Schanze Sial had been expecting an email for a while. Months earlier she had applied for an internship run jointly by NASA and the University of Texas Center for Space Research.
But now, in the midst of a global pandemic, she figured the entire program was in jeopardy. So when she checked her email and saw a message from the University of Texas, she was expecting the news that it had been cancelled.
Instead, it started with ‘Congratulations! You are one of the lucky students that have been selected…’
“I yelled so loud my family got scared,” said the Grade 11 Bishop Reding student.
Close to 600 students had applied, but only nine per cent were selected for the program, which is shifting to an online model. Sial, who will be assigned to the astronomy team, will have the opportunity to work on projects with the university’s scientists and engineers using NASA research.
“I want to not only develop my skills, but also see how (computer science) plays a role in space and see how much, as a computer scientist, I can contribute,” she said.
When the program is complete, she and the other students will be invited to Houston to visit the Johnson Space Center, once it is able to reopen.
“I’m excited to see the space centre, but also to see the other interns,” she said. “That’s why I liked MIT. I still talk to my classmates and we’re friends.”
Last summer, Sial spent two weeks at a college-level programming course on algorithms and artificial intelligence at MIT in Boston with 10 other students from around the world. Sial was the only female student and said she would like to show what women, especially a Muslim woman, can accomplish in a male-dominated field.
Sial’s interest in computers and coding came from her days at Bruce Trail Public School.
“Our teachers (Andrew Skinner and Kanda George) brought an amazing environment into the classroom, and really encouraged us to be the best we can be,” she said.
At Bishop Reding, she entered the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program, which allows students to focus on courses to support a specific area of study — in her case, computer engineering. There, she said teachers Alfredo Berardi, Adam Guzy and Bruce Mazel have helped her expand her computer knowledge, teaching her to code and 3D print.
Though Sial chose and focused on a career path early, she has still made time for many other pursuits. She was captain of Bishop Reding’s junior girls basketball team and also played softball and volleyball for the Royals. She participated in the school’s Model UN. She got First Aid and High Five Certification, which she put to use as an extracurricular activities co-ordinator with the Town of Milton.
“I like to keep myself occupied,” said Sial, who turns 17 later this month. “I’ve always had a big passion for sports. I like to be involved in the community as much as I can, and I love volunteering.”
Her activities certainly aren’t getting in the way of her studies. Sial said it’s about having a plan for her day and making the best use of her time.
“Schanze was always such a determined and strong-willed student,” George said.
Sial is looking forward to making the most of the opportunity she has with the internship.
“Canada and Milton have helped me a lot so I want to represent my school, my town and Canada,” she said. “I want to make a difference in the world and discover as much as I can.”
And now that she’ll be working with NASA, even the sky is no longer the limit.