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Union Gas Student Essay Scholarship: Can Cui

“It’s more important to develop an educated perspective, and this is done through providing adequate information,” he said. “That’s the part the schools can help with.”

Can Cui has long been passionate about the environment, but reflecting back on his high school education, he believes something was lacking.

In a well-researched and thoughtful examination of how the global demand for energy is effecting climate change, the 18-year-old argues that students need to be animated early on in their education if solutions are going to be found.

“It is integral that innovation is encouraged among youth by the education system,” he writes. “Innovative thinking should be inspired into children from a young age. This could be achieved through a curriculum which emphasizes creating personal ideas instead of simply memorizing specific information.”

Teachers can facilitate discussion on sustainable living habits, allowing students to connect theory to real-world experiences, giving those theories meaning, he adds. As students move to the post-secondary level of education, they’ll have the opportunity to study and develop new sustainable energy technologies, he writes.

Born in Beijing, China, Cui moved to Toronto at the age of five, and then relocated again to Sault Ste. Marie when his parents found work there three years later. A love of the outdoors brought with it an awareness of the impact human activity was having on the environment.

Cui counts himself a fan of Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, and he was deeply moved last year after reading Suzuki’s essay, Hidden Lessons, which outlines the importance of placing environmental protection ahead of economic issues.

“I’ve always been interested in this issue,” Cui said. “I’m surrounded by people that care about the environment; (people) have quite an impact on the environment, I think.”

While he believes there has been progress over the last 25 years in raising awareness about environmental sustainability, Cui said there are still too many people who are so distanced from nature and unaware of its role in our lives, that they simply don’t care. That’s where education can make a difference.

“It’s more important to develop an educated perspective, and this is done through providing adequate information,” he said. “That’s the part the schools can help with.”

He credits the international baccalaureate program at Korah Collegiate and Vocational School for teaching him to examine issues through a broader world view. It’s an approach he believes should be adopted in other school environments.

“It’s a very intensive, internationally minded program, and everything we learned is done with a global perspective,” he said. “It really emphasizes the development of your own ideas and critical thinking, and I think these things are very important towards any issue, to be honest. It could be cultural issues, political ones, and, of course, it applies to the issue of our impact on the environment.”

The Sault Ste. Marie resident, who is currently enrolled at the University of Waterloo studying mechatronics engineering — a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, control engineering, and computer science — isn’t sure where his future career will take him.

But he is sure he’ll continue to find his own ways to reduce his impact on the environment and encourage those tenets in others.

“I’m definitely going to continue trying to live an eco-friendly lifestyle and I’m going to try to spread these ideas to people close to me.”