Shaoyan Wang, who is graduating at Fall Convocation with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in chemistry, is the winner of the USask President’s Medal for 2022.
Shaoyan Wang, who is graduating at Fall Convocation with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in chemistry, is the winner of the USask President’s Medal for 2022. (Photo: Submitted)

Patience and persistence brought success for USask President’s Medal winner

Shaoyan Wang had to learn English and record lectures to finish his USask chemistry degree

By Chris Putnam

Shaoyan Wang doesn’t think it was natural talent that made him the top student receiving an undergraduate degree at this year’s University of Saskatchewan (USask) Fall Convocation.

“I’m no smarter than any other student, I think. My classmates are much smarter than me. They can understand maybe 70 per cent immediately during the lecture—I understand zero,” he said.

Wang will receive the President’s Medal today at Fall Convocation in recognition of his cumulative average of 96.13 per cent—the highest of any student completing a USask undergraduate degree program. He will also be awarded the University Medal in the Sciences and the Dean’s Medal.

For Wang, the key to academic achievement was patience and hard work.

Wang took six years to complete his four-year Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in chemistry, with a minor in mathematics. He asked his instructors for permission to record lectures and spent five or six hours reviewing each one-hour lecture after class.

“My time was longer and I studied more, so that’s why I got a higher grade,” Wang said.

As a high school student in Beijing, China, Wang’s marks in science were nothing special. He moved to Canada determined to excel in his undergraduate studies and to be accepted into a PhD program.

“By doing research in science, you are the first person to discover the mechanisms of how nature works. You publish a paper, you are the first person to know that very specific knowledge. So that’s why I like doing science,” Wang said.

Wang spoke little English when he arrived in Saskatoon in 2015, so he spent a year learning at the USask Language Centre before beginning classes in the College of Arts and Science in 2016. He is still grateful to the language instructors who made his studies possible.

“The teachers in the language centre are very, very helpful and very, very friendly. They really encourage students to ask questions. They are patient to explain things many times, because they totally understand students’ English is not perfect,” Wang said.

Wang’s professors in the Department of Chemistry found him to be a rare student who mastered both theoretical knowledge and hands-on laboratory skills. He completed an undergraduate thesis project in the lab of Dr. Michel Gravel (PhD), who described Wang as “perhaps the most motivated student I have supervised at the University of Saskatchewan.”

Wang is thankful for the opportunity he was given by Gravel and chemistry graduate student Hemkalyan Ballav to participate in a research project as an undergraduate.

“I really appreciated Hemkalyan Ballav’s help. He was very patient to teach me the lab techniques 10 times, 20 times,” Wang said.

Wang is now in his first year of a chemistry PhD program at McGill University in Montreal. He looks back fondly on his time at USask.

“I spent my happiest seven years in Saskatchewan,” Wang said.

For more on USask Fall Convocation, visit the graduation and convocation page.