Dream big: Merit awards help Sharese Taylor shine from Trinidad to TO

March 16, 2023 by Jennifer Little & Joe Howell - Victoria College

Winning a major merit-based scholarship brought Sharese Taylor to Victoria College. Since then, the awards and recognitions have kept coming for this remarkable third-year student.

After Taylor was named a National Open Scholarship recipient in her home country of Trinidad and Tobago, the world was her oyster. The coveted award recognized her as the Caribbean’s top high school student in French and Spanish, allowing her to study anywhere on the globe. We have her mom to thank for Taylor choosing Toronto.

“She knew the University of Toronto was prestigious,” says Taylor. “I thought Victoria College seemed like a good fit for me and I’m happy to say it feels like my home now — I appreciate that it’s a tightly knit community.”

To say Taylor has a talent for languages would be an understatement. Though pandemic restrictions added extra challenges to the start of her university career, she has continued to excel academically. Taylor has qualified for several additional awards and prizes since being admitted in autumn 2020, including the University of Toronto International Scholar Award — an admission award designed to attract top students — and a French Undergraduate Excellence Award.

At Victoria College, which boasts one of the most impressive scholarship programs in Canada, Taylor has been recognized with the Bader Scholarship in Spanish, having qualified for one of the in-course scholarships guaranteed to all Victoria College students achieving an A-range average. These awards are made possible through the generosity of alumni who donate funds, often by including Victoria College in their wills.

Taylor’s merit-based awards differ from bursaries, which are often based on financial need. “Merit awards can be helpful financially to students, but they are primarily intended to recognize hard work, extracurricular contributions and success,” says Renu Kanga Fonseca, acting registrar at Victoria College. “They can be showcased on a resume, helping high-achieving students demonstrate their accomplishments and stand out.”

And that’s not all. By celebrating achievement, merit awards can help motivate students — both those that receive them, and others aspiring to receive them, says Kanga Fonseca. “Merit awards can also assist students with finding mentors, such as past recipients or faculty members in that area of study.”

The extra funds are a boost to any young scholar. “Having access to these financial resources during my studies means that finances are no longer a barrier to my education or to my engagement on campus as an international student,” says Taylor.

Merit awards can also add a sense of pride and belonging as a student. “I have always felt supported here at Vic, both through the generosity of the awards donors and thanks to members of the president’s, dean’s and registrar’s offices,” says Taylor. “Their doors are always open and they have really helped me grow and develop as a person.”

That development is not only taking place in the classroom. You can find Taylor on the court as a member of Victoria College's intramural basketball team; she is also the director of finance for the Victoria Black Student Network. “It’s always good to create a safe space where people can come and feel welcome, and that’s what the network aims to do,” she says.

A highlight of Taylor’s time at the college so far has been taking part in the Jackman Scholars-in-Residence program.

This month-long program gives all Arts & Science undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in academic research with faculty members.

“Participating in a research project has opened my mind to career possibilities,” she says. “This experience made me qualified to work as a research assistant at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Department of Language Studies, and I am now more interested in becoming a professor.”

Students recognized for merit don’t stop achieving great things after graduation, notes Kanga Fonseca. “They may go on to do great things, and receiving the award is a part of their story which they may share and pay forward to others — as role models, through their work or volunteer involvements, through charitable giving and more.”

What’s next for Taylor? Whatever she does, she’s sure to shine. “I’d like to continue furthering my education. Although I’m not quite sure what will happen at the end of my studies, I am a dreamer and I dream big!”