Generation next: Congram, Krammer named 2014 Schulich Leaders

By Paul Mayne
September 04, 2014

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SCHULICH_congramPaul Mayne // Western News

The kids at Camp Kintail in Goderich simply know him by his nickname Aragorn, the fictional Ranger from the North in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings triology. But at Western this fall, Ben Congram entered the Faculty of Engineering under a different title – Schulich Leader Scholar.

The Stratford, Ont., native, who graduated from Stratford Northwestern Secondary School, landed at Western as a much sought-after student. Congram was offered scholarships to attend the University of Waterloo ($15,000) and Queen’s University ($36,000), but accepted the Schulich scholarship, which will see him receive $80,000 over his four years at Western.

Schulich Leader Scholarships are awarded to high school students intending to enrol in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) areas of study. Forty students are selected from across the country, two for each participating university. Saskatchewan native Mark Krammer entered the Faculty of Science this fall as Western’s other Schulich Leader Scholar.

“When I first got off the phone, after I heard about this, my dad asked what the phone call was about,” Congram said. “I said, ‘I think I just won a scholarship.’ I was shocked. It took a few days to really sink in what had happened.”

What shocked Congram didn’t surprise others.

Stratford Northwestern principal Martin Ritsma jokingly said he’d do anything to keep Congram in his school.

“When you look at Ben, you’re looking at a total student,” Ritsma said. “He does it all and he does it with such grace and humility, it’s absolutely frightening. It’s a tribute to Ben, his family and our school. This young man has graced our school for four years and made it a better place.”

Congram’s list of accomplishments runs the gamut of academic, athletics and extracurricular activities. He achieved a 99.2 per cent average in his Grade 12 courses, including 100 per cent in physics, calculus and functions; won three Cooper-Standard Awards for excellence in business, science and mathematics; and received the Evelyn Johnston Scholarship for Mathematics.

Last year, he won the 2013 Canadian Senior Mathematics Contest, placing 14th in the world out of almost 8,000 contestants.

Outside the classroom, Congram is an accomplished Nordic skier, competing in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) Championships, was a member of his school’s track and field team and worked at his school’s radio station. He tutored younger students through the school board’s Strategic Outcomes for Academic Progress (SOAR) program for gifted students as well as Grade 9 math students during his spare period.

A resume like this, Ritsma said, is something to brag about, but that’s the opposite of Congram. In fact, Congram didn’t tell his classmates he won the prestigious scholarship.

“He allows things to settle where they settle, and with his ability, this tends to end up on the right side. He allows the spotlight to shine on others,” Ritsma said. “Ben wouldn’t tell everyone, so when I made the announcement at school, you could almost hear a pin drop.”

Congram made the most of his high school experience and will miss his time at Stratford Northwestern, but is looking ahead to his next adventure.

“I think there is definite excitement in coming to Western,” he said. “It’s a new opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to the whole experience and getting involved as much as I can.”

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SCHULICH_krammerSpecial to Western News

By Adela Talbot

At his high school graduation, Mark Krammer cleaned up.

The 17-year-old Prince Albert, Sask., native took home six awards, including the Governor General’s Scholarship and Medal, Canadian Parents for French Award, Western Communities Foundation Bursary Award and Prince Albert and Area Teachers’ Association Award. He also captured the University of Toronto National Book Award, which recognizes the top students across the country.

Krammer even surprised his parents when he stood up to give the valedictory address – after which his classmates at St. Mary High School gave him a standing ovation.

But that’s not all.

This month, Krammer arrived at Western and its Faculty of Science to study astrophysics as one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship.

Schulich Leader Scholarships are awarded to high school students intending to enrol in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) areas of study. Forty students are selected from across the country, two for each participating university. Stratford, Ont., native Ben Congram entered the Faculty of Engineering this fall as Western’s other Schulich Leader Scholar.

At an early age, Krammer was visibly gifted, said his father, Randy Krammer.

“When he was young, he would do those computer educational programs for hours; he would just eat that kind of stuff up,” his father said.

“Before Grade 1, he was reading at a Grade 4 level. A teacher across the street from us listened to him read, and she shook her head in astonishment. From an early age, he showed a talent for academics but as he grew up, he pursued that and a lot of volunteering in the community,” he continued.

At St. Mary, Krammer received the First Academic Award for three consecutive years by maintaining the highest overall average of 250 students. He did this while juggling a job and schedule laden with community service.

“Despite starting a part-time job at 14 years of age, and putting in the maximum number of hours for someone his age, year after year, his school grades never suffered. He was able to maintain his exceptional scholastic achievement, despite logging some really heavy hours,” his father continued. 

Krammer’s list of commitments, aside from his job at Harold’s Family Foods, is extensive.

He served on student government since Grade 9, was the provincial representative for Students Against Drinking and Driving and treasurer of the Student Leadership Council, helping to fundraise more than $3,000 for disaster relief in the Philippines. Krammer also volunteers at the Prince Albert Share-A-Meal Food Bank, creating and distributing food hampers in the mornings and preparing and serving meals in the afternoon.

In the midst of all this, he has been very humble and modest.

“He just kind of chose that path on his own. He was always involved in his church, and he has a sense of social conscience and a responsibility to his fellow man. He’s a really hard worker,” Randy Krammer said.

“We’re amazed and proud; he’s exceeded our expectations.”

As if the above didn’t keep Krammer busy enough, he also plays the piano and has participated in track and field and cross-country.

Ask him about his accomplishments and talents, and he will humbly defer the praise, noting in anything he does, he does his best and expects no recognition.

“What motivates me is the impact on the community that I see; at the food bank, you can see a tangible effect and how people are helped,” he said.

At 17, Krammer eloquently speaks of his desire to pursue a degree in astrophysics, acknowledging that somewhere along the way, his plans could change. For now, he’s coming to Western and joining the Scholar’s Electives program, hoping to hone his research skills.

“I’m interested in the Big Bang, and the events surrounding that. I was always interested in science and math and I think it’s interesting to study where the whole universe originates from. It’s interesting, how we can figure it out, even though it’s billions of years later,” he said.

And the scholarship? “It was a real surprise, for sure. I couldn’t believe it. It took a few days to sink in. It’s a great honour.”


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