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Anju Virmani and Ryerson President and Vice-Chancellor Mohamed Lachemi. Photo by Jae Yang.
A new scholarship promises to open doors for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at Ryerson University. The Savitri & Anju Virmani Scholarship for Women in STEM was created thanks to a generous $100,000 gift from Ms. Anju Virmani, chief information officer at CargoJet and an acknowledged leader in the technology field.
An annual ceremony to celebrate recipients will create an ecosystem of support for women, and give students the opportunity to meet leaders in the field, pursue mentorship opportunities and build their networks.
“It was through the generosity and support of family members that I was able to pursue a post-secondary education,” says Anju. “I want to pay that forward.”
The gift will be matched by the President’s Awards to Champion Excellence (PACE), a priority scholarship program initiated by President and Vice-Chancellor Mohamed Lachemi for students from underrepresented groups at Ryerson University.
"We are grateful to Ms. Anju Virmani for her generous support of the Savitri & Anju Virmani Scholarship for Women in STEM," says President Lachemi. "Her vision for a scholarship program that includes mentorship and networking for the recipients will propel the success of high-potential female students pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering and math."
Growing up in India, Anju’s family placed a strong emphasis on education. Her grandfather was an educator and homeschooled all eight of his children in what is now Pakistan. Her mother, Mrs. Savitri Virmani, who recently celebrated her 96th birthday, would go on to become a math teacher.
“My parents supported the education of girls at a time when there were few professional women and no role models,” says Mrs. Virmani. “They gave me an education and made me capable of supporting myself and my family.”
Shortly after coming to Canada in 1975, Anju began to pursue a career in information technology. Soon she had two successful IT consultancies and was serving on several high-profile boards, including the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the Toronto Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Advisory Council for National Security (ACNS). In many of these settings, she noticed she was significantly outnumbered by male colleagues and counterparts.
“I was one of two or three women out of 30 men,” she says.
Once she saw her children through school, Ms. Virmani decided the time was right to start a foundation and give back. “We have concentric circles around us,” she explains. “You have your immediate family, then your extended family, and eventually your circle expands to your community and the world.”
After providing her expertise to startups at the DMZ, Ms. Virmani’s community began to include Ryerson. Witnessing the growth of the university over the years and its work to promote access to underrepresented groups in society, she became convinced it was the right place to make a gift.
“You educate someone, you change a lot more lives than just that one person’s,” she says. “You change their family’s life, their community’s and, hopefully, one day they pay it forward to keep the circle going.”
“I am really grateful that my children are able to pass on the gift of education,” says Mrs. Virmani. “It is the kind of treasure that never depreciates,” she adds. “It continues to pay dividends and no one can ever take it away from you.”
The inaugural recipients of the new Savitri & Anju Virmani Scholarship for Women in STEM will be selected in the fall.