This year’s winner of the Lionel High School Scholarship proudly flaunts her passion for chemistry and all that it implies.
“I have been a science nerd since the dawn of time,” says Emma Pflanz, who recalls making it to the all-school finals of a science fair competition with her Grade 4 entry about how the left and right halves of the brain work. “I always had a dozen questions for my science teachers and I was a little bit annoying but I think it’s paid off.”
Indeed it has. The 17-year-old has just graduated from Semiahmoo Secondary School in South Surrey, BC and will be starting an undergraduate program in sciences at the University of British Columbia this fall. Doing so will be significantly less financially stressful because of the Lionel Scholarship, which will provide up to $4,000 annually for every year that she is enrolled in a chemistry, biochemistry, or chemical engineering program.
“Everyone told me to apply for this because I loved chemistry so much, but I didn’t expect to get it,” she says. “After all, I’m just some random nerd. But when I found out I got it I was crying with my mom.”
Such support opens an important door to an institution that would allow her to expand her educational horizons as far as possible, she explains. “UBC has that network of people and I knew it was right for me, but I probably would have had $80,000 in student debt before med school.”
Emma’s medical ambitions stem from a fascination with neuroscience, and neurochemistry in particular. This interest has been complemented by her activities in the Vancouver Métis Community Association, where she has learned a great deal about the factors responsible for different forms of addiction and substance abuse. Ideally she would like to become a psychiatrist specializing in these problems, but she is open to other options.
“Whatever I end up doing, I just want to help people,” she says, a goal she already pursues as an employee at a local stable where she helps disabled children learn to ride horses. The COVID pandemic has suspended this part of the job, but the animals still need exercising and that responsibility now falls to Emma. “This summer I’m living my dream job of just riding horses all day.”
The Lionel Scholarship was created by CIC in 2016 in collaboration with Trudy Lionel, a benefactor who had retired from her own successful career in the chemical sciences. Her satisfying experience in that field inspired her to nurture that same dedication in students by providing them with practical assistance. Emma, for her part, was already well on her way to finding such inspiration.
“Chemistry is what really clicked with me,” she says, noting that she tore through textbooks and completed all the exercises long before teachers had reached that point in the curriculum. She found bench work to be just as enjoyable and was dubbed the “titration queen” by students eager to partner with her during any experiments that were being done in class. “I always have the lightest pink titration,” she observes.
Emma also got a glimpse of how those skills translate into medical science when she took an internship last year at the Centre for Drug Research and Development, one of the country’s leading facilities in this field. She spent a week there immersed in new innovations around chemotherapy that takes advantage of the immune system’s own biochemistry, which she later described for her fellow students in a class presentation.
“I got a taste of what my career could look like,” she says. “Brains, chemistry, everything I want.”