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Richmond student wins top North American scholarship

Mahika Phutane heard the word “congratulations” and then everything else went blank.
Mahika Phutane, a Richmond Secondary alumnus, who has now been awarded a second prestigious scholarship. Photo submitted

Mahika Phutane heard the word “congratulations” and then everything else went blank.

Suffice to say, the moment the Richmond Secondary alumnus heard she was the only Canadian in North America to be awarded one of six Dennis Washington Leadership Graduate Scholarships, she was a little excited.

“I felt happy, but more so, relieved,” said Phutane who, back in 2015 was awarded the Horatio Alger Jim Pattison British Columbia Scholarship and is now a fourth year computer science and ICCIT major at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

“It was really something I could never have imagined, or even thought was possible. I felt blessed.

“As much as this award excites me, I feel a responsibility now onward to work even harder and represent those that are underserved.”

With the help of this new scholarship, Phutane will be attending Ivy League institute Cornell University in New York as a PhD candidate in computer science this fall.

The latest scholarship provides up to $120,000 to Horatio Alger Alumni Scholars who wish to pursue masters, professional, or doctoral degrees.

The award is intended for students who have faced hardships and adversity in their lives.

The interview process for the scholarship, said Phutane, was an intensive two days in Florida.

Phutane said the award gives her the “confidence and moral support” she needs to be sure she’s on the right path.

“In addition, because of this award, I will be able to spend more time on my research and focus on contributing to my field during my PhD, without having to worry too much about the finances of living abroad,” she added.

During her PhD, Phutane will be focussing in the sub-fields of human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence to build tools for accessibility.

“In the future, I hope to lead my own firm that helps businesses to build technologies that are inclusive,” she said.

“The technology we have right now, I feel, is very segregated. As much we are bringing people together through social media and video meetings, they are leaving a lot of people behind. 

“My goal through my PhD and beyond is to build intelligent technology that is serving not only the enabled, not only the disabled, but both.”