The dormitories at American University in Cairo were filled with cheering when mechanical engineering student Reem Mahmoud announced that she was named a McCall MacBain scholar and will get to study at Canada’s McGill University.
Ms. Mahmoud grew up in Giza, Egypt, where underage marriages are common and the pursuit of undergraduate education is not a choice for many women. But with the encouragement of her mother, Ms. Mahmoud entered American University on a merit scholarship. And when it came to her choice of major, she again made an unusual decision for women in her hometown – STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“It was a challenge all the way from getting out of my hometown to pursuing undergrad education and now to actually pursuing mechanical engineering,” she said in an interview.
Ms. Mahmoud is among 30 students from 10 countries that form the first global cohort of McCall MacBain scholars who will study at McGill. The scholarships, designed to encourage new leaders, are the result of a landmark $200-million gift in 2019 from John and Marcy McCall MacBain.
With the McCall-MacBain scholarship and the opportunity to pursue a masters degree at McGill, Ms. Mahmoud aims to work in Canadian industry, and eventually, help women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
“And afterwards, I think I’ll be getting back to the MENA Region and establishing some sort of a venture that provides solutions that are necessary for the region and at the same time that are suitable for the economic circumstances of the region.”
Students and graduates from more than 1,200 universities applied for the McCall MacBain scholarships in this first year of global admissions. More than 280 community leaders volunteered their time to review applications and interview 242 students. From this group, 88 were invited to a final round of interviews which took place in Montreal in March.
“Our committees were delighted to receive great interest from all corners of the world,” said Natasha Sawh, dean of the McCall MacBain scholarships at McGill. “Our volunteers looked not only for academic strength, but for leadership qualities like integrity, kindness, grit, and an ability to motivate a team to address tough challenges.”
For Clèche Kokolo, the scholarship means one thing: community. “It took a community to get me where I am today, and now through this scholarship, I get to expand my community as I embark on a new journey where I will continue giving back to my community.”
Ms. Kokolo is a University of Manitoba student senator, and is working to launch a mentorship program to make student leadership roles more accessible. She was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Black Women to Watch for her community work in 2022.
Ms. Kokolo wants to study law at McGill in both English and French because as someone who grew up in Manitoba, she saw barriers in her community for those seeking access to French legal services.
Through her studies, she hopes to continue to advocate for social justice and equity, so that the next generation of Black women see themselves represented in the legal profession and feel empowered to pursue their own education in the field.
Another scholarship recipient, Mohit Kumar, from Firozabad, India, has been working to improve literacy in his community through his project known as Sarathi: The Guide. Since 2019, he has expanded and mobilized 45 volunteers to support 850 students in 10 villages.
But his journey from studying in a government primary school to now becoming a McGill scholar hasn’t been smooth sailing. Mr. Kumar said the switch from speaking in his mother tongue in primary school to English in university was challenging. He said there was also a “sense of missing guidance” in a conventional education system like India’s – where a career in STEM remains the goal of most. This is something he wishes to change with his education in Canada.
When you have good grades, the push is for you to study biology or math. “That happened with me. But I was like, ‘I’m fine with humanities,’ I love to read about it. I’m a history enthusiast,” he said. “You have to think beyond the box. And when you’re taking that decision, that’s a big decision.”
With the opportunity to study education at McGill, Mr. Kumar wants to give back to society by focusing on two things: quality education and equitable opportunities.
“I would really love to contribute, whether it’s professionally or even in my personal capacity,” he said. “This is the one thing I’m looking forward to on a larger scale.”
Other recipients are:
Cameron Adams: Completing a bachelor of arts in Indigenous languages and a bachelor of education in history at the University of Winnipeg. He worked with an elder and other community members to create a mobile application for learning Nehinawewin (Swampy Cree).
Minh Au: Leads a student group dedicated to design and innovation in biomedical engineering. She has worked and volunteered as an editor for the University of Saskatchewan’s student-run newspaper.
Zineb Salma Bahri: Managed and led the astronomy club at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, and led the mechatronics team to compete in international robotics competitions.
Abby Buller: An engineering physics student at McMaster University. She plans to start a masters degree in electrical engineering at McGill and is eager to work on health care technology challenges.
Kyla Christianson: Studies nursing at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus, and volunteers with the campus’s emergency first response team and the nursing course union.
Jonathan Ferguson: A recent graduate from Mount Allison University. He now works as a policy analyst at the Public Health Agency of Canada in Ottawa.
Chantel Findlay: A recent graduate of Dalhousie University, where she studied neuroscience, microbiology, and immunology. She plans to enter the masters degree program in direct-entry nursing at McGill.
Isabella Grajczyk: Works on gender equality projects for the United Nations Development Program. She started and oversees Sask Girls United, a non-profit that aims to educate and empower the youth of Saskatchewan.
Tim Gulliver: Completing an honours degree in political science at the University of Ottawa, where he has been actively engaged in student politics.
Fuqin (Kook) Hu: Studying international politics at Nankai University. He led publicity for an exhibition about China’s first premier, provides free courses for children, and was the editor-in-chief of a university academic journal.
Yvan Kammelu: A research agent at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre, and recently spent a gap year working, volunteering, and performing in a dance troupe in Abuja, Nigeria. He plans to pursue a masters degree in management analytics.
Michael Kynaston: Works as a participation and communities manager for a borough council in London. Previously, he helped to co-ordinate a community-led response to COVID-19 for more than 2,000 residents.
Lynda Li: A kinesiology student at UBC. Recognizing the need for culturally responsive care, she co-founded a volunteer network providing free interpretation services to immigrants and newcomers in Vancouver.
Rojine McVea: During her time at the University of Alberta, she co-founded an initiative offering reusable takeout containers and mugs to the campus community to reduce waste. She aspires to eventually work in public health, with an emphasis on community and environmental health.
Jessie Meanwell: A mathematics student at McMaster University, she makes free educational math videos and serves as vice-president academic of the mathematics and statistics student society.
Julia Morelli: A political studies student at the University of Saskatchewan, she works as a constituency assistant for two MLAs.
Racheal Opoku-Afriyie: Graduated from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. She chaired the executive council of the forest resources technology student association and worked on community education projects at Mole National Park. She will pursue a masters degree in renewable resources.
Tomy Pelletier: As a business intelligence student at HEC Montreal, he twice organized the school’s job fair for 600 students and 50 companies. He participates in the Jeux du commerce competitions and helps integrate 40 international students as an adviser in residence.
Abigail Ralph: While studying neuroscience and health policy at the University of Toronto, Scarborough campus, she has served on a women’s health peer advisory research board and helped oversee a vaccine equity research project. She also co-founded a grassroots initiative to support nearly 40 local Black students through community programs and an award.
Ricardo André Riesgo Galaviz: Pursuing a bachelor of science in mechatronics engineering at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey and works as a bioprinting research intern at Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He will enter the biological and biomedical engineering program at McGill.
Sarah Rourke: Revived and leads a feminist physics club at the University of Waterloo, where she is studying physics and astronomy. She will begin a masters degree in physics at McGill.
Muhammad Faisal Sattar: After running workshops for students in rural areas near his village in Shakargarh, Pakistan, he established a small community school in 2020 and continues to oversee it. To further his expertise in privacy law, he plans to pursue a master of laws at McGill.
Agnès Totschnig: Completing a joint honours degree in mathematics and computer science at McGill. She has worked as a research assistant at the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence.
Eldar Wang: The author of a world poetry book and, as a translator, has published four book-length works. She is completing a bachelor’s degree in world literature at Duke Kunshan University and will pursue a masters degree in East Asian studies at McGill.
Caleigh Wong: The co-founder of a non-profit organization addressing anti-Asian racism and editor-in-chief of its magazine. She was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces from 2017 to 2022, including a year deployed in Eastern Europe.
Tony Xu: Studying software engineering and commerce at Western University. In 2018, he worked with a team of four to create a tool to make academic literature more accessible.
Farida Zakariya: The specialty research team lead at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria. She tutored students in the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, led a group within a drug policy student society, and co-ordinated a cohort of 15 student union leaders interested in entrepreneurship. Through the latter, she helped advocate for a startup bill proposal to the Nigerian government.