Sharing the impact of your philanthropy

Student scholar driven to break down barriers

Erin Sargeant GreenwoodThe University of Waterloo is home to some of the most talented and driven students in the world. Like Aidan McKay, almost half of our new undergraduates have an entrance average of more than 90 per cent. They come to Waterloo because they’re looking for an exceptional education that will both challenge them and prepare them to meet the challenges of the world.

We bring you stories like Aidan’s to share how your philanthropy provides a rewarding university experience filled with opportunities for academic and personal growth. Your generous support of faculty priorities, scholarships, international volunteer experiences, co-operative learning and other important initiatives not only encourages more female students like Aidan to enter STEM programs, but helps position all of our students for success. Their energy and passion are testament to your generous spirit.

I offer my deepest appreciation for another impactful year across our campuses. In all, 8,792 donors contributed $43.8 million to the University, and our alumni contributed more than 7,300 volunteer hours on campus, online and around the world. Thank you for your philanthropic gifts of time, talent and financial support and for all the ways you stay connected to Waterloo.

Erin Sargeant Greenwood, CFRE
Interim Vice-President, Advancement

Aidan McKay is accustomed to overcoming challenges.

“When you start life with a boy’s name, you learn pretty quickly about gender bias, especially when you get to school and discover you’re really good at math.”

In her high school math courses, most of Aidan’s classmates were boys. “My teachers didn’t treat the girls any differently, but it was obvious that we were way outnumbered.” In her final year, she attended the International Summer School for Young Physicists (ISSYP), run by Perimeter Institute. At 15, Aidan was the youngest in the group, but felt encouraged by the significant number of girls in the program. “From an early age, we keep hearing how boys are better than girls at math. Had I not been exposed to those exceptionally talented and ambitious female students at ISSYP, I may not have decided to pursue a math degree.”

Buoyed also by a Governor General’s Academic Bronze Medal (awarded to the student graduating with the highest average from a high school), Aidan entered the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics with a 99 per cent average. “I chose Waterloo based on the Faculty’s reputation and the availability of co-op, which was important, as I was planning on going into accounting and would need work experience to get my Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation.”

Because of her outstanding academic record, Aidan received the President’s Scholarship of Distinction and the President’s International Experience Award. Thanks to the latter, she was able to travel to Nicaragua where she helped build a school library. She cites the experience as one of the highlights of her time at Waterloo.

Now in her fourth year, Aidan is working toward her Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation. Co-op work terms are helping her to accrue the months of work experience she needs. “I’ve been lucky that I applied to and received offers from the top accounting firms.” Her first two co-op terms were spent at Deloitte, where she’ll return for an eight-month stint that will focus on the tax implications of corporate restructuring.

Over the four years, Aidan has maintained a 94 per cent average. The achievement has earned her a total of six scholarships to date. “Tuition for professional programs, plus books, is a significant burden, and my academic and career path would not be possible without scholarships and co-op. I’m very proud of the fact that I haven’t had to ask my parents for help and that I don’t have any student debt. Ultimately, I have Waterloo donors to thank for that. Their support has truly given me the freedom to excel.”

Aidan’s laser focus on achieving top marks doesn’t preclude her from pursuing another passion — helping new students navigate the transition from high school to university. She’s been both an orientation week leader and a peer mentor. “New students need the support of someone who has been through the same challenges and understands how scary and stressful the experience can be, from being away from home for the first time, to dealing with the pressures of course load and finances, to making new friends.”

Aidan has also been involved with the student mentorship program at Deloitte where she helped other Waterloo students with the recruitment process and how to achieve school/work/life balance. Back on campus, she’s also a tutorial leader with Students Offering Support (SOS), and a volunteer member of the finance committee for Hack the North.

What’s next for this exceptional student? “I hope to graduate in 2017, and I’ll likely come back to Waterloo for my Masters of Accounting (MAcc). Then I’ll write my Common Final Examination, and after more work experience, I’ll qualify for my CPA.”

Reflecting back on her educational journey, Aidan hopes she has, in some small way, made it easier for the next cohort of female students.

“The gender roles that society has long associated with certain disciplines are antiquated and unnecessary constructs. I have faced and will continue to face barriers, but I will keep proving those who doubt me (based on my gender) wrong. I am determined to show that women can and do excel in STEM disciplines.”

AIDAN MCKAY, fourth-year student in the Mathematics/Chartered Professional Accountancy (CPA) program

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