SHAD is an educational program with a focus on STEM (science, technology, entrepreneurship, and math) that recruits top achieving high school students from across Canada. An alumnus of SHAD '14, Tiffany Quon is now a first-year Physics Engineering student at UBC with an exceptional drive for design, publicity, and calligraphy. In this interview with SAD Mag's Katherine Chan, Quon shares what it's like to be an insanely talented teenager with a hundred different passions.
SAD Mag: Do you still talk to the people from SHAD?
Tiffany Quon: There is a group chat with all of us [laughs timidly] on Facebook. It was pretty active last year when most of us were still in high school. This year it’s been a little more quiet, I guess because everyone’s gone their separate ways. Other than that, I’ve been keeping in touch with some close friends.
SM: What do you spend your time doing? What are you working on? Or what was/is your thing, during your time at SHAD and also now that you’re in university?
TQ: I explored quite a few things in high school. Some things that I’d say that stand out in particular were sustainability, graphic design, and empowerment. I was involved in my school’s environmental club. Eventually I became my school’s sustainability rep. I was co-president of the environmental club last year and we just worked on school’s recycling, compost, and we facilitated that every Friday. We took care of that and we had some more things going on, like educational pieces, and just little events. Other things I did were working on the Vancouver School Board’s Sustainability Conference, so I started out with social media and documentation, and after that I co-chaired the conference with my friend, which was super exciting.
SM: So the science part of SHAD was your focus?
TQ: I’d say that what I find the most interesting is the combination of all of them, and design in particular. I thought that SHAD was a really cool incubator for that. Before SHAD, I was really into graphic design. I did a lot of graphic design for school theatre. Sustainability was really cool, doing campaigns and things like that. And science—I like science, I like math, but they’re all kind of separate. But then at SHAD, they all came together and I didn’t think it could happen like that.
SM: How did you get involved in theatre, then?
TQ: I got into theatre in grade 8. I was actually really drawn to publicity. I think my thinking process in grade 8 was that people get to see my work and people get to speak up, and I can have my work speak for me. And from there, I found out that I loved it. I acted in a play — well, it probably wasn’t for me, that was my first and last play, but I stepped into publicity.
SM: You’re doing engineering at school right now, do you have a vision of what you want to do in the future? What do you want to spend your time doing, what do you want to represent? I don’t want to ask what job you want to do in the future, but rather, what you think you want to use your knowledge in. Do you understand?
TQ: I know what you mean. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, especially because at UBC. You have to choose what major you want to do in second year and that’s coming soon, so I’ve been thinking about what I want to do—do I want to go into the industry, do I want to go to grad school and do some research—what do I want to do… and I think, literally in the past two days, I’ve been talking with my friends about going into this program, Engineering Physics, which is apparently really competitive to get into, so I am a little nervous about it. I think what I’m doing right now is just taking things as they come. I think in the new year, I’m trying to be more spontaneous, trying to say yes to more things, try new things. I was at UBC yesterday doing this krav maga course for the first time and it was so cool.
SM: I think that’s a great resolution. Why do you want to get into Engineering Physics?
TQ: I’m looking for a community of people who are passionate about what they do. I think even that sense of looking for a community came from being involved in SHAD, people who care about what they do. I can’t say that I’m super passionate about physics—I don’t go home and read the physics textbook; I’m not tinkering at night; but I am learning. I love designing and creating. I think the [Engineering Physics] program is amazing and I think there’s a lot of exposure to things that I might not otherwise get to do. They also allow you to specialize in something and it doesn’t necessarily have to be in Physics, like a minor. I’m thinking English or Creative Writing.
SM: Wow. What do you go home doing, since you said you don’t go home to read the physics textbook? What do you do when you’re not at school?
TQ: I’ve been trying to read more, but lately I’ve been writing, blogging. I’m also taking up calligraphy.
SM: If you were to specialize in creative writing, while doing physics, do you think the two will collide at some point, or would you want it to?
TQ: Yeah! I think communication is super important, especially because engineering is about creating and it’s a lot of teamwork. I think that studying English in any capacity will help with that. And practicing different ways of expression and literally learning how to write too. I think that’s really important and is not necessarily what Engineering focuses on.
SM: Having such a wide scope of interests and having gained so much experience surrounding them, do you stand out from your friends? What was high school like for you? Did you feel like, I can’t wait to graduate? Is that why you sought out to many different programs?
TQ: I think I was really lucky at having so much support for everything I did, so I don’t think that at any point I felt there was no room to grow. I had really supportive teachers; I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done. My friend group is also pretty involved. It was really nice that I could go to whatever meeting I had with friends. I think it’s true that you’re similar to who you surround yourself with, and I think that the friend group, for the most part, is like that, in that they all had their own interests and they pursued them. Some of them overlapped, some of them didn’t, but in the end, it was still really cool to see all that was happening and to be involved in that.
SM: Are there any courses that your friends are taking that you’re jealous of, that you wish you could take?
TQ: I think Anthropology is super cool. I wanted to take Visual Arts. I was looking through the History courses. There were some Music courses that I’m not even allowed to take. There are a lot, actually, that I just don’t have enough time to do.
SM: It’s cool to see all the things you could do though, right? My thought is always, if I had nine lives…
TQ: Exactly. Tonight I’m actually going to look up courses that I can sit in on, if I have time, and just try that out.
SM: Do you do anything on the weekend?
TQ: Right now, I’m working with a design team, so I go to UBC on Saturdays. I work with a design team that works with biomedical devices. It’s a mentorship program, actually, so right now my team is working on a project to help stroke patients with their recovery. They’re working on devices to help with different movements, and it’s associated with different musical sounds, so kind of like Rock Band.
SM: Where do you hang out in the city? Is there any favourite cafes?
TQ: I love donuts. I like Cartem’s.
SM: I still haven’t been. What flavour would you recommend?
TQ: I’m really partial to Earl Grey.
SAD Mag is launching our High School edition on February 13. Join us for an evening of nostalgic school dance fun (minus the crying in the bathroom), magazines, music, drag, drinks, snacks, and more. Event details here.