Building a better world: Three Pearson Scholars — and soon-to-be grads — reflect on their U of T experience

June 6, 2024 by Rahul Kalvapalle - U of T News

“An unsurpassable opportunity to study at one of the world's leading institutions, on a full ride, while joining a cohort of bright, passionate and driven changemakers”

An aspiring clinician-scientist who is reducing food waste across Toronto. A global health student who launched an NGO that connects students with seniors through art. And an international relations specialist who worked on an array of human rights projects.

Ana Laura Noda Gonzàlez, Niha Burugapalli and Daniel Corredor Llorente came to the University of Toronto from different regions of the world, with unique career aspirations and a wide assortment of volunteering causes.

But the three Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship recipients all share one trait: a commitment to making a difference. And all three are graduating from their respective programs this June.

Here's how they plan to use their U of T educations to help make the world a better place:

Ana Laura Noda Gonzàlez

Ana Laura Noda Gonzàlez.
Photo: Supplied.

Gonzàlez, who is graduating with an honours bachelor of science in psychology with minors in immunology and Buddhist psychology and mental health in the Faculty of Arts & Science, says Canada wasn’t on her list of destinations for post-secondary studies — until she heard about the Pearson Scholarship.

“I ran into my school principal’s office and told her that she had to nominate me,” says Gonzàlez, who was born in Cuba and grew up in Mexico.

Upon arriving in Toronto, Gonzàlez says she was taken aback by rampant food waste — particularly given her family’s origins in Cuba, a country with widespread food insecurity. So she co-founded MealCare Toronto, a student-run non-profit that diverts surplus food from cafeterias and restaurants to shelters and food banks.

The Woodsworth College student says her academic interests evolved considerably while at U of T, and that she now plans to pursue graduate and doctoral research in psychiatry and mental health. “Psychiatry is a relatively new field of medicine – there are a lot of unknowns so I’d like to do something in that,” says Gonzàlez, who is currently working as a research assistant at SickKids Hospital.

Looking back on her time at U of T, Gonzalez says she was pleasantly surprised by the ease at which she was able to forge connections.

“Even during the COVID times, I was able to find a community online … and I still have some of my best friends now from that time,” she says. “I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have done my undergrad here.”

Niha Burugapalli

Niha Burugapalli.
Photo: Supplied.

Burugapalli, who was born in India and raised in Connecticut, is graduating with a bachelor of science in global health and peace, conflict and justice studies.

While at U of T, the Victoria College student engaged in diverse experiential learning opportunities that ranged from working on the UN Sustainable Development Goals with the Reach Alliance to conducting neuroscience research in Sweden as part of a summer exchange program and spending a semester abroad in Granada, Spain.

Burugapalli is a co-founder of the EmpowART Foundation, an NGO that gives undergraduate students the opportunity to lead art workshops in nursing homes and hospitals — promoting healing through art while encouraging intergenerational connections.

“The goal was to empower the seniors as they engage in a new skill … while bridging the gap between students searching for opportunities to make an impact and the isolation experienced by many seniors,” she says.

Burugapalli says she’s grateful for the sense of community that U of T had to offer. “The college system and being part of Vic was really nice to be able to make great friends easily and find a community and support in such a large student body,” she says.

“Overall, I have really enjoyed my time at U of T and have been enriched by all the amazing opportunities like research and studying abroad and all the inspiring people I have had the privilege of meeting along the way.”

Daniel Corredor Llorente

Daniel Corredor Llorente.
Photo: Supplied.

Corredor Llorente, who is originally from Colombia, says he didn’t think twice about accepting U of T’s offer.

“No other university I applied to offered anything as promising — much less so in a country as welcoming as Canada and a cosmopolitan city like Toronto,” says Corredor Llorente, who is both a Pearson Scholar and Laidlaw Scholar at Trinity College, and is graduating with an international relations specialist with minors in economics and political science.

“My academic experience at U of T was timely and top-tier, though not without its challenges considering the extremely complex — and often painful — issues of the day,” Corredor says, noting his undergraduate years coincided with global challenges from the pandemic to armed conflict and growing human rights concerns around the world.

Corredor Llorente credits his U of T professors, coursework and research opportunities with helping him access hands-on experience in the field — including internships with the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights for internally displaced persons, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Compaz Foundation, an NGO founded by former Colombian president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos.

Corredor Llorente, who is currently working to advance human rights in the Americas via an Orlando Sierra Fellowship in Washington, D.C., says he’s grateful to the Pearson Scholars program for providing “an unsurpassable opportunity to study at one of the world's leading institutions, on a full ride, while joining a cohort of bright, passionate and driven changemakers committed to tackling society's polycrisis.”