A student at Charlottetown Rural High School learned recently that she has an unexpected source of funding to help pay for university.

Grade 12 student Kelly Sit says it was a "complete shock" to open her email and discover that she had won a $5,000-Horatio Alger Canadian Scholarship.

The funding, she said, helps to ease some of the stress she felt about the costs of books, tuition and housing. Sit's family immigrated to Canada seven years ago and had a significant financial burden after arriving from Hong Kong.

'Overcoming adversity'

In addition to financial need, the recipients of these scholarships "have demonstrated integrity and perseverance in overcoming adversity, a commitment to pursue a post-secondary education, a desire to contribute to society, and a good academic record," the Horatio Alger Association of Canada says on its website.

Eighty students in Canada received $5,000 from the association this year. An additional five students were awarded the $10,000 Horatio Alger National Entrepreneurial Scholarship.

Looking ahead, Sit says she wants to study biology and chemistry at the bachelor's level, and hopes to go on to study at medical school. She has applied to multiple undergraduate programs and is now waiting to hear back from the universities.

'My parents really wanted to bring us to a different place where there's less competition and more opportunities for growth and success.' - Kelly Sit

The main reason the Sits moved to Canada is because of the harsh and strict education system in Hong Kong, she said, adding that neither she nor her brother were doing well at school.

"My parents really wanted to bring us to a different place where there's less competition and more opportunities for growth and success," she said.

Sit was 10 years old when they arrived and couldn't speak English fluently. Communication was a challenge, as were adapting to a new environment and making friends, she said.

At the same time, Sit's mother was recovering from cancer. This was another source of stress for the family, in addition to their financial burden.

"Now, everyone is fine, we're great," Sit said, adding that their situation has improved over the years. "We're really happy to be here and my family's great."

Years of part-time work

Sit has worked part-time for several years, starting with a job at MacDonald's when she was 14.

She says balances her work with her studies by using good time management skills: she tries to finish school assignments on the day they're assigned. This also gives her more time for extracurricular activities and family time.

Sit does procrastinate, but even then, she sets time aside for it.

Asking for help

Initially, Sit says she struggled to manage everything, including adapting to life in a new country, working and going to school, and having a sick family member.

"I was kind of cloudy in terms of my direction," she said.

Fortunately, Sit, who attends church, received help from other members of the congregation.

"They actually offered me advice and helped me to develop this stronger character and not be held down by the problems, by the adversity that I'm facing, but really try to push myself forward through the barrier, through the obstacles and be successful," she said.

"When you have difficulty, I think it's best to seek advice from other people because sometimes it can offer you a possible solution instead of being confined to your problem," Sit continued. "You can really just step out of it if you just ask for help."

Shad summer program

Last summer, Sit participated in the Shad summer program.

For four weeks, she and her peers studied science, technology, engineering, art and math at Dalhousie University. Sit says she learned about these fields, including what it means to have a career in one. She also got to talk to and work with professionals.

"At the Shad program every year, we try to develop a product that could help solve or improve a global issue," she said.

The focus last summer was on food insecurity, and Sit was part of two groups that were trying to address the issue. One team made a gardening table.

"Our goal was to help educate urban children to understand better the process of food production," she said.

The second team focused on entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, and developed a cricket harvesting system.

Five Shad fellows won the Horatio Alger scholarships this year.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story reported that five students won Horatio Alger Canadian Scholarships. In fact, 80 students won the $5,000 award.
    Feb 06, 2017 2:21 PM AT
With files from Island Morning