On the Rhode to success

    St. Thomas University may be one of the region’s smallest universities, but that hasn’t stopped its students from making big waves.

    While STU’s enrolment accounts for less than one per cent of all Canadian university students, STU students have accounted for more than three per cent of Canadian Rhodes Scholars in the past eight years.

    The Rhodes Scholarship, a prestigious award for graduate studies at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, valued at more than $100,000, was most recently awarded to Mary-Dan Johnston.

    Johnston, the St. Thomas University students’ union’s vice-president administration, is one of eleven Canadian students to receive the honour this year.

    Other St. Thomas graduates granted the prestigious award are Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo in 2003 and Stephen Brosha in 2007.

    Both have gone on to be successful in their field; Brosha, becoming a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Carpenter-Arevalo going on to work for Google in Berkeley, Calif., and then to Geneva, Switzerland, working on the World Economic Forum.

    So what is it that makes students from STU so successful in winning the prestigious award?

    Johnston says STU’s emphasis on a critical liberal education has helped create graduates who look for the root of a problem, rather than a Band-Aid solution.

    She is also thankful for the professors that led her to become so passionate in community projects and leadership roles.

    “I felt like the committee wanted to get to know me, and so I felt really safe to talk about the things that I’m passionate about and explain what it is that I do with my life,” she said of her interview with the Rhodes Scholarship committee.

    Some of her causes include furthering access to post-secondary education, particularly for those with disabilities, as well as sustainability and issues of justice and equality.

    As an interdisciplinary student, Johnston feels her multitude of different academic experiences has well-prepared her for the transition to Oxford. If anything, she says, she may be unprepared for the culture shock.

    Richard Southcott, secretary of the selection committee for the Maritime region, said while the committee is delighted to see a school succeed in the selection process, not one school or teaching method is seen as preferable. It all comes down to the individual.

    He said they look for students with intellectual prowess, the ability and energy to lead and use their talents to the fullest, as well as have proven integrity of character in employing their talents towards the betterment of the community.

    Johnston will attend Oxford next fall. She has applied to both the economics and social history program, as well as sociology.