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Retired alumnus engineers path to higher education

An avid reader at the age of 97, alumnus A.J. “John” Shaw (BASc. Eng. 1944) has continued the pursuit of knowledge throughout his life. Although John always hoped to further his formal education, when life and time didn’t permit, he did the next best thing. Already a regular UBC donor, John decided to establish an award that would help someone else advance their studies. He also included a component to support the innovation and development of clean and renewable energy technologies, one of his long-time interests.

“I was always intrigued by how things worked,” explains John. “I grew up on West 11th in West Point Grey and in my basement I had my own workshop and my own chemistry lab. That’s just the way my genes were. I liked making things.”

With UBC so close to the family home, John says the university was a natural choice for his education. He studied chemical engineering, which, he explains, broadly looks at how to transform chemicals into the forms and products necessary to everyday life. After graduating in 1944, John married and entered the workforce. Since then, both his sons and his granddaughter have also become alumni.

John fondly recalls his own time as a student doing “the things young engineers do.” However, he notes that while education was once important for vocational training, today it is vital to understanding and harnessing the vast amounts of information available in virtually every field of study. It was this passion that inspired family members to come together and establish an endowment that would support the A.J. Shaw Graduate Scholarship in Engineering.

“The whole family thought about this a couple of years ago,” explains his son. “Setting up a legacy scholarship in my father’s name seemed like a good way to honour his love of knowledge — and his love for UBC.”

Today, the A.J. Shaw Graduate Scholarship in Engineering is available to graduate students undertaking research related to the advancement of clean or renewable energy technologies. The scholarship is open to all MASc, MSc, and PhD students within the Faculty of Applied Science, with preference given to those in Chemical and Biological Engineering.

“It’s a broad category,” acknowledges John. “After all, what is clean energy? Fuel cells are one form, but there are other sources of energy aside from the sun, wind, and water. For instance, biological energy. There’s a whole host of different sources of electrical energy, which means you can reduce the need for burning coal and things like that.”

“From a natural resource economics perspective, every time you make an energy choice, you are making an environmental choice,” summarizes his son, himself a UBC alumnus.

“Education is what allows us to take the knowledge that is out there, understand it, interpret it, and get it applied,” says John. “The idea is to help create conditions that are helpful, not just to people but society. That’s really the point to all this.”