When you come from a small town, the idea of going away to university can be daunting - especially if you're 17 years old and home was the comfortable cocoon of a small northern town with just 300 souls.
That was the reality for Holly Schinkel, who grew up in Charlton, halfway between Kirkland Lake and New Liskeard. So, when she thought about her post-secondary education, she knew that a massive university campus in a big city was not for her.
"That's why Lakehead-Orillia appealed to me so much; it was in a smaller city and on a smaller campus," said Schinkel.
The opportunity to land a scholarship was also a big motivator for Schinkel, the fourth of six children from her family to pursue post-secondary education.
She was most interested in the prestigious Presidential Scholarship for those with an average over 90% and a strong community-service component on their resume.
A perennially strong student, Schinkel worked even harder in Grade 12, which paid off with an impressive 95% average. And she attained that lofty mark while playing basketball, volleyball, and soccer at Englehart High School, while volunteering at her church.
A driven student, she also has a heart to help others. That's why she jumped at the chance to join 120 students from all over Canada on a 'Hero Holiday' to the Dominican Republic.
"The trip was between Grade 11 and Grade 12 and it was organized through Absolute Leadership," said Schinkel of the 10-day sojourn overseas.
This was not a holiday. "We visited a garbage dump where a lot of Haitian refugees were basically living and scrounging...it was awful. We also went to a hospital to visit children and the hospital was what I would imagine a jail would be like. It was all cement, there were bars on the windows and there were 15 kids in a room, jammed in together."
Schinkel and the others also helped build a kitchen at a church/school that was previously built by other missionaries.
"I had always heard about poverty but I wanted to see it with my own eyes," said Schinkel. "It was a real eye opener and it really made me realize how privileged we are in Canada."
When Schinkel was short-listed for the Presidential Scholarship with four others, she learned she would be flown to Thunder Bay for an interview. As part of the process, she was asked to give a five-minute presentation. She chose to talk about that trip to the Dominican.
A few weeks later, she got the phone call saying she was the winner of the coveted President's Scholarship: $7,500 per year as long as she maintains an 85% average.
"It's amazing. For our family, there are four of us in university right now so it's really helpful," said Schinkel, whose sister Heidi, 19, also goes to school at Lakehead - Orillia, where the sisters share an apartment. "It means a lot to us."
Being able to go to school in Orillia also means a lot to Schinkel, who is pursuing an Honours Bachelor of Arts and Science with a major in Interdisciplinary Studies.
"I really love the small-town atmosphere here and I love that the classes are smaller," said Schinkel. "It's really great because you get to know the profs and they know you. It's just more energizing and personal. I like that kind of classroom setting," said Schinkel, who wants to be a math teacher.
Schinkel is impressed by the new 500 University Avenue campus, is already making new friends and has begun to get involved in campus life, playing intramural soccer on Tuesday nights.
"I really like it here," she said. "It's a big adjustment leaving home but it's been great here."