Ladysmith’s Taylor Walters received the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award and is hard at work pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human-Computer Interaction at Quest University. (Submitted photo)

Ladysmith’s Taylor Walters received the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award and is hard at work pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Human-Computer Interaction at Quest University. (Submitted photo)

Ladysmith teen receives Terry Fox Humanitarian Award for advocating equal access to STEM opportunities

‘Different people think differently and that’s so important for innovation,’ Taylor Walters says

Frances Kelsey Secondary School graduate Taylor Walters is one of 16 students nationwide who received the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award for her work in promoting equality in the sciences.

Over 700 students across Canada applied for the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award, a prestigious scholarship valued at $28,000. The award recognizes young humanitarians who have demonstrated courage and determination through academics, athletics and civic life.

RELATED: Ladysmith Secondary student awarded Horatio Alger scholarship

Walters received the award in 2020 and has since been attending Quest University, where she is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction.

“When I first got [the award] it was surreal. It’s quite a large sum of money for my situation and it was a huge help for my future education goals,” she said.

Walters spent her graduating year searching for scholarship opportunities online, which is how she found out about the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award.

A press release from the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award Program noted that Walters was chosen for her work in mentoring local youth, and advocating for equal access to STEM opportunities. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Walters is also passionate about establishing a framework for the ethical use of artificial intelligence technologies.

RELATED: Women underrepresented in research journals, says UBC prof

She became involved with AI4All, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in AI education, research, development, and policy. Walters also worked with HighTechU, a program run out of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Victoria. HighTechU is focused on helping high-school-aged youth in British Columbia make connections, build professional skills, and explore diverse education and career pathways related to technology.

“I did a lot of speaking around schools, as well as on social media, trying to reach out to students in this area and the lower mainland to get them more aware of what is out there for them,” Walters said.

Growing up in the Ladysmith area, Walters said there were few opportunities for her to get involved in computer science. Her first hands-on experience came when she attended a summer enrichment program at Simon Fraser University called Invent the Future, designed to help increase the number of Canadian girls considering careers in computer science and AI.

“It opened my world. I found a bunch of very cool, motivated people in this community — not just AI4All, but the broader tech community. From there I got introduced to how I could use my interests to actually do something.”

Walters wasted no time in ‘doing something’. She completed AI internships in Vancouver while attending Frances Kelsey online. Walters now wants to encourage other young people to get involved in STEM.

RELATED: B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

“It’s very real that there are barriers to entry for people who have not enough space in the tech community. But if people are really interested in STEM, know that it’s rapidly evolving in terms of how diverse the community is. There’s so much encouragement for getting different people involved because different people think differently and that’s so important for innovation.”

“Everyone has valid ideas. Don’t think that your demographic is something that needs to hold you back,” she added.

Walter is hard at work finishing the first year of her Bachelor’s Degree online with Quest. Once she finishes her final exams, Walters begins an online internship with Brown University, an Ivy League research school in Rhode Island, to study potential medical applications for AI.

She will be working with Brown’s Centre for Biomedical Informatics to study how AI can recognize metastatic developments in human tissue and detect cancers. She’ll also be involved in a project that uses AI to study the impacts of novel pharmaceutical drugs.

“It feels so natural for me to pursue these things because it’s what I’m really interested in,” Walters said.

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