All Tina Xu needs to get started is a great idea – and she’s got plenty of them. The Grade 12 student at Laurel Heights Secondary School (LHSS) in Waterloo has been busy, flexing her entrepreneurial muscle over the past few years, even in the face of the global pandemic. Her accomplishments include the founding of an affordable and accessible tutoring business and the creation of a group that coordinates the philanthropic efforts of teens – they’ve not gone unnoticed.

Xu was recognized by the Schulich Foundation as a Schulich Leader. This earns Xu $100,000 in scholarship funding for her education at Western University, where she is headed to pursue a double-major in software engineering and honours business administration.

Those who know her wouldn’t be surprised at this focus. Xu has long been interested in the world of STEM and startups. It’s a part of who she is.

“Both of my parents are entrepreneurs,” said Xu. “They really inspire me.”

The pandemic didn’t slow her down, either, as she launched a new business aimed at helping students across the province.

Mike Richardson was Xu’s guidance counselor this year, and explained how she used her entrepreneurial skills to help make a positive difference for her friends, peers and students with the creation of a low-cost tutoring business.

“She’s really tried to help support students academically during COVID,” said Richardson. “She created and worked on a tutoring program that supported students.”

The tutoring service, Peak Education, offers accessible and affordable tutoring options to support student learning in a range of subjects. For the tutors, many of whom are secondary students themselves, it offers an opportunity to earn an income. This aspect was especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many families faced additional financial hardship.

“We want to provide our tutors with a chance to financially support their families,” said Xu. “We know that during COVID, it was a very difficult time.”

That wasn’t the only thing that Xu did during the pandemic though. She also began a student-led non-profit organization called Supportive Teens. Together, this group of volunteers came together to support a variety of causes, motivated by seeing an opportunity to make a difference during the early stages of the pandemic.

“We really wanted to play our part,” said Xu.

Altogether, they have raised more than $5,000 to support those in need, through donations to the Canadian Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the local food banks.

“We were able to provide more than 3,000 meals to those who were struggling to put food on the table,” said Xu.

Although Xu is preparing to graduate, there is no end in sight for Supportive Teens. With over 100 volunteers working with the group, they have already begun planning an event for later this year.

“I’m glad I started this initiative, because it seems like it has helped a lot of people and I really enjoy doing it,” said Xu.

Through it all, Xu has remained humble. Even when she received the email inviting her to a decision meeting with the Schulich Foundation, she didn’t make any assumptions.

“At the time, I was like, ‘what does this mean?’,” said Xu. She even reached out to her guidance counselors to see what they thought it could be. Richardson recalled with a smile what he told her.

“Well, that’s probably pretty good, because they don’t just want to have a chat,” said Richardson.

It was good news.

“When I opened the Meet they said ‘Congratulations, you’ve won a scholarship,’ and I just couldn’t believe it. I was shocked,” said Xu.

The feeling of elation and disbelief stayed with her after the call.

“For the week after, I just didn’t believe it was real,” said Xu. “I was so happy.”

Being selected as a Schulich Leader provides more than financial support. Xu will be connected with previous Leaders, who will provide guidance and mentorship. She recently had the chance to meet a few of them and learn about what they’re up to.

“I hope to continually improve my abilities and knowledge, and along with other Schulich Leaders, help more people through STEM for my whole life,” said Xu. “Being able to connect with other Schulich Leaders is super exciting. Every one of them, they’re all working on very cool things.”

As she prepares to take the next step in her learning journey, Richardson is confident that great things lay ahead for Xu, and hopes to stay in touch.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure,” said Richardson. “You never forget a student like Tina.”