Sept. 5, 2023
5-year Kennedy Scholarship awarded to Alberta students with powerful stories
Tanisha Mattapalli moved from India to Canada without knowing a word of English. Entering kindergarten in Calgary, she found that she didn’t have a voice. Throughout her school years, she worked hard to overcome the language barriers, immersing herself in her studies and dreaming of one day connecting the worlds of computer science and business.
After immigrating from South Africa at the age of 11, Samuel Ergando had to deal with massive cultural differences between Canada and his home country — everything from living non-communally to different expectations from school. With dreams of joining the world of finance when he grew up, he focused on academics to make it through his hardest years transitioning to a new country and way of life.
What Mattapalli and Ergando have in common? A wisdom beyond their years. As the recipients of this year’s inaugural Kennedy Scholarship, they’ll bring not only that wisdom but also an undeniable intelligence and drive to succeed to the University of Calgary.
The Kennedy Scholars Program offers two scholarships for students entering the UCalgary Faculty of Science Bachelor of Computer Science program, followed by a Master of Management from the Haskayne School of Business. In computer science, students learn from world-leading experts in areas like cybersecurity, software development, game design, human-computer interaction, AI, UX design and more. Combined with the Master of Management degree, scholars are ready to start a business, lead change in large corporations or not-for-profit organizations.
The full-ride scholarships are worth up to $200,000 combined and are awarded to two students every year. Business leader Paul Kennedy gifted $2.3 M for the program last year, making it one of the most prestigious in North America.
Using education to channel his energy
Sponsored by a pastor's family in Fort St. John, Ergando and his family moved to Alberta when he was 11 years old. His family dreamed of a better life in Canada. After moving around Alberta, they settled in Grand Prairie. Ergando, whose family’s origins are Ethiopian, says in some ways, Canada and South Africa are similar.
“South Africa is a rainbow nation, that’s what they call it. There’s different ethnicity and diversity, but one thing about South Africa is it’s still in that healing process from apartheid. Canada has its own history, but I feel like it’s a lot further along in terms of accepting other people for who they are and embracing diversity,” says Ergando.
Unlike his younger siblings, Ergando feels he preserved much of the mannerism and culture from South Africa. He says the biggest culture shock when he first arrived was moving away from communal society.
“People live here a lot more independently,” he says. “Everyone does their own thing. They go to work, come home, spend time with their family. Whereas in South Africa it’s a lot of communal living, parents discipline other parents' kids, it’s very different.”
The 18-year-old scholar sees the university campus as a good balance of independence and community. He believes communal living is when you feel most loved and accepted, but independent living leaves the most room for personal growth. He’s looking forward to moving to the city and into International House at UCalgary, where he’ll meet people from around the world.
Unlike many students entering the computer science field, Ergando was never too invested in video games or coding. His real passion lay in finance. Yet, he wanted to pursue that arena while still preserving his love for STEM.
“Computer science, in my eyes, is the vehicle for which I can pursue my passion for finance. We’re moving to this new information age and everything is going to be data. Data is a commodity now.
“With a computer science degree, I’ll be able to do a lot more in finance, whether it be working for a bank, or working for a hedge fund or even coming out with my own product.”
Ergando is proud of how he got to where he is today. He explains that when his life wasn’t the easiest, education was how he channeled his energy.
“I knew that if I tried hard enough, I’d be able to achieve qualifications and at the very least provide for my family, and hopefully live a happy life. That was my vehicle. That was the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.
As for the scholarship, Ergando attributes it to a mix of hard work, circumstance, and God’s grace. He says he feels “incredibly blessed” to be one of the two recipients and will work hard to reciprocate the massive trust that was placed in him.
Combining language with technology to connect the world
Mattapalli and her family immigrated to Canada shortly before she began kindergarten. She recalls those first few days of school when she didn't speak a word of English. Everything from the way people greeted each other to the way they dressed was different from India, but language was the biggest culture shock.
“In terms of culture, rules and regulations, weather, and living conditions, India and Canada are very different countries. My family didn't know anyone when they first arrived in Canada, but they were still able to create a wonderful life for me and my sister.”
Mattapalli’s positive outlook has brought her to great heights. Most recently, she made it to the national public speaking championships in all four categories: parliamentary debating, impromptu speaking, persuasive speaking, and interpretive reading.
“I started public speaking in Grade 8 and at the time, I wanted to try something fun. But after a while, I found myself becoming more comfortable in my own skin and my confidence increasing. I realized the power of words.”
Mattapalli’s hard work is found out of the spotlight, too. She believes in giving youth the technological skills they need to succeed.
"As much as I would like to give every child in this country the opportunity to learn about technology, it’s just not possible. Still, I teach children in my neighbourhood how to code in the hopes that I can make a small difference in their lives.”
Over the years, Mattapalli has completed advanced math and computer science courses and participated in math competitions. She finds beauty in solving complex problems.
“I love technology. I’ve always been fascinated by how things work. But I also love to persuade people. That’s why my dream is to connect the fields of business and computer science.”
When Mattapalli found out she was one of the two inaugural Kennedy scholars, she was stunned, honoured and grateful. By moving to Canada, her parents left the only life they had ever known. It was incredibly moving for Mattapalli to see what stemmed from their sacrifices.
"Receiving this scholarship is absolutely life changing. I definitely didn’t expect it. This scholarship acts as a catalyst for me to pursue my passions without any financial barriers and I’m so grateful to have been chosen.”