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Jewish teenager awarded $100,000 for university

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Katherine Gotovsky

A Thornhill, Ont., Jewish teen whose goal is to make her mark in the tech industry, is one of 34 Canadians who was awarded $100,000 from the Loran Scholars Foundation, to go towards her post-secondary education.

Following a gruelling selection process that included being interviewed or assessed by up to 12 people over the course of three months, Katherine Gotovsky, 17, was selected from a pool of more than 5,000 applicants who were judged based on their “character, commitment to serving their communities and long-term leadership potential.”

The Loran Award covers tuition, an annual stipend of $10,000, access to $10,000 in funding for summer internships, one-on-one mentorship and access to annual retreats and scholarly gatherings.

Gotovsky, who attends the private University of Toronto Schools (UTS), earned her award by involving herself in the high-tech field and advocating for social justice issues.

As a UTS student, Gotovsky founded and lead a robotics club and is also one of the student organizers of the inaugural Girls in Tech conference, which is geared towards girls in grades 6 through 8.

“A bunch of girls from the GTA will come to our school for a day of workshops on entrepreneurship, robotics, coding, 3D design – it’s going to be fun,” Gotovsky told The CJN. Registration for the conference, which will be held on April 7, is open until March 31.

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She hopes events like the Girls in Tech conference will inspire more females to become involved in the field, which she feels can benefit from a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and worldviews.

“I would say that women are under-represented in this field. I’d say it’s not so much about creating more gender diversity in tech, for the sake of gender diversity. It’s more about encouraging girls or women who might have that passion, who might be really good at technology or coding, who have been stifled by gender roles and society’s concept of what a programmer can be. It’s encouraging those kinds of people to pursue that passion and to join an industry that is at the forefront of innovation in our society,” Gotovsky said.

Technology isn’t Gotovsky’s only passion. As a descendent of Iraqi-Jewish refugees who were forced to flee persecution on her mother’s side, and Russian Jews who survived the Holocaust on her father’s side, Gotovsky put her keen interest in human rights to use, when she worked as an intern at the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect last year.

“So many terribly bad things happened to my family, and I’ve had the ability to learn from them and how they’ve moved on and been resilient through those tragedies and hardships. I think that’s inspired me to make the most of the insane amount of privilege I have today. I go to a private school, my life is really happy. I have an awesome life, but I know my family didn’t have that opportunity, so I really want to make the most of these opportunities and privileges I’ve been given,” Gotovsky said.

One of her goals is to combine her love of technology and innovation with her commitment to social justice.

“Technology is one of the greatest tools we have to unite people.… It happened recently with the Arab Spring, and even with the recent mass shooting in Florida, where people are using social media to create a better world,” she said.

“I think there is a place where those two ideas intersect – technology and social justice. We’re using an industry that is at the forefront of innovation to connect and inspire people and create a world that is more equal and where people look at each other as human beings.”

In spite of her certainty when it comes to subjects relating to technology and tikun olam, the only question that stumped Gotovsky is which university and program she’ll choose.

“I actually don’t yet have a school in mind, but I know I want to study computer science or some related field,” she said. “As for my long-term plan … I’d really like to be part of a start-up or the start-up culture. I think it’s interesting how much bearing your ideas can have on a company that is so small.”