Imagine applying, at age 13, for a post-secondary scholarship potentially worth over $20,000. You send in your application. You wait. And then, one day, you hear the news: you’ve been chosen!
It may sound like a dreamy hypothetical, but thanks to the Andra Takacs Scholarship, which recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary, it is actually a happy reality.
“I’d always thought of university when I was younger, but coming from a low-income neighbourhood and family, I didn’t know if it was possible for me,” says Devan Hawkins, a third-year student who is pursuing a computer science specialist, cognitive science major and psychology minor. “So when I found out I had won the Andra Takacs Scholarship…I truly believed I could go to university. There wasn’t anything holding me back.”
The scholarship, established by former Ontario government executive Andra Takacs and her husband, Bryan Davies (Vic ‘71; Chair of the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation), is awarded annually to two Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto mentees (Little Brothers and Sisters) who demonstrate academic potential but suffer social and economic hardship.
It also boasts some unique benefits: recipients (and candidates) have the opportunity to enroll in a mentorship program offered by New College. And if recipients are not accepted to U of T or wish to enroll in an approved program not offered here, they may enroll at another post-secondary institution in North America and still receive the full award. To date, 44 scholarships have been given out and hundreds of students have participated in the New College mentorship program.
“I think it’s fair to say this is the most unique scholarship in Canada because of this transferability,” Andra Takacs said at the scholarship’s twentieth anniversary celebration, held last month at New College. “The University of Toronto was very generous to allow us to do this and continue to do this. Bryan and I are very grateful for that support, as well as for the support from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto.”
Mardi Daley, a third-year student pursuing a double major in art history and political science, says the Takacs scholarship gave her the confidence to apply for CIBC’s Youthvision scholarship (a national scholarship competition offered in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada and the YMCA), which she also won.
“Without these awards, dreaming [about my future] wouldn’t be as possible or as vivid as it is right now,” Daley says. “Whenever things get difficult, knowing that someone’s already put you in this spot—it’s positive pressure. The Takacs scholarship kept me going in high school and still keeps me going now.”
Daley, who serves on Hart House’s Talking Walls committee and is about to begin the third in a series of internships at local art galleries, dreams of studying abroad in Spain and earning a masters degree in art business.
Hawkins, who hopes to pursue a career in artificial intelligence, says the scholarship has given him the time and financial stability to pursue extra-curricular opportunities. He is currently an executive of the University of Toronto Kendo Club.
“Having to not worry about money has meant that I’ve been able to do things that I’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t, and I’ve grown as a person extraordinarily because of it,” says Hawkins. “Going to different U of T clubs helped me break out of my shyness and even helped me with leadership skills…Without the Andra Takacs Scholarship, my priorities would have shifted.”