Undergrad Scholarship Winner Embraces Space, STEM, and Climate Risk Education

While DRI Foundation Scholarship winner Ayana De Silva has focused much of her attention on environmental issues, she’s also keeping her eyes on the stars. 

A Junior at Western Ontario University in London, Ontario, De Silva is active with collegiate organizations including Women in STEM, which provides career development opportunities for students in the science, tech, engineering, and mathematics fields, as well as the Change Club, which performs charity and fundraising work. She was also recently elected president of the university’s chapter of the Space Society of London.

“I’ve always been interested in space, ever since I was young,” Ayana said. “My dad introduced me to Neil deGrasse Tyson talks, and we used to watch those videos on YouTube together. When I came to university in my first year, I was at the club faire, and I saw the Space Society’s booth. They had a telescope set up, which I’ve been able to use for the summer – my dad and I have been using it to look at the moon.”

It was her mother, Roshni De Silva, ABCP, who encouraged Ayana to apply for the DRI Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship, and taught her more about the business continuity profession in the process. “I definitely used my mom as a resource, because before I didn’t really have a background in business continuity,” she said. “I did know that it was kind of like disaster relief and recovery, that type of thing. But I didn’t know the amount of thought and effort that gets put into resilience – it’s such a big field, especially how it overlaps with other parts of business, the economy, things like that.”

For college undergraduates, this year’s Foundation Scholarship essay prompt asked applicants to consider the biggest risk threatening the world and how they would address it. Ayana decided to focus on the increasing disasters brought on by climate change. Rather than think about grassroots approaches, she wrote about larger, systemic responses to educate the public and mitigate further damage.

“I have a background in writing about climate change and environmental science, so I was drawn to the topic of natural disasters, but I wanted to look at the bigger picture of what caused the rise in the prevalence of natural disasters,” Ayana said. “I thought that talking about climate change was a big issue that a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily choose to write an essay about it, just because of the enormity of it and how many different nuances there are.”

“I think we’ve seen a lot about what the individual can do to reduce their own carbon footprint,” she said. “But I really do believe that the heart of addressing the climate change issue is with major corporations, as one of the biggest contributing factors to climate change. And I think even though it should be our responsibility as individuals to make sure that we are reducing our footprint as much as possible, we won’t be able to make an impact unless we have the support of large corporations.”

It was Roshni who received the call that Ayana had won the scholarship, though like many in this day and age, she almost ignored the call from an unfamiliar phone number. “My mom got the call and said that since it was an out-of-country number, she almost wasn’t going to answer it,” Ayana said. “But she took a chance and it was [DRI President] Al Berman on the line, so she was downstairs on the phone with him when I came down, and she looked at me with a big smile on her face, and then I kind of knew!”

In the fall, Ayana will return to Western Ontario University, continuing her undergraduate education in Medical Sciences, with a specialization in microbiology and immunology, along with a major in pharmacology. After that, “It’ll pretty much be more school – grad school is what I’m aiming for, and then medical school is probably the next step.”

It’s a long educational road, and the DRI Foundation is happy to help Ayana De Silva along the way.

Click here to read Ayana’s award-winning essay.