Meet Canada’s 11 new Rhodes Scholars

The Globe and Mail

Undated handout photo of Rhodes Scholar student Suzanne Newing. (Handout)

The Globe asked the newest Rhodes Scholars three questions about the scholarship and education in Canada.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

Dylan Collins – University of Victoria

Hailing from Haida Gwaii, Mr. Collins became an advocate for harm-reduction strategies for people who engage in high-risk activities, such as drug use and sex work, after his experience working in Kenya with the Foundation for Sustainable Development.  A student in biochemistry, he went on to work with the BC Centre for Disease Control and is currently a board member with AIDS Vancouver Island. He will study public health at Oxford, with an aim to making access to health-care more equitable. Mr. Collins is also a recreational cyclist, tennis player, and enjoys bhangra, a Punjabi folk dance."

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How does one win the Rhodes?

First and foremost, one wins the Rhodes Scholarship by staying true to oneself. I’ve had a vision, from a young age, of how I want to contribute to, and engage with, my community. I’ve always had an inherent drive to improve the world we live in. I cannot underestimate the value of mentorship and support systems. I’ve had the privilege of having unconditional support from my family, no matter my interests. Further, as a Loran Scholar, I’ve been part of a community that helped me critically reflect on my goals, my leadership ability, and my character. This combination of support, vision, and critical reflection has helped me achieve my goals, and ultimately played an integral role in earning the Rhodes Scholarship.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

We must transform our educational institutions such that they create a culture that fosters the development of interpersonal skills, values creativity, and supports a spectrum of learning styles. By supporting students to pursue what they’re most passionate about, and training them how to work collaboratively, we can create an environment that prepares students to solve problems. It is at this intersection of passion, knowledge, and communication that innovation occurs.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

I am most looking forward to being a part of the incredibly diverse community at the University of Oxford. I specifically look to this community to challenge my views of the world, to provide a diversity of ideas and perspectives, and to catalyze my continual pursuit to transform my scholarship into social change.

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THE PRAIRIES

Aravind Ganesh – University of Calgary

Mr. Ganesh came to Canada from India in 2005. By 2007, he was one of the top 10 graduating high school students in Alberta. From there, he studied biological sciences, medicine and neurology at the University of Calgary, and now plans to study public health at Oxford, researching strategies to improve care for those who have suffered strokes and, ultimately, preventing them altogether. But Mr. Ganesh has a lighter side: He also performs as a stand-up comic and enjoys cartooning.

How does one win the Rhodes?

With innovation, leadership, persistence and confidence.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

Direct integration of technology into the classroom to deliver information in a more visual and interactive format, so that students learn through their repeated interactions with the tool. I’m trying to incorporate such a transformation into medical education using a smartphone-based app, SnapDx.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

I’m looking forward to forming strong bonds within not only the Rhodes and Oxford scholarly communities, but also within the U.K.’s National Health Service, which has a unique set of strengths and challenges that Canada can learn from.

 

Jonathan Pedde Dartmouth College (United States)

By the time Mr. Pedde began studying economics, math and engineering at Dartmouth, he was already a licensed pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Cadets in 691 “Hawk” Squadron, near the farm where he grew up east of Regina. But it was volunteer work in Africa and India through The Sharing Way, a relief and development organization, that shaped his worldview, and he now plans to continue studying economics at Oxford, analyzing the 2008 financial crisis.

How does one win the Rhodes?

Beyond what is described on the Rhodes Trust’s website, I honestly don’t know. I was amazed by the other finalists I met on Friday evening – they were all intelligent, very articulate, and personable individuals. I am simply honoured to have been selected.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

Some recent academic research has shown that a great teacher has a positive impact upon her students not only whilst they are in school but for many years thereafter. I have been fortunate to have had several great teachers over the years. We need to do a better job of identifying and recognizing these great teachers.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

I am looking forward to interacting with and learning from people from all over the world. Based on my brief experience at Oxford last fall, I believe that the faculty and my peers will challenge me to think critically about important issues facing Canada and the world.

 

Yan Yu – University of Calgary

More than 9,000 physicians in more than 100 countries have accessed the Calgary Guide to Understanding Disease, and Yan Yu led its development. A medical student at the University of Calgary and Queen’s University graduate, he moved to Calgary in 1999 from China and is interested in health-care innovation. A nature photographer and mountain trail runner, he will split his time at Oxford doing an MBA and a master’s in public policy.

How does one win the Rhodes?

By working hard at doing what you love, connecting meaningfully with other people, and, during interview weekend, have fun.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

I believe Sir Ken Robinson is right in suggesting that education needs to be individualized to suit the unique needs and strengths of each student. To that end, teachers should be given the flexibility to deviate from standardized curricula as needed, and help students find their areas of strength.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

Practising my British accent. Just kidding. Meeting the other Rhodes Scholars, and forming new, lifelong friendships!

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ONTARIO

Joseph Singh – Dartmouth College (United States)

Mr. Singh has his sights set on a career in Canada’s foreign service, having studied international security policy at Dartmouth, in New Hampshire. He has already made his voice heard on security and defence matters, publishing pieces with Foreign Policy, Time and CNN, and has done research as an intern at the OECD and the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. But he also sings for the Dartmouth Aires – an all-male a cappella group that was a runner-up on NBC’s The Sing-Off.

How does one win the Rhodes?

The number one takeaway from the interview process seemed to be this: The Rhodes scholarship is not a reward for past accomplishments, but an investment in the promise of future impact. It’s not just about having good grades, athletic and creative pursuits, demonstrating leadership, etc. It’s about showing how all these things come together to enable you to have impact and to demonstrate that you have a plan to change the world for the better.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

Do young Canadians have equal opportunity to access the same transformative educational experiences that made such a difference in my life and enabled me to pursue the Rhodes? Unfortunately, I think the answer is a resounding no. Nowhere is this more evident than on our First Nations reserves. So many communities don’t have high schools, and the ones that do often don’t have running water or heat. It’s inexcusable and embarrassing.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

I’m most excited about getting started in my degree of study. Oxford has one of the strongest international relations programs in the world, backed by world-class faculty. So this is a real opportunity to learn all I can about the key security challenges I think Canada will need to confront in the coming decades, and to try and think about how we as a nation advance a coherent strategy for addressing them. This is basically an intense incubation period for me as I prepare to enter the foreign service when I graduate, and I’m looking forward to soaking up all the opportunities both within and outside of the classroom to expand my thinking on these issues.

 

Saumya Krishna – University of Western Ontario

Ms. Krishna is among those leading a new wave of student entrepreneurship. As co-founder of the Youth Social Innovation Capital Fund, she has helped provide early-stage financing to young social entrepreneurs, and hopes to launch her own career in similar fashion. A Gold Academic Medal winner at Western, where she studied health and global society, she also volunteers on the board of Arts Starts, bringing professional artists and local residents together for community-building arts projects, and teaches and performs Indian classical dance.

How does one win the Rhodes?

An incredible support system of mentors, family and friends – I am so grateful to them – and the unyielding passion to engage in public issues and make an impact.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

The world is changing at an unprecedented pace, and I believe we need to nurture leaders who can navigate through complexity and analyze issues from myriad perspectives. Whereas our education system tends to emphasize specialization and depth, I feel that breadth and exposure to a variety of fields is important.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

To be part of such a warm and dynamic community of scholars and change makers is what excites me most. Moreover, the opportunity to study at the oldest university in the English speaking world feels truly magical. It is a tremendous gift.

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QUEBEC

Simon-Pierre Chevarie-Cossette – Université de Montréal

When Mr. Chevarie-Cossette led his university’s philosophy student association into the massive Quebec student strikes of 2012, his passion for education was never in question. A master’s student in philosophy, he has worked in camps for blind children, spent five years holding homework clubs and reading circles for the literacy organization Frontier College, and teaches French to adult dropouts. A lover of cinema, music, video games and cycling, he plans to do a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford.

How does one win the Rhodes?

First, one has to be extremely lucky: having parents who focus on education, possessing certain abilities, having time to get involved in the community, having good professors and inspiring friends, etc. Second, one should be versatile. This doesn’t only mean to do a lot of different activities, but to link them together with a goal or an ideal. In my case, I chose to promote a conception of liberty as absence of domination (which focuses on giving people the right tools to avoid sexual, economical, and political domination). I was therefore involved in literacy organizations and political projects.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

Free education. Money is probably one of the most important barriers for studying appropriately. Only students who don’t have to work on full-time jobs can be “true” students: Students who do complementary readings, who are involved in community organizations, who organize reading clubs, who take part in sports teams, etc.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

Discussing philosophy in what seems to me one of the most beautiful places in the world to do so.

 

Suzanne Newing – McGill University

Ms. Newing’s interest in development initiatives runs in the family. A native of Chelsea, Que., she has worked extensively in Ethiopia through Digital Opportunity Trust, a social enterprise founded by her mother in 2002. Her main interests include women’s empowerment, human rights, and social entrepreneurship, and she plans to extend her work in Africa as she starts a master’s in Development Studies at Oxford. She also enjoys digital film and photography, and sails competitively on the Gatineau River.

How does one win the Rhodes?

Winning the Rhodes Scholarship takes incredible perseverance, commitment to academics, passion, leadership, and an insatiable desire to create change in the world. It takes stepping beyond yourself to envisage something greater.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

There are so many opportunities and activities that students can engage in at university. I believe there needs to be a shift in university education that focuses not only on assignments and deadlines, but also on enabling students to discover their interests, passions, and capacity to contribute meaningfully to their local or international community.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

I am most looking forward to joining an international network of like-minded, talented, and passionate students and leaders who are each committed to creating a tangible change in the world around them. I believe we can gain so much from cross-cultural, global collaboration and I am thrilled to be joining such a network. I am looking forward to expanding upon my education, and having the opportunity to focus on my passion for youth and women’s empowerment in Africa academically and through fieldwork. Ultimately, I am most looking forward to the myriad opportunities that Oxford will open, and to the change that this Scholarship will help me bring in the world.

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ATLANTIC PROVINCES

Michael Mackley – Dalhousie University

Mr. Mackley fell in love with genetics in a first-year biology course. After working on conservation of marine populations, he soon joined a team of Dalhousie researchers looking at genetic diseases in humans. “We were kind of like gene detectives,” he said. He studied Familial Exudative Vitreoretinopathy, or FEVR, which can cause early childhood blindness. An a capella singer who plays trumpet and piano, he now works on so-called orphan diseases, which are rare enough to attract little attention.

How does one win the Rhodes?

With a lot of help and support. I am where I am today because of the amazing support I've gotten from everyone in my life – from my family and friends to professors and colleagues. They've provided me with invaluable opportunities and have encouraged me to push myself. I wouldn’t have even considered myself Rhodes-material if it weren’t for the support of my supervisor, Karen Bedard.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

Opportunities such as getting to work in a lab and with a research team have allowed me to understand how the things I learn in the classroom can be put into practice in the real world. I think there should be better access to these sorts of hands-on experiences, as well as a wider range of options and better integration into the curriculum, would be a beneficial change.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

I'm most excited for the collaborative learning environment that Oxford provides. I am interested in genetic disease and the ethical dilemmas surrounding their research, and I’m eager to benefit from the hub of different perspectives and ideas at Oxford – with regards to my field of interest, as well as others. I love to travel (and eat), so I'm also really looking forward to experiencing life on the other side of the Atlantic.

 

Kylie de Chastelain – Mount Allison University

Ms. de Chastelain spent a month this past summer at a field school in the Northwest Territories, living with Dene elders, deepening a keen interest in aboriginal and First Nations issues kindled by a second-year course on native peoples in Canada. She intends to carry that focus into studies in politics and governance at Oxford, and to launch a career in public policy. Outside the classroom, she can often be found Highland dancing or singing.

How does one win the Rhodes?

I think you win a Rhodes scholarship by being engaged, hard-working, and passionate. But winning a Rhodes scholarship really takes a village: professors, teachers, families, friends and students all contribute significantly to the process.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

I think the education system should engage all students – diversity in programming is key, but so are active, inspiring educators. Every student should have a chance to get really excited about what they’re working on, and that requires a broad range of in-class and extra-curricular opportunities and people who will encourage them.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

I am really looking forward to living and studying in such a diverse international setting. Oxford has so much to offer and I’m so excited to be a part of it.

 

Anthony Payne – Memorial University

Statistics and music are Mr. Payne’s key interests, but rather than choosing to make one academic and the other extracurricular, he’s earning a bachelor’s degree in each. He is accomplished in piano and voice, and has been co-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Student Music Society. At the same time, he has done research into statistical genetics, probing how genes and environment contribute to obesity in Newfoundland. He will study statistics and medicine at Oxford, and enjoys squash, softball, bowling and aviation.

How does one win the Rhodes?

I do not believe that there is a set way to win the Rhodes, as is exemplified by the diversity between scholars-elect each year. Rhodes Scholars come from all wakes of life and all disciplines. The qualities that are common among all winners, however, are hard-work, dedication, and the passion to make a difference in the world. The tools and values required to win the Rhodes come from an entire life of decisions, beliefs, work ethic, and diversity. It is not something you prepare for weeks or months in advance; it is something you prepare for over years without even realizing it.

What is the one change you’d like to see in the education system so that students can reach their potential?

An important change I think would help all students reach their potential would be to put more focus on trying diverse things. Although being set on one career choice or one program often appears to be ideal, to the point, and organized, it creates the possibility of missing the one thing that you want to do, and instead doing the one thing that you think you want to do.

What are you most looking forward to about your time at Oxford?

I am most looking forward to experiencing the incredible diversity and culture Oxford offers. Oxford provides incredible programs and an unmatched academic setting which I cannot wait to delve into. I am excited to dig into study at a world-renowned university, explore a new part of the world, and meet interesting and diverse people that I hope to form lifelong relationships with.

Responses have been edited and condensed.

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