The wonderful story of Maryam Tsegaye, this year’s winner of the global competition: Breakthrough Junior Challenge, is a story of an extraordinary student coming from an extraordinary educational system.

The Alberta teen impressed the judges of a prestigious international science competition enough to become the first Canadian to win the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, which includes a US$250,000 college scholarship, a US$50,000 prize for her science teacher and a new state-of-the-art lab for her school, valued at US$100,000. She beat out more than 5,600 other applicants from 123 other countries.


The story begins with Tsegaye’s family coming to Canada from Ethiopia. The family settled in a very small town of about 75,000 people of Fort McMurray. Fort McMurray is almost 500 kilometres north of Edmonton, Alberta which is itself Canada’s most northern big city. So Fort McMurray is small and relatively remote. 

Next the story involves a fabulous education with terrific, deeply dedicated teachers. Tsegaye studies at École McTavish Public High School, where as is common in Canada, students can study in English or French medium and all funding comes from taxpayers.

In our over 20 years of work recruiting international students to Canada, one of our many challenges is explaining to parents overseas that top quality higher education is available from big institutions to small ones, in our metropolitan areas and as much in our small towns.

The primary explanation is that almost 100% of Canadian university students study in universities that receive public funding.  Taxpayers expect quality just as high as anywhere else across the country.

But to have top university and polytechnic or collegeprograms you also need very well-prepared students. How does Canada do that?

There are many factors but the central reason is that almost all Canadians also study in quality-controlled publically-funded free-of-cost schools from kindergarten to Grade 12. For the most part, even in small towns like Fort McMurray, the quality of schooling is high. Students from tiny towns coming to our biggest universities in our big cities will feel as academically well-prepared as those studying in these big cities. Again, as with higher education, taxpayers have the power to make sure the quality for children even in small communities matches the quality in the biggest ones.

Which brings us back to Maryam! Clearly multi-talented, Maryam shows the power of the Canadian education system when combined with academic talent. Maryam is a credit to her family, her teachers and school, her town, province and country. Maryam is a model student who confronted the challenges of this terrible pandemic and turned it into her own quantum leap!

Don’t miss the three minute video of Maryam’s winning entry!

Do also make sure to see the video of her reaction when she was surprised by the news  through a video which included congratulations from a former astronaut!

All comments welcome to

Dani Zaretsky

CUAC Global – Founder / Director