From Toronto to Geneva to Massachusetts, Stephanie Gaglione’s academic journey has spanned across multiple cities as well as disciplines. The U of T chemical engineering student has interned for the World Health Organization’s immunization program, worked in customer development at Procter and Gamble’s Toronto location, and studied biomaterials and drug delivery at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The 22-year old’s latest endeavour is set to take her to the University of Oxford next year, where she will study as a Rhodes scholar. The Rhodes is widely considered to be the one of the world’s most prestigious scholarships.

Gaglione is one of 11 Canadians chosen to receive the scholarship this year, which pays for up to three years worth of postgraduate study at Oxford. Canadian finalists for the award were notified of the selection committee’s decision via phone call last weekend. She recalled spending most of her Saturday evening in suspense:

“After the interview during the day, they call all the finalists… so you wait idly by your phone from 6:00–8:00 pm for the phone call,” she laughed.

Rhodes scholars are chosen after a stringent selection process. The application requires, among other things, a personal statement, six reference letters, and an interview — which Gaglione says was one of the most difficult she’s ever been to — but the process allowed for a great deal of self-reflection.

“The Rhodes application really forces you to examine the entirety of your experience… and distill it down into one idea… and really get your motivation clear on paper and clear to yourself.”

The Rhodes award is not Gaglione’s first scholarship win; last year, she was awarded the Fulbright Canada Killam Fellowship and spent 10 months doing full-time research at a biotechnology lab at MIT.

She is also a former Varsity Blues figure skater and a former research student at The Hospital for Sick Children, and she has served on the Governing Council’s Academic Policy and Programs Committee and Academic Board as a student representative.

While Gaglione has always been interested in science, she treated the beginning of her university career as “a blank slate,” taking on a string of projects and commitments to figure out where her exact interests lay.

Working in business development at Procter and Gamble’s Toronto office, while “a phenomenal experience,” made Gaglione realize that a life in business wasn’t for her. Instead, it helped cement her resolve to be a technical engineer.

Gaglione credits her immersive work and industry experiences for giving her a clearer picture of the professional paths she wanted to pursue. She encourages new undergraduates to similarly explore different avenues during their time at university.

“Go to conferences or talks that are outside of the area that you’re familiar with,” she said. “Do not be afraid to reach out to someone to ask an interesting question over a coffee chat or a LinkedIn message.”