Toronto: GTA top scholars: Meet the brainy bunch

A profile of the top students from around Greater Toronto.

Toronto Star   2014/08/23

GTA top scholars: Meet the brainy bunch     PHOTO COURTESY OF NATISA JEYAKANTHAN   Natisa Jeyakanthan is a top student in the Durham District School Board.

Meet the brainy bunch. The top graduating students at each board across Greater Toronto share the secrets to their success, as well as some personal insights and what they do outside of school:

  • Durham public

Natisa Jeyakanthan, J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate

Average: 98.83

Favourite subject: Physics. “I like how it’s challenging and rewarding at the same time. I like how it has a lot of applications to the real world.”

Fun fact: Was the first student to receive top student award at her school in Grade 8. The second? Her sister.

Secret to success: “I like having a part-time job (during the school year) because it makes me more focused. I have a schedule and a certain amount of time to do things.”

This fall: Waterloo, biomedical engineering

Nick Lee, Sinclair SS

Average: 98.83

Favourite subject: Calculus. “I loved the teacher. She helped me with all the problems and when I wanted to do things outside the curriculum, she helped me understand those, too.”

Academic drive: “My parents really got me into that; they’ve always been pushing me that when you have to work, you put your nose down and you focus on it.”

Fun fact: Spends a lot of time watching sports. “I’ll watch anything on TSN or Sportsnet — anything. I spend my free time following teams quite avidly.”

This fall: Waterloo, mathematics

Durham Catholic

  • Jessica Pulito, Msgr. Paul Dwyer

Average: 98.3

Academic drive: “I’ve always wanted to do really well.”

Extracurricular: Has played competitive soccer since Grade 6, now for the Oshawa Kicks Hurricanes. Was also on her school team and assisted with the younger team, too.

Fun fact: “I’m a really big procrastinator … my friend stays on top of me to get things done. School is really the only thing I do get on top of — I’m pretty forgetful about everything else.”

This fall: Western, business

  • Halton public

Linda Fei, Abbey Park

Average: 99.33

Favourite subject: Advanced placement calculus. “I had one of the best teachers I’ve ever had; it felt like our class was one big family and everyone worked together to tackle the challenge of the AP exam. Our teacher even gave us a pizza party after the exam.”

Secret to success: “I find that I spend a lot of time planning what I do before I do it. When I have spare time, I go over stuff in my mind, thinking of my schedule for the next week, then I compartmentalize my time throughout the days.”

This fall: Western, medical sciences and business administration

  • Halton Catholic

Nicole Kim, Holy Trinity

Average: 98.83

Favourite subject: “I took music, the (Grade 12) course is called ‘repertoire,’ and I took instrumental in Grade 9 when I picked up the alto sax. All throughout my four years I was heavily involved with bands and choir.”

Fun fact: “I am a pretty big video game player, mostly adventure-type games, mystery games — generally games where you are not shooting things up.”

Homework overload: “Because Grade 12 was so full of math and science, I’d probably be doing three to four hours a night, it was pretty brutal.”

This fall: McMaster, health sciences

  • Peel public

Hamdan Chaudhry, Turner Fenton

Average: 100

Academic drive: “It would mainly be support from my parents and teachers to try and get me to excel in school. They shaped me and made me a more studious student.”

Extracurricular: Volunteers at Credit Valley Conservation doing tree planting, invasive species monitoring and monitoring fish species.

This fall: Waterloo, mechatronics engineering

Imran Ladak, Turner Fenton

Average: 100

Extracurriculars: Amnesty International club, piano and theory lessons, math tutor, volunteered at local mosque

Secret to success: “Turner Fenton is lucky to have such an amazing and diverse range of teachers who are committed to students and committed to the courses they teach.”

This fall: U of T, life sciences

Padmaja Sreeram, Turner Fenton

Average: 100

Secret to success: Support from family, but also friends. “They just say they are really lucky to have someone like me in their lives, not in terms of academics but also because I’m always there to listen. That trait also helps in class.”

Fun fact: Is five feet tall and played for the school basketball team. “It’s not hard; obviously I’m better at dribbling so I play more point guard than shooting guard. Speed also matters.”

This fall: McMaster, health sciences

  • Dufferin-Peel Catholic

Stella Lau, St. Francis Xavier

Average: 99.33

Secret to success: “I’m interested in many things outside of school … when you know more about a subject, even if it’s not in the curriculum, you are better able to understand and appreciate the concepts introduced in school.”

Fun facts: “I have a fond affection for bathrobes, fish, and the number 42. And I think I’ve never watched a Disney movie.”

This fall: computer science, University of Cambridge (U.K.)

  • Toronto public

Justin Li, Marc Garneau

Average: 99.8

Secret to success: Doing his own research outside of school, and no TV. “I was more interested in the subjects I was learning in school, so I used my time to explore that as opposed to watching TV.”

Fun fact: Spending the summer as part of U of T’s AeroVelo team creating the world’s fastest human-powered speed bike. Also wrote two novels (50,000 words each) as part of National Novel Writing Month in Grades 10 and 11, and helped novel-writers in Grade 12. In his free time — on the bus or in between classes — he jots down story ideas.

This fall: Waterloo, software engineering

  • Toronto Catholic

Miina Balasubramaniam, Bishop Allen

Average: 100

Favourite subject: “Psychology — it addresses a lot of the everyday things people think about but never get to research or completely understand.”

Top marks: “I’m so happy about it. You hear the news but it takes awhile to sink in. It’s great that I’m able to share it (with Marta and Therese), we always help each other out.”

Fun fact: A good student since kindergarten. “It’s so rewarding to do well at school — you see immediate results.”

This fall: U of T, life sciences

Marta Skreta, Bishop Allen

Average: 100

Favourite subjects: Chemistry, photography. “I took a film photography course where we took images on a film camera and had a darkroom and developed them.”

Secret to success: “I had one defining moment: In Grade 6, I got a few Cs on tests and I even got a D on a French test. In Grade 7, I realized that if I tried hard, I could do well, and that’s the kind of attitude I’ve maintained.”

Fun fact: “I spend too much time on Facebook. If I cut out social media, I’d be going to bed a lot earlier.”

This fall: McMaster, chemical and physical sciences

Therese Koch, Bishop Allen

Average: 100

Fun fact: Took part in school’s neuroscience club, meeting weekly and presenting on topics in neuroscience preparing for U of T’s “Brain Bee.”

Fun fact: Last fall, taught herself how to knit using online videos. “The first thing I made was a plain scarf — one colour, it was not great. But since then I’ve made toques and mitts and I can do multiple colours and cables now. I would take a break from school work … and knit while watching TV.”

This fall: McGill, life sciences

  • York public

Justin Lim, Newmarket HS

Average: 99.5

Favourite subject: Chemistry. “It ties a lot of the things in our world together and explains many of the crazy phenomenons in our world.”

Least favourite: Geography. “It’s as boring as learning about rocks. Oh wait … you are learning about rocks.”

Free time: Volunteered 550 hours during the year at Southlake Regional Hospital in the emergency room, as a trainer among other things.

Fun facts: “I know the lyrics to every single Taylor Swift and John Mayer song.”

This fall: Queen’s, science

  • York Catholic

Jason Manson-Hing, St. Brother Andre

Average: 99.67

Hobby: Photography. “Whenever I get the chance, I try to go out and take pictures. I actually did a small shoot for one of my friend’s companies.”

Secret to success: “Coming from (Advanced Placement, an enrichment program), we were a really tight-knit group of people. We grew up together, growing spiritually and we always knew what each other was going through academically, how hard the course load was, and we never wanted to see each other fall down.”

This fall: Waterloo, systems design engineering

Other top scholars in the GTA:

Peel public: Victoria Liu, Richa John and Maham Khalid, Turner Fenton, 100 per cent

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