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Teen 'genius' takes on Shad Valley

Jessica Francis, a Grade 12 Chilliwack secondary school, was one of 500 students from across Canada selected to participate in Shad Valley this summer. Shad Valley is a four-week, summer-enrichment program for top academic students interested in areas of science, engineering, technology, entrepreneurship, innovation and mathematics. - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Jessica Francis, a Grade 12 Chilliwack secondary school, was one of 500 students from across Canada selected to participate in Shad Valley this summer. Shad Valley is a four-week, summer-enrichment program for top academic students interested in areas of science, engineering, technology, entrepreneurship, innovation and mathematics.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

Jessica Francis thought for sure she wouldn't be accepted into Shad Valley.

Despite pulling off a 93 per cent grade point average in her Grade 11 year at Chilliwack secondary, and regularly volunteering for a book-load of community and school initiatives, as well as having a goal of one day becoming an engineer, she thought for sure others had a better chance of admittance than she.

"I knew there were only 500 spots and last year more than 1,000 from all over Canada applied, plus some international students as well," she said.

"I get good grades, and I have a part-time job, and I volunteer, but I thought the other kids applying would have a 100 per cent GPA and doing the same things I was; I didn't think I'd get in."

If only she had read the sign in her bedroom that reads, Genius at work, she might have had the same confidence in herself that Shad organizers had.

Francis was one of 500 Grade 10, 11 and 12 students accepted into Shad Valley this past summer.

Shad Valley is a four-week, summer-enrichment program for hard-working, highly academic, driven high school students interested in areas of science, engineering, technology, entrepreneurship, innovation and mathematics.

It has campuses at 10 universities across Canada, and gives participants a first look into university life with daily workshops, lectures, projects and team-building exercises.

"It was so amazing to be around like-minded people," said Francis who attended Shad Valley at the University of New Brunswick campus from July 3 to July 29.

(Following the program, she was also awarded an internship, through Shad Valley, at NB Power, which is the New Brunswick version of BC Hydro, for the month of August.)

"The people there actually wanted to learn," said Francis. They were motivated to do things, there were no kids calling out, no kids being disrespectful, it was just a really great environment."

But it wasn't easy to get in.

To ensure the best students are selected, the application process is strenuous.

Students had to write an essay, design a creative page, make a chart of their extra-curricular activities, employment and volunteering commitments, hand in their transcripts, and submit letters of references.

Francis started the process last September; three months before the application was due.

"The thing I was freaked out most about was the cost," she said, of the $3,500 tuition fee, plus airfare.

In addition to applying for admittance, Francis was also busy applying to local community organizations and businesses for sponsorship.

Chilliwack Children's Foundation, Chilliwack Optimist Club and School District 33 came through.

But what was it about this program that had her so enthralled?

Its reputation, she said.

Shad Valley is recognized by universities across Canada and is considered for university admissions and scholarship decisions. In fact, several universities have scholarships geared specifically for Shad Valley graduates.

At Shad Valley, Francis was able to network with like-minded students, alumni, top-rated university professors, and potential employers. She worked on a month-long project that focused on breaking down barriers for Canadian kids with disabilities, and included brainstorming, marketing, creating websites, developing business plans, prototypes and more. She also helped organize Shad Valley's annual multi-cultural event, with only a few days notice, and hardly any free time beyond meal times.

Not only did she expand her knowledge in engineering, she also learned new areas of science, including first-year university labs in robotics and forensics.

"It was definitely the best experience of my life," said Francis. "In school everything you do, most of the time, is for marks and grades. But at Shad, it's not, so it wasn't stressful, it was just fun. You were there to enjoy yourself."

And learn.

Every day participants were required to attend university style lectures. They weren't required to take notes, "but most of us had our notebooks with us," said Francis, giggling. "We probably looked really nerdy ... but we were all in the same boat."

Leaving Shad, Francis was even more solidified in her dreams of becoming an engineer and of one day building bridges.

"I really want to build bridges," she said, her eyes set on the region between Vancouver and Victoria.

"They hold so many cars, and go across water, and their structure ... I just think they're so cool, especially the curved ones and the suspension bridges. Actually, I guess I just really love them all."

She believes Shad Valley got her one step closer to fulfilling that dream.

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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