Arctic '07 participant wins 'Top 20 Under 20' award

Congratulations to BJ Bodnar, International Polar Year Arctic Youth Expedition 2007 participant, on recently winning a Youth in Motion ‘Top 20 Under 20’ award. The Globe and Mail ran a story yesterday highlighting the accomplishments of this year’s award winners:

The Top 20 Under 20 winners will meet their Order of Canada winners on June 4 in Toronto. (Yvonne Berg for The Globe and Mail) SOI Arctic ’07 Alum, BJ Bodnar, first row, on the left.

Top 20 Under 20 Awards
The domino effect: Inspiring young people
Order of Canada recipients will mentor students being recognized by Youth in Motion awards program

by Allison Dunfield

June 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM EDT

Young people honoured with this year’s Top 20 Under 20 awards are receiving more than a trip to Toronto, a week-long conference, and a $2,000 bursary.

Along with being recognized for their innovations in areas from technology to science to volunteerism, the young leaders honoured by Youth in Motion (YIM) will be paired with Order of Canada recipients who will act as their mentors for the coming year.

Organizers of the Top 20 program, now in its fifth year, say the involvement of celebrated Canadians such as entertainer Tom Jackson, child-rights activist Craig Kielburger, chemistry professor Margaret-Ann Armour and community leader Barbara Brink adds a new level of excitement and national pride to the event.

“This is the first year that our mentors are going to be Order of Canada mentors … I think it will be a very powerful partnership,” says Akela Peoples, founder and president of YIM, a Toronto-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to giving young people leadership and career-enriching opportunities.

The mentoring program is co-sponsored by the Governor-General’s office, which appoints Order of Canada recipients. “It makes sense to partner [with Rideau Hall] because we are like-minded in our interests in leadership development and mentoring,” Ms. Peoples says.

Rideau Hall also feels the program is a great match. “We have to build bridges between the generations so that they can enrich one another,” Governor-General Michaëlle Jean has said. “We need to introduce these young people to the role models who inspire them.”

Marni Schecter-Taylor, director of development and communications with YIM, describes the mentoring program as an opportunity for Order of Canada recipients to help the “emerging generation,” adding that some day, these young people may be recipients themselves.

The mentors and protégés will keep in touch with regular phone calls as well as via a secure area of the Citizen Voices website ( where they will be able to chat privately. They will also discuss their experiences on blogs, videos and forums on public areas of the site.

Tomorrow, Ms. Jean will host a discussion at the Design Exchange in Toronto between the mentors and protégés. The young people will meet their mentors later today, after being presented with their awards at a breakfast ceremony, the highlight of a five-day trip to the city for the winners which included workshops, seminars and a baseball game. “Plus, they get to mix and mingle with 19 other like-minded, passionate and innovative young people,” Ms. Peoples notes.

Students can either nominate themselves or be nominated by peers or teachers for the awards. Applicants must apply by Dec. 31 each year and be under the age of 20 on that date. (Information available online at

Winners are selected by a group of volunteer judges, made up of community leaders from a variety of fields across Canada who look at all aspects of the applicants’ skills and accomplishments, including initiative, communication and ingenuity.

“The requirement is that your leadership and innovation has led to the betterment of your school, community, province and/or country,” Ms. Peoples says.

The 2007 competition drew about 300 applicants from all corners of the country, she says. That was whittled down to 42 finalists who were interviewed by telephone by the judges, who then selected the 20 honorees.

Ms. Peoples says the Top 20 program is a strong reminder that there is much to be celebrated about today’s youth.

“All we have to do is turn on the TV or radio and we hear all the negativity associated with young people — cyber-bullying, guns, violence, disenchanted me generation,” she notes.

“Hopefully, Top 20 Under 20 is a domino effect about the good things. There are a lot of very talented, very positive young people that are doing just incredible things.”


Natalya Alonso, 17, Salt Spring Island, B.C.: When she was 16, Natalya Alonso became involved with programs that encouraged teenagers to look at instances of sexism, homophobia and racism in their school and community. In the sessions, she noticed the similarity of concerns among younger girls about their body image and sexual and social behaviour. So she developed the Big Buddies Program, which connects at-risk girls in the small community of Salt Spring Island with mentors who help them make the sometimes difficult transition from middle school to high school. Vancouver-born Natalya attends Gulf Islands Secondary School and hopes to study at Queen’s University. She is interested in a career as an economic development officer or international marketing specialist.

Prashanthi Baskaran, 17, Ottawa: Prashanthi Baskaran, head girl and Grade 12 student at Ottawa’s Elmwood School, knows what she wants to do in life: pursue a career in medicine and scientific research. She already has a notable research project under way. It began when her uncle was diagnosed with atherosclerosis, a form of heart disease that afflicts more than 500,000 Canadians and is predominant in the Indo-Asian population. For the past two summers, she has been conducting research at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute into the links between atherosclerosis and gingivitis, which offer potential for early-stage detection of the disease. The Ottawa native has twice won earned several honours for her work, including twice winning the Linda Beynon Award for Biomedical Research from the National Research Council of Canada. She will attend the University of Ottawa in the fall to study biochemistry.

Mark Blackwell, 19, Calgary: Mark Blackwell, an energy management student in University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, is president and founder of the school’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy Students’ Association. The group is dedicated to raising awareness about sustainable energy and in the past two years he has led two major projects to that end.

First, the Calgary native assembled a group of students to design and build a solar-powered house. The group raised more than $300,000 for the project and assembled a team of more than 100 students and faculty from Calgary’s four postsecondary schools. The prefabricated house heads to Washington D.C. next year for an international competition. The second project is the Students’ World Energy Congress, to be held in Calgary in the fall of 2009; he has raised $50,000 for the project and partnered with the World Petroleum Council and the World Energy Council for what will be the first international student energy conference. Not surprisingly, he aims to become an entrepreneur or energy analyst.

BobbyJo Bodnar, 18, Casa Rio, Sask.: BJ Bodnar has devoted his teen years to environmental and agricultural issues, and three years ago, as Saskatchewan was launching its Green Strategy, became the youngest member of the province’s youth advisory committee. In addition to offering ideas on environmental and agricultural issues, he travelled across the province to speak at various events.

“I would, definitely, love to be involved in politics some day,” says Mr. Bodnar, who grew up on a farm near Saskatoon and is now a political science student at the University of Saskatchewan. “I think it provides an incredible opportunity to influence people and is the best way to make a difference in a big way.”

Last year, he won a $5,000 scholarship given by Toyota Canada and Earth Day Canada, as well as the National Outstanding Environmental Achievement award given by the two organizations. He received an additional $5,000, a laptop computer, and a two-week trip to the Canadian High Arctic with Students on Ice, a group of scientists, environmentalists and polar experts who take high school students from around the world for educational trips to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Jerri Clout, 15, North Bay: Jerri Clout, born and raised in North Bay, decided early on that it is important for children need to learn more about HIV/AIDS. So she joined Patrick4Life, a not-for-profit group formed after a local North Bay youth who contracted AIDS through tainted blood transfusions. Jerri, a student at West Ferris Secondary School, was co-chair of the group’s first annual Run/Walk4Patrick, which raised $46,000. She also formed Youth4Youth, which encourages teenagers to become involved in HIV/AIDS issues. At 13, she was invited to the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto, where she delivered greetings to delegates on behalf of all Canadian youth. She hopes to study at the University of Toronto and become a medical researcher.

Chrissy Crowley, 17, Margaree Forks, N.S.: Six years ago, Chrissy Crowley picked up an old violin that had been stored for years in her family’s home and started playing. Now she is quickly gaining recognition as one of Cape Breton’s bright new stars in Celtic music, performing at venues across the country and abroad. “There are a lot of fiddlers in Cape Breton who are so generous and willing to help, especially when they see young people who are interested in learning to play,” she says. “It made me realize that this region may be struggling economically, but we so rich in Celtic culture.”

Last year, she released her first self-titled CD, and was nominated in the Canadian Folk Music Awards’ Young Performer of the Year category. She is now studying history and political science at the University of King’s College in Halifax and hopes to land a full-time job with the province’s tourism department to promote Cape Breton culture. “Although I love playing the fiddle and recording CDs, I have this higher goal of using culture to create economic stability in Cape Breton,” she says. “Our music is what makes us unique, and we have to do everything we can to preserve it and promote it.”

Cassandra Fong, 17, Vancouver: Vancouver-born Cassandra Fong felt so strongly about injustices she observed in her community — the troubled Downtown Eastside — that she went to work to develop a “gut feeling” lie detector test to help improve the criminal justice system. Her research project found that measurable electrical activity in people’s stomachs can be linked to whether they are telling a lie, and earned her a spot as a finalist at the 2007 Canada Wide Science Fair. Ms. Fong, who attends Britannia Secondary School, is now working with law professors and Vancouver police to find ways to implement her research. She intends to study at the University of Western Ontario, and hopes to become an international human rights lawyer.

David Godri, 18, Toronto: Two summers ago, Torontonian David Godri threw himself into research on renewable energy and came up with a 15-page proposal on how his school, William Lyon MacKenzie Collegiate Institute, could reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. The initiative, dubbed SWITCH (Solar and Wind Initiatives Towards Change), has become a youth movement advocating for sustainable energy generation, drawing support from people like environmental activist David Suzuki. Now a student at the University of Toronto, he hopes to become a civil environmental engineer. And his SWITCH efforts are paying off: thanks to a $250,000 grant from the Ontario government, his high school will install 75 solar panels next fall.

Benjamin Gulak, 18, Milton, Ont.: While visiting China’s densely populated, grid-locked, smog-filled cities in 2006, Benjamin Gulak saw a pressing need for an environmentally friendly, fun-to-ride vehicle to get young urbanites to give up conventional vehicles. He came up with the Uno, which offers the intuitive brain of a Segway-like vehicle, the compactness of a unicycle and the appeal of a street racing motorbike in a frame powered by electric motors with rechargeable batteries.

In 2007, the Uno went to the Intel International Science Fair, where it won a second-place Grand Award and also Inventors and Innovators Award for a project with the greatest commercial promise. Mr. Gulak, who attends Chisholm Collegiate in Oakville, aims to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an eye to becoming an inventor/engineer.

Aaron Hakim, 16, Mississauga: Aaron Hakim first saw the devastating effects of neurodegenerative diseases when he worked as a volunteer in a nursing home. The Mississauga teenager developed friendships with several senior citizens afflicted with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and was driven to look for ways to help.

In the summer of 2006 he began research — which involved long hours after school at a University of Toronto lab — that found that a number of categories of genes change significantly in fruit flies afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, as opposed to the normal fly, “so these genes may tell us something about what is happening on the molecular level of the disease.” He says the genes are helpful in discovering how Parkinson’s works and may also assist physicians in finding the right drugs that will allow them to turn genes on and off. “It’s way off in the future, but it’s a starting point.”

Last year, he was the only high-school student to present research work at the Canadian Genetics Society conference. His work also won a second place award in cellular molecular biology at the 2007 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in New Mexico. Now a Grade 11 student at Appleby College in Oakville, he thinks he will go into medicine or medical research and is considering the University of Toronto and McMaster University to pursue his studies. “My ultimate goal is just to make an impact on medicine and health.”

Sean Husband, 17, Vancouver: An internationally ranked debater, Sean Husband has competed at the Senior Canadian Championships and International Independent Schools Competition. In 2007, he won the UBC High School Debate championship and the Canadian High School Debate Championship. A Grade 12 student at West Point Grey Academy, the Vancouver native founded the school’s Global Awareness Club, which increases awareness and activism on issues of poverty and human rights. With wide-ranging career interests in film, politics and law, he will head to McGill University next fall.

Aleema Jamal, 17, Calgary: As a Grade 11 student at Calgary’s Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School, Aleema Jamal wanted had an idea about how to help disadvantaged African students using use computer technology. After winning the support of school administrators, she led a 16-month effort to provide computers and training for students and teachers at a school in Kenya. Her group raised more than $20,000 and obtained 12 computers and other materials for the project.

They were poised to take them to Kenya in March, 2007, but political unrest broke out and the trip had to be cancelled and donations returned. Undeterred, Ms. Jamal and a private team later raised new funds and materials and made the trip independently. The Calgary native is now in her first year at Stanford University in California, aiming for a career in international relations or law.

Taddes Korris, 18, Edmonton: When he was in Grade 6, Taddes Korris invented a comic book character that delighted his friends. Sensing an opportunity, he made 1,000 pins based on the character, sold them for $1 each, and donated the proceeds to a cancer charity in honour of his grandfather. Now a music student at McGill University, he continues his innovative thinking. His most impressive project is a recording of an orchestral score by a Lithuanian composer who died in 1911 and whose works nearly disappeared during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

With financing from the Alberta government, and while still a student at Edmonton’s Archbishop MacDonald High School, Mr. Korris organized a group of 66 young Albertans to record the piece, which was submitted for consideration for a 2008 Juno Award. Now studying music performance in double bass at McGill, the Edmonton native hopes to attend the Juilliard School of Musicand aims to become a classical musician or conductor.

Jacqueline Ng, 17, Vancouver: When Jacqueline Ng was 13, she and her family went to China to meet the family of children they sponsored under a World Vision program. The visit turned the Vancouver student into a strong advocate for the world’s needy children; she has since led several fundraising initiatives, including one that drew more than 400 people to a Vancouver gala dinner and raised more than $78,000 for World Vision. Ms. Ng, a Grade 12 student at Crofton House School, heads to McGill University in the fall to study management. She is interested in a career in public relations or broadcast journalism.

Scott Oldford, 16 Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld.: Since childhood, Scott Oldford has wanted to run his own business. At age nine, he bought laying hens and started his first venture, Scott’s Farm; at 11, he made his first dollar from the Web, doing programming. Last year, with the help of a mentor and the provincial Youth Ventures Program, the Grand Falls-Windsor native incorporated his business, Essential Coding, which enables companies to establish a presence on the Web. He won the provincial Venture of the Year and Excellence in Technology awards in 2007, as well as a regional Small Business of the Year award. A student at Exploits Valley High School, he intends to go on to university and become an entrepreneur.

Laxmi Parthasarathy, 19, Toronto: After her first year as a student at Ottawa’s Carleton University, Laxmi Parthasarathy returned home to Toronto with a view to doing something positive for and with young people in her Malvern neighbourhood. She gathered a team of high-school and university students to create MY ROOTS (Malvern Youth — Recognizing Our Opportunities to Succeed), a group that stages community events and publishes a quarterly newspaper.

As its editor, she formed a partnership with Toronto school boards to deliver more than 5,000 copies of the paper to 40 locations, and she raised money to cover printing costs. To cover printing costs, she raised money from various companies and foundations. She is now entering her third year at Carleton, studying communications and political science, and aims for a career in journalism or international development.

Bilaal Rajan, 11, Richmond Hill, Ont.: Bilaal Rajan isn’t even into his teens but he’s already an old hand at charitable fundraising, an author, motivational speaker and founder of a website, Hands for Help, dedicated to raising awareness about children in need. At age four, he sold oranges and raised $350 to help earthquake victims in India; at eight, the Toronto native raised $50,000 for victims of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.

He has also raised money for hurricane victims in Haiti and AIDS orphans in Africa. In 2005, he became a UNICEF Canada Child Representative and now travels across Canada and internationally spreading the message about helping needy children around the world. A student at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ont., Bilaal hopes to become a physician or surgeon.

Sundeep Randhawa, 17, Edmonton: Sundeep Randhawa was just 14 when he was inspired by a dream to raise funds for the devastated region of Darfur, Sudan. Despite facing hurdles in registering the not-for-profit Dream for Darfur Society, mostly because of his age, the Edmonton native’s perseverance paid off, leading to fundraising initiatives that raised more than $30,000. A Grade 12 student at Old Scona Academic High School, he plans to study law at the University of British Columbia and hopes to become a corporate lawyer.

Nikhita Singh, 16, London, Ont.: Billions of tonnes of pesticides are used around the world every year, and nearly half the pesticide applied to a plant runs off quickly after application, contaminating soil and water and destroying terrestrial and aquatic life. Nikhita Singh, a Grade 11 student at A.B. Lucas Secondary School in London, Ont., decided to tackle the problem with a science project. Her research demonstrated that the wastage could be reduced by up to 90 per cent, using simple scientific methods. Her project was showcased at a regional science fair, where she won a first-place award and the Pfizer Award of Excellence. She also won a Third Place Grand Award at the 2007 Intel International Science Fair in New Mexico, which drew 1,500 entries. A native of Chandigarh, India, she hopes to become a surgeon or medical researcher.

Adam Wheeler, 18, Toronto: Volunteering has helped to shape Adam Wheeler. One of the Toronto native’s most significant initiatives is Breaking Down the Barriers, a week-long series of student workshops on issues such as discrimination, poverty and prejudice. Started in 2006, the annual program drew more than 600 teens last year. He also co-ordinated a mock student vote in 2006 to coincide with municipal elections, encouraging young people to make informed political choices; and developed a monthly “open mike” night for teens at a public library. A graduate of Oakwood Collegiate Institute, he recently completed a co-op placement with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. He will attend McGill University in the fall and aims to become a lawyer or social worker.

See The Globe and Mail story here

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