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University of Toronto students snag three Rhodes Scholars spots

They will join the likes of the world’s most influential intellects, writers and policy makers like Bill Clinton, Naomi Wolf and Bob Rae. But for three University of Toronto students who were named Rhodes Scholars for 2013, the news is still sinking in.

Starting this fall, Joanne Cave, Connor Edmin and Ayodele Odutayo will get an opportunity to pursue a degree at Oxford University. The Rhodes scholarship is considered one of the world’s most prestigious and competitive academic awards and is given to 11 Canadians each year.

That’s why Cave hardly gave the program a thought through much of her undergraduate career. “I never thought of Oxford as an option for me. It always seemed out of reach,” said Cave, who is finishing up a degree in women and gender studies and sociology at the U of T.

Yet she went through the vigorous application process, which included six reference letters, a personal statement and an endorsement from the university. Originally from Edmonton, she applied through the Prairies division and flew out for a rigorous 40-minute interview in November.

She didn’t have to wait long to hear back from the panel of judges. The chair of the committee called her at 3 a.m. that night to give her the good news.

“When he called, he was like, ‘I’m sure you were asleep.’ I said I definitely was — why are you still up?” said Cave, who has a long list of accomplishments on her resume, including founding a girl’s leadership organization in Alberta called Ophelia’s Voice. “Needless to say I couldn’t sleep after that.”

She plans to do a master’s program in social policy at Oxford.

Edmin, who is studying biochemistry and global health at U of T, said he applied in the belief that the “process of applying was valuable in and of itself,” even if he wasn’t selected.

Edmin said he was in disbelief when told he’d been selected, and “mumbled incomprehensibly into the phone for a number of minutes until the secretary, laughing, told me that I wasn’t making much sense and that I should hang up the phone and call my mother,” he said. “For a week after receiving that call, I kept imagining that it had all just been a dream and that I was going to wake up and go back to my normal life. Thankfully, it was not.”

Edmin, who has done extensive public health research on increasing access to HIV treatment in Africa, says that his goal is to pursue a master’s in development studies to examine the relationship between public policy (especially macroeconomic policy) and health outcomes in developing countries.

Odutayo, a medical student at U of T, said he also was humbled by the application and selection process. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health and health policy with a focus on improvement in nephrology, a branch of medicine dealing with functions and diseases of the kidney.

The University of Toronto has a long line of Rhodes Scholars among its alumni, including current Liberal leader Bob Rae and university president David Naylor. U of T was the only university in Canada this year to have more than one Rhodes Scholar. – News

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