Chamath Welihinda, a B.Sc. General student, has been awarded a McGraw-Hill Ryerson scholarship. Scholarship winners are recognized for integrity, engagement and initiative in the classroom.
In addition to academic and personal integrity, nominations for the McGraw-Hill Ryerson scholarship are evaluated based on the student’s classroom engagement and initiative. The scholarship review committee, a non-partisan board including educators and administrators from colleges and universities across Canada, reviews the applications. The committee looks for students who show respect and empathy for others, whose overall behaviour and participation have a positive impact on the classroom, and who draw upon the full array of learning resources available to them. To be eligible for the scholarship, each student must be nominated by a professor.
Inspired by Dr. Jayanne English’s first-year astronomy discussion group, Welihinda decided to create an Astronomy Club at the University of Manitoba open to all students on campus. Dr. English, his nominating professor, describes Welihinda's leadership style as, “thoughtful…about what an astronomy club might attempt to accomplish. As a demonstration of his integrity and respectful leadership approach, rather than dictating his perspective, he asked the club attendees to define the club in terms of activities and goals.”
The club’s regular gatherings sometimes included discussions with Dr. English, who guided the group in a workshop for the Hubble Hidden Treasures 2012 Image Processing Contest. Boldly venturing beyond the realm of the University, Welihinda, and Justin Crick, another club member, joined English in a public webcast on CosmoQuest to discuss astronomy images.
As club members continued to meet (discussing phenomenon like time travel around black holes), they formed study groups to help prepare for tests and exams, which improved students’ grades.
Welihinda explains: “Students in our astronomy class became more excited about the subject, and asked more questions in class. The class felt more cohesive and friendly.”
Dr. English noted the changes the group made to the class: “Even formerly shy students were asking questions and displaying enthusiasm for the course.”
Collaborating with the Department of Physics and Astronomy, club members participated in the very successful public viewing of the “Transit of Venus” event that hosted roughly 600 participants. They provided the public with telescopes for viewing on the deck of the new Ewen Observatory at University College, and they kept people in the line up happy with home-baked goods, physics demonstrations and songs.
Welihinda says of the club, “Participation is fluid, yet our first-year students feel that they have a home now. In addition, I’m pleased that the club I formed helped at least one member decide to become an astronomer."
Welihinda grew up and attended school in Brandon, MB. He has two older brothers with very disparate careers: one is a physician, the other, an opera singer. Both have been major influences in his life. As a student in Brandon, he was part of the choir and played roles in musical productions. Incidentally, his first introduction to university was when, as a high school student, he was invited to sing in the University of Brandon production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Gondoliers.
Despite his musical achievements (he taught himself guitar and piano), his heart is in the sciences, and he hopes to complete a physics/chemistry degree. In the meantime, he’s busy taking courses that drive his unquenchable curiosity.
He says, “I chose the University of Manitoba because of the broad range of courses that could satisfy my interests. Many of my peers attend university for a career. For me, it’s about knowledge: an education.”
To find out more about the Astronomy Club you can contact them by email or through their Facebook Group to find out more about their meetings and social activities Some observing sessions are being planned using the new telescope recently donated by Barbara Whittla.
In 2012, McGraw-Hill Ryerson offered 20 individuals $1,000 scholarships to any full-time undergraduate student currently studying at a college or university in Canada. More than 700 nominations for the scholarship were received.