am originally from Belgrade, Serbia, but currently studying towards 4 A-Levels at New Hall School in the United Kingdom, as a recipient of the HMC International Scholarship. I am honoured to have been selected as one of the recipients of the Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship this year and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue my journey at the University of Toronto.

“Being raised in the culturally turbulent Balkan region and having studied abroad already, I look forward to bringing diversity to the Scarborough campus and making long-lasting friendships with students from all over the world. From an early age, I have enjoyed problem-solving and being intellectually challenged, and took part in many competitions and Olympiads. My academic interests include computing, mathematics and physics, but aside from that, I am also a passionate musician. I sing, play the piano and the guitar, and also have a high school diploma in music theory. Additionally, I also enjoy giving back to my community acting as a peer mentor for younger students in my school; as well as leading a group of volunteers meeting with adults with learning difficulties weekly. Outside of school, I enjoy taking part in winter sports, such as skiing and ice skating, as well as taking online coding courses, cuddling my dog, and being an amateur barista at home!

“I would like to thank the admission committee at the University of Toronto once again for providing me with this once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am looking forward to getting the most out of this experience both academically and outside of the classroom, as a part of the Class of 2025 starting this fall!”

See the complete list of the 2021 scholarship recipients