Commitment to the Community: The ROWE scholar program

By George Ardy, BA'15

It all started with a free cup of Tim Hortons coffee.

Eugene Wong, PhD, professor, Departments of Medical Biophysics and Oncology, was conducting research at the London Regional Cancer Program (LRCP) and needed a coffee break. As he stepped up to pay, he was told that it was free.

“I was surprised. After all it wasn’t Roll-Up-The-Rim,” Wong said with a laugh. “Upon asking why, they pointed me in the direction of Alex Rowe.”

At the time of their first meeting, Rowe was an 18-year-old high school student whose parents were both undergoing cancer treatments at LRCP. Instead of presents for her eighteenth birthday, Rowe asked her friends to help raise money that she could donate to assist others in a similar situation. She wound up giving a portion to the Tim Hortons at LRCP to pay for coffee for the health care staff as a way of saying thank you for the care her parents received.

It was during this chance meeting between Wong and Rowe that the ROWE Scholar Program was born. The ROWE Scholar Program is a peer-tutoring program. It connects high school students who have an immediate family member battling cancer and are struggling with math and science with a Western University science student. Once connected, the tutor and student can meet for face-to-face help, or post their questions online.

The program is designed to provide high school students with the assistance and mentorship they need to graduate before moving on to whatever post-secondary education they desire. Wong wants to provide them with the tools needed to take them to the next level. “If they have a dream, whatever it is, we want to help them get there,” he said.

The idea came to fruition because Rowe wanted to attend Western’s nursing school but her grades were not high enough due to the extra time she spent helping her parents get through their treatments. Wong suggested that he could help her with science homework. “I was touched by how she continued to give despite her circumstance,” Wong recalled. “I wanted to give something special back to her in return.”

For a student, the overwhelming pressures and commitments of being a caregiver can make it difficult to focus on their studies. Therefore, one of Wong’s goals is to raise awareness about this program so that students in these situations realize they aren’t alone.

“These high-school students often feel like they are the only ones who are experiencing this as none of their peers are in the same situation,” Wong explained. “But many of our volunteer tutors have actually gone through similar experiences. We want to build a community of people who can support each other.”

Wong and Rowe couldn’t do this alone, so they solicited the help of Rachel Dales who is currently a second-year medical sciences student at Western. Dales’ brother had fought a battle with cancer so she understood the situation.

With regular donations coming into the program, and Rowe now in her second year of nursing at the University of Ottawa, Wong has a hard time choosing a proudest moment.

“We have big dreams for this program in London and beyond. I think that my proudest moment will be down the road when students have a place to do their homework with tutors around, momentarily focusing their attention back to their studies," he said. "Or when Alex gets her nursing degree—then I’ll have a proudest moment.”

For more information about the program, visit