(Fort McMurray, AB – December 3, 2020) Women in Biz Network is excited to announce that a Canadian Black female student was the first to win the prestigious Breakthrough Junior Worldwide Video Competition – the first Canadian to ever do so. Maryam Tsegaye of Fort McMurray Public School Division and École McTavish High School student has just won the sixth annual Breakthrough Junior Worldwide contest. The grade 12 student has won a $250,000 (USD) scholarship, the school will receive a $100,000 state-of-the-art science lab with $50,000 going to her teacher, Kathy Vladicka.

Her video on quantum tunnelling was chosen from 5600 entries from almost 200 countries.


“The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is a global science video competition, aiming to develop and demonstrate young people’s knowledge of science and scientific principles; generate excitement in these fields; support STEM career choices; and engage the imagination and interest of the public in key concepts of fundamental science. Students age 13 to 18 from countries across the globe are invited to create and submit original videos (3:00 minutes maximum) that bring to life a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics. The submissions are judged on the student’s ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in engaging, illuminating, and imaginative ways,” according to the official website.

Maryam, 17, was surprised with the news delivered virtually by Sal Khan, founder, Khan Academy and NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly, who was also a co-judge along with Khan. Both congratulated her, and dubbed her video “absolutely remarkable.”

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“Winning the Breakthrough Junior Challenge is something life-changing and I am so honoured to win this for my school, my teachers, my family, the city, and the country. I can’t wait for the new opportunity students in our community will have with the new lab at McTavish and the love and awe for science that will be fostered here,” enthused Maryam.

“I created a three-minute video explaining quantum tunnelling with the hopes that anyone can understand the concept without much pre-requisite knowledge. I hope to pursue physics in university and hopefully do research someday, as well as being a science communicator for youth and the general public,” she commented.

“We are so proud of Maryam and her accomplishment. Maryam is a special person, who is a diligent worker, leader in the student council, academic all-star, talented musician, fantastic artist, and more, I could go on!” remarked Scott Barr, McTavish Principal.

“She is a great representation of our Marauder family and really shows how even students from a small community can create change in the world. She has inspired us as a staff many times with her dedication to helping others, and now she gets to have someone help her reach her dreams. We are excited to share in the moment with her. With her win, not only does she get a $250,000 scholarship, the school will be receiving a $100,000 science lab and we will work with her on helping bring that to life. Maryam will continue to have an impact on students at McTavish long after she has left the building. Truly living – once a Marauder, always a Marauder!” Barr added.

“Being a part of a young person’s journey in a positive way, by teaching them, inspiring them, pushing them to see things differently, to try harder or believe in themselves more, is what all teachers hope to do. Maryam is an incredibly intelligent student who loves learning and is always looking to make connections between all the different concepts and subjects she studies; she is trying to understand her world in its entirety and its complexity,” noted Kathy Vladicka, Maryam’s science teacher.

“But as she showed in her video, being able to explain complex ideas in simple ways demonstrates that someone truly understands it. I am so proud that Maryam is being recognized in this way for her ability. I am filled with gratitude that I have been a positive light in Maryam’s life, to the point that she put my name down on her application for the Breakthrough Junior Challenge and I am also very humbled by the award that is given to me as her teacher. I will be using part of it to pay off debts accumulated as a student, something Maryam is now very fortunate not to have to worry about,” Vladicka said.

Jennifer Turner, Superintendent, FMPSD congratulated Maryam.

“We are overjoyed with the news. This is incredible and exciting. We are so proud of Maryam, who has put Fort McMurray Public School Division, McTavish High School, and Fort McMurray on the map. We are looking forward to phenomenal things from her as she graduates next year. Way to go, Maryam!”

Congratulations Maryam!

For more information, please contact:

Scott Barr


École McTavish High School