Ridge Report Writing and Photography Contest

This year, you can submit a short story, poetry piece, and/or photography connecting to one of three possible themes. Your options are "Hush", "Bang", and "Click". Be as creative as you want!

Entries will be accepted starting Monday May 1st 2017

The deadline for entering is Friday May 20th 2017

First place winners in each category (short story, photography, and poetry) will have their entry published on the Ridge Report website and will be awarded a prize.

Click on each category to submit and know about the rules and requirements.

Short Story

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

SHAD McMaster 2016

I've heard SHAD described in many ways. "Month-long program that teaches science and business". "Summer camp for bright students across Canada". "A taste of university life". While those basic definitions have a certain degree of accuracy, each one misses the core of what the program really is. SHAD is all of those definitions combined, and so much more.

Formerly known as SHAD Valley, this internationally renowned organization has been accepting some of the brightest students across the country (and other countries) since 1980 to attend a month long summer program at one of 12 host universities across Canada. During the month of July, these students live on campus 24/7 and have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and business, as well as join a vast, extensive network of SHAD alumni and establish lifelong friendships. However, aside from the academic side of the program, SHAD promotes a sense of community and family in each campus and nurtures positive personal growth in each individual.

Image result for mcmaster university logoThis year, five students from our school (Jessica Meng, Ryan Chen, Jennifer Kong, Gabriella Hu, and myself), as well as fourteen other students from Oakville, had the opportunity to take part in this program. I went to McMaster University, having heard much about the program from the media and friends who have attended in previous years, but still nervous and unsure of what my own experience would be like. I had heard some of the truly amazing things people attending have already done and coupled with an awareness of the rigor and intensity that awaited me, I was worried about how I would hold up throughout the month.

My fears were quickly cast aside by the very first day. The entire staff was very welcoming and the atmosphere was relaxed and easygoing as much of the day was spent engaging in icebreakers and easing into the program. Most of the students didn't know each other, but all of us were here to learn about each other and forge new connections. With such eager peers, it was easy to make friends right from day one and quickly become comfortable with the program. As we were settling in, the staff took us through many introductory activities, including a group musical performance that bolstered spirits and created a positive vibe throughout the group. However, I'd be lying if I said that the first day was just about breaking the ice. The end of the day marked the beginning of the personal growth and development that was to set in across the month as we each reflected on our journey up to that point. This established not only a sense of vulnerability and rawness that wouldn't appear in day to day conversations, but also a sense of intimacy and acceptance that I didn't think would come up on the first day. That was only the beginning.

The following month was a whirlwind. Every day was packed with activities and after 26 days, it became hard to keep track of them all. Lectures and workshops became the educational staples of most days, but each seminar was unique as they took us through different facets of innovation, business, and STEM. There was a clear distinction between sitting in class at school and being at a seminar at SHAD. At school, I've noticed many students simply try to absorb as much information as possible so that they can regurgitate it on a test to get good marks; at SHAD, without exception, each person was paying attention and learning not because there was an evaluation, but because we genuinely thought the content was interesting.

However, there was never the feeling that we were confined to a classroom for our educational learning. Throughout the four weeks, there were many times where we went on field studies or other outdoor activities to have a refreshing and more applied change in pace in our learning. Often, our outdoor activities were for more recreational purposes - the Altitude Tower is a good example of an exciting opportunity we had while we were at McMaster. There were many times where we left the campus for some different purpose. I don't want to discuss specific ones - partly because there were too many occasions to remember and pick from, partly because I don't want to spoil these experiences for future SHAD attendees - but each time was a valuable opportunity to enhance our appreciation of our community and lives.

Every day, we'd participate in some form of recreation, ranging from soccer to working out in the gym to track to Just Dance (easily my favorite way to spend rec). These daily chunks of time usually followed a workshop or lecture and preceded dinner, helping to keep up refreshed and active during our more rigorous sessions.
I wasn't wrong about the rigor and intensity of the program. We had many tasks to do, often with limited time and resources, but no task was an individual problem - everything was a team effort in some shape or form. I learned that in whatever endeavor you take on, the most valuable asset you can have is support and people you can rely on. This was demonstrated through many of the group projects we did, such as the committees who worked on various tasks from ordering SHAD apparel to delivering the daily news. Of course, I'd be remiss if I left out the Design Entrepreneurship (DE) project that rapidly became the outlet for most of our efforts throughout the months. Each year, SHAD has a theme that students address through a business they create in small groups of 8 people. This year, our theme was food insecurity throughout Canada and we were given 30 hours to establish a business that would alleviate this issue in a specific target group. This was no easy feat as we had to conduct research on the issue, identify a target group, create a product or service, iron out details to make the product/service feasible for the marketplace, write a full business plan, create a prototype, and prepare a presentation that would be judged by high level industry judges - all in the span of 30 hours. Sometimes, it was easy to forget that the DE project wasn't the main focus of SHAD. It was simply a valuable and rewarding facet of the teamwork and community mindset we were developing throughout the month.

Between our DE project, our committee work, the seminars, and the various activities we had each day, the program was definitely exhausting, but somehow in the intensity of it all, we were never more active nor more alive. In 26 days, we did so many amazing things, from creating a business to tackle food insecurity to performing at a Cancer Center to scaling an altitude tower. It was educational, enriching, and exhilarating at the same time. But what I'll miss most of all from this program is the people I spent the month with. Each person there is brilliant and talented in some unique way, be it through public speaking, science, technology, writing, musical performances, or making bad puns. I basically spent the month living with 55 geniuses, but at the end of the day, I could appreciate each person there as a real human being with their own hopes and insecurities. We formed many bonds and friendships through SHAD and we spent an amazing month experiencing university life, enhancing our aptitude in STEM and business, and pushing our limits. And most importantly, we did it together as a community. Because that's what SHAD's really about.

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