This is the 25th 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.
I first met Robert on May 23 last year at a symbolic passing of the torch at the Old Oak Bay High School Farewell Ceremony. Oak Bay High has four pillars that capture its culture: academics, athletics, fine arts, and community leadership and philanthropy. At the event an alumnus, signifying past success in one of Oak Bay’s pillars, was asked to say a few words about the foundation we received at Oak Bay High. I had the distinct honour and privilege of representing the academics pillar and passing the torch to Robert Lee.
I met Robert a second time on October 27, 2017 at the Grand Opening of the New Oak Bay High School. Now it was Robert’s turn to say a few words about Oak Bay’s academic pillar and what it meant to him. Upon hearing him speak, I knew that this articulate young man was destined for great things.
Robert was born in New Westminster, BC and moved to Victoria with his parents at a young age. He attended Willows Elementary, Monterey & Arbutus Middle Schools and Oak Bay High School, from where he graduated this past June with an exceptional record of academic achievement and community involvement. Robert loves learning and told us his favourite courses are “everything I took in school”. He also loves languages (he speaks a bit of French and Mandarin) and history, but acknowledges that he is more of a “science and math type”.
Highly successful in all his courses, Robert received Honours with Distinction (5.0 Grade Point Average) throughout high school. He has received awards in a wide range of subjects including Top Student in Science 9, Planning 10, Chemistry 11, English 11, French 11, Physics 11 and Mathematics 12. In 2014, the Greater Victoria School District Board of Education honoured him with a Recognition of Outstanding Achievement. His list of awards and achievements is long and impressive. They include winning the national 2014 Michael Smith Science Challenge (first among 1,753 participants) and the 2016 Oak Bay High School Kiwanis Citizenship and Service Award with Ruby Tang.
In the fall of his grade 12 year, Robert took a Computer Science course at the University of Victoria (in the UVic uStart Dual Credit Program) and received the top mark in the class — that’s a first year university class!
Outside of academics, Robert has also distinguished himself as a leader through various activities at school and in the community. In 2015, with the school’s Bowker Creek Student Group, he participated in an exchange trip to the Netherlands where the students analyzed water samples and plant distribution in Holland’s saltwater marshes and later in Bowker Creek. He led fundraising and successfully secured a grant from a local organization. From his teacher Derek Schrubsole we learned that upon returning from the Netherlands, Robert volunteered his time to assist with a different group of students who would later be attending the Water is Life conference. He assisted with editing, proofreading and formatting the Bowker Creek restoration project and the creation of the project website.
Other school involvement includes Student Council, Peer Tutoring, Project Leader for the Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock Campaign in 2015 and Leader in the Community Leadership Program since September 2015. Robert was Co-Leader of the school’s Reach for the Top Team that competed against Vancouver schools in April of 2016.
Robert was pleased to tell us about his work as Leader and Organizer of University of Victoria’s Senior’s Program, where students from his school and other local high schools volunteer their time to teach seniors computer skills. In this role, he created teaching materials, wrote news releases, recruited volunteers and seniors, solicited funding, managed Senior’s program inquiries, mentored volunteers, delegated responsibilities and delivered workshops. All this because Robert wanted to “give back” to his community and he loved working with seniors.
Since 2014, Robert has been a member of the City of Victoria Youth Council, engaging in several events each year, including Go Out and Vote (for the civic election in 2014) and the Employment Fair. In the latter he helped youth find resources to build their resume and practice interviewing skills. As a member of the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL) Teen Council, Robert participated in youth focus groups, was a Reading Buddy and a Tech Buddy and acted in an advisory capacity to the GVPL.
Robert has been inspired by many teachers, including his Physics teacher Mr. Simonson, Science teacher and Environment Club sponsor Mr. Shrubsole and Planning teacher Mr. Alexander, who helped him with scholarship applications. “He’s a kid who I think we will hear a lot more about in the future with his ideas and drive” says Mr. Alexander. Frankly, I suspect Robert has inspired many teachers as well!
Robert is one of only 25 recipients across Canada of the prestigious $80,000 Schulich Leader Scholarship in engineering. He’ll be taking up this scholarship at the University of Victoria where he hopes to eventually explore his passion regarding the electrification and automation of transportation, a field he sees himself working in sometime in the next decade.
At the end of our interview I asked him if he’d ever driven an electric car before. He hadn’t so I pulled out an N to put on the back of my Nissan Leaf and let Robert drive himself home with me as a passenger. Upon exiting the car he let me know that he is determined to convince his family to buy an electric vehicle!
Mr. Shrubsole gave us a fine example of Robert’s humility: during one of the Environment Club meetings, a fellow student came in congratulating Robert for winning the Schulich Leaders Scholarship. Robert, who had not said a word about it prior to this, simply smiled and indicated he was thankful for the amazing opportunity. “Robert is one of those students I felt honoured to work with, both in the classroom and out” says Mr. Shrubsole.
This summer, Robert will spend six weeks working at TRIUMF on the University of British Columbia campus, coincidentally the exact same place I had my first undergraduate summer job. He is a recipient of TRIUMF’s High School Fellowship Program that offers fellowships each year to graduating secondary students entering their first undergraduate year at a recognized post-secondary institution. The Fellowship includes an award of $3,000 and a six-week summer research experience at TRIUMF.
Robert is a brilliant young man who approaches life with great humility, scientific curiosity and a tremendous work ethic. He quietly goes about tackling challenges and accomplishing great things. We expect to hear much more about his accomplishments in the years to come. And while I thought that May 23, 2015 was the first time I met Robert, closer inspection of the image he provided us to the right from when he volunteered at UVic’s Science Venture shows that it obviously was not! My own son is seen sitting in the front row. And I guess that what’s we all love about Victoria, you are never more than one step of separation from any one in our community.