When New College students talk about their community, they consistently highlight how NEW provides them with opportunities to become leaders, and the support they receive with their endeavors, both academically and outside school. NEW, in turn, is proud to celebrate and recognize the achievements of these hardworking students. It’s why one of NEW’s most notable student awards, the Gold Leader Scholarship, does not simply reflect academic excellence—it highlights a New College student who also demonstrates leadership within the University. This year’s winner, Jade Ong-Tone, perfectly embodies these qualities. Throughout her undergraduate years, Ong-Tone has balanced extensive community involvement in a wide variety of areas with an outstanding academic performance.
After being encouraged by her parents to make the leap from urban Saskatchewan to Toronto, Ong-Tone realized that coming to a school like U of T meant making some major adjustments to the way she approached academics. Her high school study habits didn’t translate to university coursework—but with some adjustments, she was able to score a near perfect 4.0 GPA in the second semester of her first year. This was not the only lesson that Ong-Tone had taken away from her first year of studies, though. She realized that if she wanted to get the most out of her university experience, she would have to find a way to strike a balance with academics and co-curricular activities. She realized that might mean not being able to maintain that perfect GPA, but, as Ong-Tone says, she wanted to be more than just her GPA.
Coming to a new school in a new city is a daunting experience. Many students find the sheer scope of U of T overwhelming and lack the confidence to get involved. For Ong-Tone, there were a variety of things that helped her confidence grow: learning to taking successive steps, pushing herself to always try a little harder and aim a little higher, and always striving to find the balance. She recognized that when she was busier, she was more productive, as she was forced to maximize her time. She also took comfort in the NEW community, the supportive staff and students, and her on-campus home that felt familiar to her. This gave her the platform she needed to explore her passions.
She began to search out activities that would ignite her passions and push her outside of her comfort zone. She became involved in the Sprout Mentorship program as a mentee, eventually becoming a mentor, and finally the lead mentor. “This program has become a huge part of my student life as I have seen and aided in its growth since its pilot stage in 2016 to an Orientation-integrated program,” says Ong-Tone. “As a mentor and lead mentor, I have connected one-on-one with several mentees, planned social events and provided assistance for mentors. Being able to watch and support the growth of these students during their first year was truly rewarding.”
As a Life Science student, Ong-Tone also sought out laboratory and research experience. She volunteered at Mount Sinai Hospital where she assisted in a cytology lab, geriatric unit, and endocrinology clinic. She engaged in a variety of roles, allowing her to interact with all levels of the hospital environment, from patients to researchers. She is also the President of Best Buddies, an organization that pairs students with adults in the community with intellectual disabilities.
But what Ong-Tone considers the most impactful experience in her four years at U of T is something her high school self would never have imagined. In her third year she became a trainer for the New College dragon boating team, the New Dragons, and she was part of the team in 2019 when they won the Canadian National Championship. “Being a part of a welcoming team with a competitive spirit pushed me to my mental and physical limits and it is this like-minded outlook among all teammates which drove us to gain the title of Canadian National Champions in 2019,” reflects Ong-Tone. “This became my proudest personal achievement, especially since I come from a non-athletic upbringing.”
Ong-Tone continued to motivate herself by taking on new roles and then pushing forward into successively higher positions. These small challenges paid off as she found success and satisfaction in a variety of activities, including being a part of New College’s Orientation team. “Each year that I took part in Orientation, I challenged myself with a new role, which ranged from assisting with the facilitation of each event as a Marshal to coordinating an entire Orientation Week as an Orientation Coordinator,” Ong-Tone explains. “As an OC I maintained an incoming student-centered mindset and oversaw the planning, development and implementation of a $100,000 program which welcomed over 630 students to New College. This role required teamwork, critical thinking, adaptability and the ability to make quick decisions.”
As her undergraduate years wrap up, this ambitious, passionate, and engaged student leader is excited to see what her next chapter will look like. She remains in Toronto, excitedly waiting to hear back from grad school programs, as she, like all of us, tries to find her way in our current COVID reality. She is looking forward to spending the summer in Saskatchewan with her family before resuming her academic career. Whatever challenge may come next for Ong-Tong, there is no doubt that she will tackle it with the same passion, confidence, and drive that she developed and demonstrated during her years at New College.