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U of T student lands Rhodes scholarship

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Erin Fitzgerald has been awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which will provide a stipend and tuition expenses at the University of Oxford for two years, with an option for a third year. Each year, 11 Rhodes Scholarships are earmarked for Canadians, with two going to Ontario residents. Fitzgerald will graduate in May 2010 with an Honours BA in international relations and political science.

Established in 1903, the Rhodes Scholarship considers academic distinction, citizenship, and extracurricular activities. The award is named after Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), the British businessman and politician who founded the diamond mining corporation DeBeers. Rhodes is best known for his ardent support for colonialism, accumulating his wealth to the detriment of oppressed peoples.

Scholarships are nothing new to Fitzgerald. Thanks to a bevy of scholarships, including $25,000 from U of T, $16,000 from the province, and $20,000 from Coca-Cola, her father’s employer, she is debt-free.

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Fitzgerald has an excellent academic record, and graduated from high school with a 99.5 per cent average, the highest in Toronto. Nithum Thain, the other Rhodes Scholar from Ontario, has a 4.0 GPA. He is currently in his second year of his Doctor of Philosophy in mathematics at McGill University. He plans to do a Master’s in developmental economics at Oxford in September 2010.

It should be noted the scholarship looks for more than grades. Such was the case with Kofi Hope, a U of T alumnus who became a Rhodes Scholar in 2007. “In my final year I got straight A’s for the first time in my life and was pretty much spending as much time on activism as school, if not more time on activism,” Hope said.

Fitzgerald spent a summer working as an intern at the World Health Organization in Geneva. Another summer she was at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., where she co-authored with Anthony Cordesman, a well-known security analyst, reports on Afghanistan, Iraq, and U.S. strategic planning.

At U of T, Fitzgerald is the chair of the G8 Research Group, a network of students and faculty who monitor how well G8 and G5 members comply with commitments they make at G8 Summits. She attended the Toyako Hokkaido Summit in 2008 as a research analyst, and will lead a G8RG delegation to the Muskoka Summit this year.

Fitzgerald is the fundraising director and former president of the Hart House Debating Club, editor-in-chief of The Attaché Journal of International Affairs, and an undergraduate representative on the University Affairs Board of U of T’s Governing Council.

So how does she do it? “Organization is key. The skills that I learned from karate—discipline, focus—play a big role in my ability to maintain a balance between my GPA and extra-curricular activities,” said Fitzgerald, who has a black belt. “Because I have learned to focus on the task at hand, I am able to avoid procrastination and get to work quickly, which lets me take on and complete more things.”

At Oxford, Fitzgerald will pursue a Master’s in Philosophy in International Relations with a focus on military and strategic studies. She plans to get a law degree afterward, at an Ivy League university.