Since she was very young, Jessica Ewald was propelled by insatiable hunger to learn, but she never expected to get into Harvard University — let alone to make the dean’s list.
Telling the story from their living room in New Remo near Terrace, Jessica’s parents Ted and Jeanette Ewald describe their part in the journey as one of astonishing twists and hesitating steps forward.
“Coming from northern B.C., it was never on our agenda for any of our kids to go to Ivy League schools or anything like that,” said Jeanette, acknowledging that she didn’t even know where Harvard was.
But that slowly shifted after Jessica earned a top score on her pre-SAT test in Grade 10, ranking her in the top tenth percentile of the population.
The family was living in Ukraine at the time, where Ted and Jeanette were teaching in an international school.
They’d moved the family there for three years in order to expand perspectives, both for themselves and for their children, Jessica in Grade 10 at the time, Renae in Grade 8, Lindsay in Grade 6, and Levi in Grade 4.
At their school in Ukraine, a top-level international school, the SAT was not only a standard part of schooling, but was the central focus for most students and families.
For that reason, Ted was hesitant to encourage his daughter to strive for a top SAT mark.
“I just saw a lot of students not caring about anything else but doing well on the SAT,” he said, describing how some of the students in his upper-level science courses didn’t care about learning in classrooms, but were consumed with studying for that single test. But when universities started contacting Jessica to recruit her, it piqued Jessica’s interest and sparked her love for learning.
She was finally hooked on the idea when she discovered the incredible financial aid available. Several select universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, provide incredible-levels of financial support in an effort to recruit all the top-SAT-scoring students and keep claim on pinnacle statistics of student success.
For Ted and Jeanette, as much as Jessica, these opportunities stirred up a whole new realm of exciting possibilities, particularly because it struck a chord with the way Jessica’s brain was wired.
Even as a toddler, Jessica picked up vocabulary that astonished friends and family, and she could piece together a 24-piece puzzle at only two-and-a-half years of age, advancing to a 60-piece by age three.
She was fueled by an insatiable desire to learn, Jeanette said, recalling how Jessica would cry when there was a snow day, read textbooks for fun or puzzle through math problems on her free time. She listened to podcasts while working out and spent European road trips buried in textbooks about the area’s history.
Ted and Jeanette realized that studying at a place like Harvard would be a perfect fit for Jessica, who said she enjoyed studying for the SAT and always enjoyed logic and word puzzles.
Early in June, Jessica graduated from Harvard University, earning a degree in environmental engineering.
And not only did she graduate with high honours from what is the top university in the world, but she also won the Dean’s Award for completing one of the four best senior thesis projects in the engineering undergraduate class of 60.
Recently married to Jesiah Bartley, also from Terrace, Jessica now plans to move back to Canada and pursue a Masters in Wildlife Biology and a PhD at McGill University in Montreal.
She will be researching how chemicals from mines, pipelines and other industry impact people and wildlife.
Down the road she hopes to pursue a career in research or government policy making. “A career that contributes towards making better environmental decisions in Canada,” she said.
Parents Ted and Jeanette say that they hope Jessica’s story will inspire others in the north to consider opportunities to study at universities like Harvard.
“You could actually have a chance coming from northern B.C.,” said Jeanette.
“You bring a different perspective, and that’s another thing they really look for… they are really big on having everybody’s voice be heard,” she said, “so that together, they can make better decisions for our world.”