This is the 21st in our series of stories celebrating the outstanding accomplishments of youth in our community. These inspirational young adults are enriching our lives with their passion and commitment to the betterment of society.
This past June Austin Sawyer was one of fifty Canadians awarded the prestigious $80,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship. In Austin’s case, it was his application of the scientific method that led him to rise to the top of the distinguished 2015 class of nominees. Austin joins Alysha Rose as the second Schulich Leader Scholarship winner we have highlighted in our celebrating youth in our community series. And this remarkable young man partnered with fellow Lambrick Park Secondary School student Vicki Kleu (another previously featured student in our series) in the development of method to improve the cleanup and retention of oil spills.
His partnership with Vicki was very productive as they shared complementary skill sets with Austin particularly loving the presentation and “making the pitch” component of the science fair competitions. Their project won them national recognition at the 2014 Canada Wide Science Fair and it played a pivotal role in the success of Austin’s Schulich nomination for students who want to study science, technology, engineering and math (academic disciplines known as STEM fields) at a Canadian university. Their science project, a reusable and biodegradable oil boom, won the pair a $500.00 cash prize as well as a Manning Innovation Achievement Award and the Senior Excellence Bronze medal.
Vicki and Austin’s invention of an inexpensive absorbent boom that picks up over 32ml of oil per gram of fibre was featured in Douglas Magazine earlier this year. And if you’re interested in further details about their impressive findings, check out their TedX Talk entitled A New Approach to Oil Spill Recovery. Austin and Vicki have recently been working with some oil companies to do further research and try to market the oil boom.
In 2015 Austin branched off on his own and once again qualified for the national science fair competition, after finishing third in the Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair for his innovative project aimed at developing low-cost solutions to increase the longevity of wood railroad ties. Janet Dawson, a grade eight student at Gordon Head Middle School also mentored by Cheryl Nigh, and coached by Austin, finished fifth and also qualified for the national competition. At the nationals, once again Austin made it to the podium winning won a bronze medal of excellence in the senior category. Janet Dawson for whom he served as a mentor and coach earned a silver medal of excellence in the junior category at nationals, along with wining top discovery project and top astronomy award.
Austin, now 18 years old, was born in Victoria and attended Torquay Elementary and Gordon Head Middle School prior to graduating from Lambrick Park Secondary this year. We were a little surprised to learn that he disliked science (and school in general) until Grade 8 when he was influenced and inspired by Cheryl Nigh, a talented science and math teacher at Gordon Head Middle School. It was Ms. Nigh who got him interested in science fairs. In Grade 8, Austin entered the regional science fair and ended up winning a Canada wide silver medal of excellence. And Austin has excelled academically ever since he arrived at Lambrick Park Secondary; he obtained a 5.0 GPA every year and a 92% average in Grade 12.
As might be expected, Austin was also involved in a number of extracurricular activities including the Leadership program and the Green Team at Lambrick Park Secondary, as well as its Student Council. He was elected as Vice President of the Student Council (after dressing up as the character Napolean Dynamite during the campaign) and during his tenure he had a liaison role between student council, Leadership and the student body. He loved the role and describes himself as “very social”.
To be nominated for the Schulich Award, Austin had to submit an essay to the Principal and Vice Principal of his school to explain “how being an all around student was more important than strictly grades”. Then he wrote an essay to the Schulich Board based on the following quote by David Suzuki about future and continued fossil fuel extraction: “We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they are going to sit”. Austin envisions a future “where the car is being driven away from the wall toward change and leaving the world a better place”.
In ten years, Austin would like to own a biomedical company and design prosthetics to help people with physical disabilities. In September, he will begin his studies at the University of Victoria in engineering, with a focus on chemical or biomedical engineering in the future.
Austin also excels in sports. He started playing soccer at age 8 and admits to being “very competitive”. He scored the winning goal in a shootout in Grade 11, while playing for his soccer club Saanich Fusion (Gold Level). He also ran track in Grade 9, 10 and 11, including relay and 100 metre events. In Grade 12, he was sidelined with an ankle injury and bone issue that required surgery. Back in form now, he likes to go running, hiking and play soccer for fun.
Austin has a job at Berwick House, a retirement residence in Victoria where he works with his brother in the kitchen. He enjoys interacting with the seniors and loves to hear their stories. He has been a volunteer in the community at marathons, at the Campus View elementary craft fair and as a mentor to younger students at the Science Fair. He loves mentoring students and brings his tremendous enthusiasm to the role.
This very well rounded young man has clear goals, an engaging personality and a brilliant future. Those young students he mentors in science fairs are fortunate indeed to know Austin.
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