A passion for learning and a boundless energy for volunteering has opened up a world of opportunities for Saanich’s Ryan Totz. The graduating St. Michaels University School student is one of just three Canadian high school seniors to be selected for the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship.
Totz is among the 66 scholars selected out of the thousands of applicants from around the world. In addition to a full four-year scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Totz will have the opportunity to take part in summer experiences around the world in fields such as outdoor leadership, public service, in-depth research and private enterprise.
“The cool thing about the scholarship is that every summer they also have a fully paid-for summer enrichment program. This summer I’m going to go to Wyoming and do a wilderness emergency rescue course,” said Totz, who leaves for Wyoming at the end of June.
Totz selected the wildlife rescue course over other options that would have sent him backpacking in Alaska or kayaking in the Yukon, saying the wildlife rescue course fits in with his plans to study medicine in the future.
“These summer enrichment programs are supposed to give you an idea of what you might want to do after you graduate from school,” he said. “It might be something like teaching English in rural Cambodia, it can be something absolutely incredible. That’s one of the reasons I love the scholarship so much.”
Totz hopes to double-major while at North Carolina, considering a degree in medicine as well as economics and statistics. No matter which route Totz eventually does take, there’s no doubting the value of his education – the four-year scholarship to the University of North Carolina is worth more than $200,000 US.
“Probably the best thing about the scholarship isn’t even the financial flexibility of it, it’s the fact that you have an amazing alumni system,” said Totz, pointng to the more than 3,000 scholarship alumni. “One of the people who interviewed me, he is a past scholar and he’s the owner of X-Box. He just sent me an email after I learned about winning the scholarship. The networking is probably the most incredible part.”
That interview was the culmination of an extensive application process that Totz worked his way through over a several month period.
“The application was massive. It was two full essays and about three or four smaller paragraph responses and a whole bunch of different smaller sentences describing your community service, academics, leadership and athletics,” said Totz.
He was aided by his active involvement in the community. He volunteers for Community Living Victoria, working with the Victoria Opportunities for Community Youth Leadership as well as helping out at a Byte Camp teaching children with autism skills such as making computer games, music videos and claymation. He grew up playing hockey, before eventually switching over to focus on rowing with the Victoria City Rowing Club, recently being part of the varsity eight crew to bring the Brentwood Regatta title back to Canada after a decade’s absence. He still referees with minor hockey, and is the youngest lifeguard working at Saanich Commonwealth Pool.
“I couldn’t have completed the application without doing all the things I previously have done in my entire life,” he said.
Totz and the other scholarship finalists were invited to Chapel Hill for a tour of the school back in March. That visit happened to coincide with the UNC Tar Heels’ epic 76-72 win over Duke to lock up top seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the March Madness tournament.
“Everybody stormed this street called Franklin Street, all the students and teachers and people living in Chapel Hill.”
About a week later Totz learned the status of his application. He was in the midst of a physics test during his final class before spring break.
“I was writing a physics test and about halfway through my test my phone kept on buzzing and ringing. I was trying to ignore it, I was kind of embarrassed I forgot to turn it off.”
Knowing the school was scheduled to call that day, Totz couldn’t resist the temptation any longer, picking up the phone and learning that he had been accepted for the scholarship.
“I jumped up in the air and left the class to talk to my academic advisor, Ms. McCallum, she’s helped me out so much throughout the year with everything,” said Totz, who then tracked down the teachers who had written recommendations for him and thanked them.
“Then after school was done I went back to the physics class and finished my test.”
Alison McCallum, director of university counselling at St. Michaels, isn’t surprised by the success achieved by Totz.
“When you look at the criteria for the scholarship and the qualities they’re looking for, he exemplifies them,” she said.
McCallum worked with Totz in putting together his application for the scholarship, calling it a demanding process. “But Ryan just methodically worked through every step along the way.”
She said it’s that persistence that has been a strength for Totz during his years at St. Michaels.
“He wants to do all these things and wants to do each of them really well, whether it’s athletics or service to his community or academics. Everything he does he puts his absolute best effort in.”