2021 Top 25 Winners – Sustainability in STEM and the Arts

The final group of winners in our Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25, is the sustainability in STEM and the arts recipients. Sustainability in STEM and the arts is an interdisciplinary movement that connects environmental issues with different aspects of STEM and the arts, this can include, scientific research or making artwork representing the environment. All four winners demonstrated innovation in their communities through leadership roles to passion projects, which connected the communities in the professional sector to issues in their communities that need support. From developing groundbreaking projects to connect youth to nature, to connecting artists to environmentalists, they are leading professional communities to get involved in the sustainability movement. 

Here’s a list of our top 25 winners under the sustainability in STEM category:

  • Briana Zhong, 15, Location: Ontario
  • Sarah Syed, 17, Location: Ontario
  • Sylvie Stojanovski, 23, Location: Ontario 
  • Warsha Mushtaq, 18, Location: Saskatchewan 

Briana Zhong

Location: Ontario

Traditional Territory: Traditional Territory of Ho-de-no-sau-nee-ga (Haudenosaunee), Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Mississauga, Wendake-Nionwentsïo

Briana is a humanitarian and environmentalist. She founded Eco-Club as well as served as an executive of Endangered Species Club and the president of STEM Council. When asked why she founded Eco-Club, she said it stemmed from being chosen from her elementary school to represent York Region at the Climate Change Youth Leadership Forum. On this day, she learned the urgency of environmental issues and developed an action plan. The first part of the plan was to found Eco-Club, she created a proposal that outlined the club’s mission to empower students to launch impactful environmental activities and projects and presented it to her principal and teachers, who were impressed with her initiative. From that, she organized and led and school-wide community clean-up where all 400 staff and students spent the day cleaning up litter. Additionally, Briana co-founded the student-led initiative, Gifts That Smile to ensure people had essential items during the pandemic. 

She also founded the Go Wild Nature Kits initiative with support from the World Wildlife Fund Canada, these kits provided high school students with nature kits to help them connect with nature. Briana believes that high school students must connect with nature because the environment is fragile and we must promote sustainable development of the planet for future generations. She continues, “Now more than ever, we must understand the impact human activity has had on the environment. In order to become more environmentally aware, high school students need to aim to undo some of the damage humans have caused. Even making minor changes to our lifestyle can positively affect the environment in various ways, including reducing pollution of the land, air, and water. In addition, students may feel socially isolated and mentally drained, especially during a pandemic. Connecting with nature is a great outlet for stress”. Briana’s drive to make the world a better place is inspiring to all young individuals across Canada, she found something she is passionate about and the drive was shared with her community, where her actions are felt.  

Sarah Syed

Location: Ontario

Traditional Territory: Traditional Territory of the Haudenosaunee, and the territory of the Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation

Sarah Syed is a scientist and advocate for protecting and preserving the environment. She has shown her interest in sustainability through her enjoyment of hikes and bike rides, however, she shines academically as well. She has volunteered in various activists groups and worked on newsletters to inform youth about environmental issues in an accessible way. As well, she brought the first environmental club to her school. In a recent project, she created a method of using synthetic polymers to clean up oil spills. It takes materials that take hundreds of years to degrade and is constantly being thrown away. It uses the polymer to filter out crude oil which can then be re-filtered to be reused to an 80-89% efficiency. This project ensured her a spot at the Canada Wide Science Fair and International GENIUS Olympiad. Her achievements do not stop there, Sarah continues to limit waste by coming up with innovative ideas to reuse and reduce waste. She developed bioplastics from food scraps and tested their strength and biodegradability. Her innovation won her the Best Chemistry Award and the UTSC Best Environmental Award in Chemistry and Physics. When asked what inspired her to develop these projects, she responded, “It was in grade 4 when I learned in more depth about climate change and its detrimental impacts. We had a quote on our classroom wall that said “be the change you wish to see” and that really resonated with me. I was fascinated by the intersection of STEM and environmental stewardship. That is when I decided to look more into current issues and see how science can possibly solve these problems. I was particularly interested in taking something that is often seen as an item we would throw into landfills and modifying it to create a sustainable alternative.” 

Her involvement in the sustainability movement continues in leadership positions, such as being a board member for the Community Climate Council and hosting an environmental hackathon with over 1000 participants and 80 projects revolving around challenging climate change. She has also founded a campaign/organization called You are the Change, which raises money for Green Schools Green Future, a non-profit that builds schools in Africa with green technology. She wants to continue to grow her organization’s projects to support more youth. One piece of advice she would give to young environmentalists looking to get involved is, “Your voice matters because this is your future. You don’t need to just volunteer or be interested in exponential technology to create feasible change. Your passion can be your medium to change the world for the greater good whether it be poetry, activism, music or art.” Sarah’s involvement in the STEM field is innovative and her passion for making a difference is inspiring. 

Sylvie Stojanovski

Location: Ontario

Traditional Territory: Traditional, unceded, and current territory of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples

Sylvie Stojanovski is an eco-artist, project manager, and creative facilitator. Since 2016, Sylvie has displayed her artistic talents through designing over 20 different “art-ivations”—interactive art installations, and workshops, to raise awareness of environmental issues and allow people to see the Earth as an extension of themselves. Sylvie is proud of their roots, being from Scarborough, Sylvie co-founded Scarbrite Collective with a fellow artist, Frannie Potts. Together they worked on portraying the stories of the suburb and raising awareness of social issues. Her most recent mural, “Where we find our roots” was a collaboration with Memengwaa Kwe Originals and asked the audience to consider the benefits of treating the earth the way we treat the people we love. In 2021, Sylvie founded Artists 4 Sustainability, in a way to connect artists who are passionate about environmental justice and an interest in making eco-art, located in the East End of Toronto. Currently, she hosts a monthly jam session through zoom, to help these artists network, exchange resources, and brainstorm ideas to create art with intention and incorporating regenerative principles. When asked about what inspired Sylvie, she said “As a result of brick and mortar stores being shut down in March 2020, I began exploring alternative materials to make art with—going on walks through urban forests to forage for rocks, sticks and flowers. During this time, I discovered an incredible community of eco-artists on Instagram overseas, but I struggled to find the same type of community at home. Artists 4 Sustainability emerged out of a desire to connect with other artists in Southern Ontario who have an interest in eco-art making, and a passion for environmental justice. Our goal is to imagine eco-conscious approaches to creating artwork together… 4 the planet, 4 the future through community”.

Sylvie’s plan for Artists 4 Sustainability, will be to expand to serve artists and creatives across Canada and connect with more people in the environmental sector. This includes people with a background in the field of biology, anyone from an entry-level to an “expert” in the field. Sylvie believes that the future is interdisciplinary and that communities must work together in order to create a new eco-conscious approach to making art. Her advice for young environmentalists looking to get involved in the sustainability movement is centred on her own experience with fear and self-doubt when gaining a new perspective. She credits herself as not an expert in sustainability, however, it is her drive to make a difference that pushed her to create art that leaves a mark on her audience and not on the planet. “However, I am someone who is willing to learn. I believe that it is better to try to make a difference than not try at all. Start where you are. Ask questions. Read books. Reach out to people or organizations that inspire you. You don’t need to have all the answers to begin.” 

Warsha Mushtaq

Location: Saskatchewan

Traditional Territory: Traditional lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dene, Dakota, Lakota, Nakota, and Métis nations

Warsha Mushtaq is a young advocate for sustainability through her projects ignited by her school and her exceptional volunteer and non-profit work. Warsha has had a passion for the environment since she was young, in elementary school she did environmental-centred projects from, building a sustainable tiny house model to research projects on plants native to Saskatchewan. Her admiration for plants did not stop there, Warsha collaborated with professors from the University of Alberta and the University of Saskatchewan to work on a project dedicated to “The Hidden Language of Plants”, which studies the spectrum of plant-environment interactions. From this project she has learned that plants are “social creatures” and that plant behavioural ecology can show us that plants can help us re-evaluate our relationships with the natural world. Outside of her studies, Warsha leads a recycling initiative, working towards strengthening the waste management program at her school. She was also a member of her school’s Youth Action Club, being a leader in her community she organized community cleanups, clothing swaps, and educational campaigns about climate change. 

In her community, she is a pillar of strength, since 2019 she has been a member of the Saskatoon Youth Climate Committee to use her project management skills to create digital climate campaigns and share educational resources to start positive climate conversations. During the pandemic, the Saskatoon Youth Climate Committee launched a webinar series to connect youth to city councillors, indigenous leaders, stewards of the land, university students and local environmental organizations, in order to spark productive conversations. These conversations vary in topic, including, but not limited to, aquatic ecosystem health, climate change in Saskatchewan, and youth activism and involvement in politics. This lead them to launch a website and blog, as well as multiple social media campaigns. She is also a member of Climate Strike Canada, where she supports initiatives such as solidarity with indigenous land defenders, mobilizing through art, regenerative projects, and election organizing. Her love for the environment does not stop there, she is an organizer with Climate Justice Saskatoon and a participant in Wild Outside. Her love for her community is not just based on her environmental advocacy but is deeply rooted in her personal beliefs. Warsha has been volunteering at her local mosque since 2018 and credits her faith for empowering her desire for social and climate justice. Warsha continues to inspire her community through the fine arts, especially poetry, she was selected by Saskatchewan as the Youth Poet Laureate for 2021-2022. Her poetry explores the connections between nature and people, highlighting important social and environmental issues, including advocating for climate justice. Warsha advocates social and environmental change, and it is demonstrated through her research projects, various leadership roles, and creative work. 

All 4 recipients are key representatives of the climate justice movement and they are connecting communities across Canada through the arts and STEM. Climate change is not only impacting one community or group of people, rather it’s impacting all of us. It will take all of us to make a difference. The sustainability movement and taking climate action are interdisciplinary and different sectors in society must work together. The Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 program highlights the work and actions of 25 young environmentalists whose involvement is unquestionable. They have done various regenerative projects, non-profit and volunteer work, taken action throughout government bodies, worked with indigenious communities and grassroots organizations to reduce waste and create effective waste management programs, and even more. These 25 individuals are doing groundbreaking work that will leave a mark for future generations. I hope you take inspiration from their work and take action in your own life to fight for what you believe in.     

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