Friends of outstanding science teacher fundraised online to quickly create academic award in her name
For 26 years, Shirley Brauer taught chemistry. She was a passionate educator who challenged high-achieving students — coaching teams for the Science Olympics, for instance — and lifted up students who struggled.
“Kids would say, ‘If you want to pass chemistry, you take Brauer,’” says her husband, Jorn Brauer. A fellow educator, he admired Shirley’s commitment to helping all students succeed, recalling that she often stayed after classes to offer extra help and visited sick students at home to catch them up on what they’d missed in class.
Shirley spent most of her career at Paul Kane High School in St. Albert, Alta. Her son, Chris, attended the school and remembers the lasting impression she made on his friends and classmates: “She had an excellent rapport with the students and was especially good with students who were struggling or not doing well.”
Chris points out that with a master’s degree in chemistry and an extraordinary intellect, his mother might have taught at a post-secondary level or continued with her own education. “There was really no limit to her educational capabilities, but [teaching high school chemistry] was the right fit for her,” he says.
The Brauer family — plus countless friends and colleagues — lost Shirley to lymphoma in 2015. It was sudden and heartbreaking, says Ross Tyson, a family friend who worked with Jorn and was taught by Shirley at the start of her career. Tyson and two other friends, Doug Ledgerwood and Dick Baker, met for drinks at the University of Alberta’s Faculty Club shortly after their friend’s death and discussed the possibility of creating a scholarship.
“We decided to create an award at Paul Kane High School, since she’d taught there for many years,” he says.
Because Shirley was very keen on gender parity in science, they decided to create an award supporting young women in particular. After running it by Shirley’s family, as well as the school, the friends reached out to Edmonton Community Foundation.
“We wanted an external body to deal with it and we knew that ECF is an excellent steward of funds,” says Tyson, who worked with the organization during his time at the ECF supported Boys and Girls Club of Edmonton.
A gift of just $100 was enough to make the fund official and kickstart an online fundraising campaign via canadahelps.org. In less than three years, the fund has grown to $27,000.
ECF donor advisor Matt Mandrusiak explains that it’s not unusual for the foundation to create online fundraising campaigns to help funds grow, although this campaign has been particularly successful: “It’s exploded in a relatively short amount of time.”
Creating the fund at ECF means that the fund’s founders needn’t establish their own non-profit or decide how to invest the money. “We have more than a dozen investment counsellors to take care of that,” says Mandrusiak.
The Shirley Brauer Award For Women in Science has already been awarded to two young women at Paul Kane High School who demonstrated courage, ingenuity, determination, compassion and an ability to synthesize scientific ideas — all qualities Shirley embodied.
Last year’s winner, Ayisha Mitha, was an enthusiastic science student and active in the Science Olympics during her time at the school. In spring 2018, she wrapped up her first year of science at the University of Alberta, where she is mainly taking biology courses (especially human physiology and cell biology) with an eye toward studying medicine.
Mitha says the $1,000 award helped offset steep tuition fees this year, but the real value of the award isn’t financial. “I never met Shirley, but from what we heard at school, she was a really great science teacher,” she says. “It’s really inspirational to receive this kind of recognition. I’m definitely honoured.”