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Victoria College student wins Rhodes Scholarship

Edil Ga’al dedicated to justice, equity

Victoria College student wins Rhodes Scholarship

Gardener, theatre enthusiast, and U of T graduate Edil Ga’al can now add Rhodes Scholar to her list of accomplishments.

The Victoria College student is among 11 Canadians to be awarded the scholarship this year. Double majoring in African Studies and Political Science with a minor in Equity Studies, Ga’al graduated with high distinction this summer.

Her academic achievements are not the only things that make her shine as a person. From friends and staff at Victoria to her mentor, Director of African Studies and Professor Marieme Lo, people across the communities that Ga’al has been involved with speak to her commitment to justice, equity, and inclusivity.

In early 2017, an eye-opening course took Ga’al to Gisenyi, Rwanda and inspired her to return that same summer as a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholar.

Working on educational inclusivity and community development, she wrote in her online testimony that her experience that summer “forced [her] to realize that no person is an island” and think beyond herself.

Apart from her studies into African experiences, this past February, Ga’al received funding through the University of Toronto Excellence Award for a research position with LGBTQ Families Speak Out, a project that explores the experiences of LGBTQ+ families in Ontario over a six-year period. She has also worked as stage manager with Gailey Road Productions on performances foregrounding LGBTQ+ experiences.

Ga’al joins 26 other U of T graduates who have been named Rhodes Scholars over the past 20 years.

Only two Ontarians can receive the Rhodes Scholarship each year out of 11 total Canadians. The scholarship includes an all-expenses-paid University of Oxford postgraduate education — up to three years for those also pursuing a PhD.

For Ga’al, this opens the door for a master’s degree in African Studies and a doctorate in International Development. Through her research, Ga’al hopes to contribute to a world with more peace, inclusion, and justice.  

Canadian Secretary of the Rhodes Trust and the Chair for the Rhodes Scholarship in Canada Richard Pan congratulated this year’s 11 Canadian Rhodes Scholars. In a press release, Pan wrote that the selection committee was deeply impressed by “the deep care the Scholars have shown for our most vulnerable communities, and the incredible passion with which they are applying their remarkable talents.” The Rhodes Trust has been awarding scholarships to exceptional students since 1902.

Besides her academic achievement, Ga’al is also simply a Manchester United fan — she received word of her scholarship while watching Bend It Like Beckham with her family. Among the many other amazing opportunities that come with her scholarship, Ga’al told U of T News that watching her first live Premier League match is a must on her to-do list.

She advised others to “seek out the experiences you think will be enriching to you… As with anything in life, don’t disqualify yourself.”

Three U of T students win prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

Jessica Phillips, Kaleem Hawa, James Flynn to study at Oxford next fall

Three U of T students win prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

Three University of Toronto students have claimed Rhodes Scholarships and will be continuing their post-graduate education at Oxford University next year.

Jessica Phillips, Kaleem Hawa, and James Flynn are all active members of U of T’s academic community. Phillips is the president of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Club and she has completed field research in evolutionary biology at the Salmon Coast Field station in British Columbia. 

Flynn is the managing online editor and former news editor of The Varsity, and founder of CodeNL, an initiative that offers free coding classes to students in Newfoundland.

Hawa is a member of the Hart House Debates Committee, director of the G8 Research Group, and co-president of the International Relations Society.

Flynn and Hawa and are both alumni of SHAD, a summer program that they attended as high school students, which they say helped prepare them for success at university.

The Varsity spoke with Phillips, Hawa, and Flynn to discuss the scholarships, their defining moments at U of T, and their plans for the future. 

The Varsity (TV): “What is your major?”

Kaleem Hawa (KH): “I am in my fourth year at Trinity College studying towards a BSc in International Relations and Global Health.”

James Flynn (JF): “I am working towards a double major in Economics and Political Science.”

Jessica Phillips (JP): “I am working towards a Specialist in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, a Major in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, and a Minor in Psychology.”

TV: “What is the most rewarding experience that you have had at U of T?”

KH: “Serving as Chair of Trinity’s lively student government has been the great honour of my time at the University of Toronto. And one that I never wish to repeat again.”

JF: “Working for The Varsity, first as an associate news editor and news editor, and now as managing online editor. At The Varsity, I have had the opportunity to work with an incredibly talented team of student journalists. They are some of my best friends, and I continue to learn from them each and every day.”

JP: “Though it’s very hard to decide on one most rewarding experience, I would probably have to say that it was spending two months living and working at Salmon Coast Field Station while doing an independent project under the supervision of Professor Martin Krkosek after my second year. Prior to this I knew that I liked the idea of doing field work but was unsure of how I would handle the reality of working in the field. This experience made me realize my passion for field work, and marked a turning point in my time at U of T after which I became much more involved in the University’s research activities.”

TV: “What program will you be taking at Oxford?”

KH: “I hope to study an MSc in Integrated Immunology and an MSc in Global Governance & Diplomacy. I’ve long been fascinated with the changing face of national security and foreign policy — and the emergent risks that are now preoccupying policymakers in these spaces. In my case, I’ve focused on two substituent areas: pandemic threats (like SARS, Ebola, MERS, and influenza) and climate change, which will present significant challenges to the well-being of Canada’s indigenous populations and to global food security.”

JF: “I plan to pursue a Master of Science in Social Science of the Internet, followed by a Master of Public Policy, beginning in October 2016.”

JP: “I hope to do a DPhil in Zoology at Oxford University.”

TV: “How much of your success do you owe to your time at the U of T?”

KH: “Most of it! U of T and Trinity have taught me to balance multiple competing priorities: the ever-piling mounds of schoolwork, the importance of staying close with your friends, extracurricular commitments in debate and global health, and keeping in touch with family. Attending this school here has been a phenomenal learning process that has no doubt shaped me for the better!”

JF: “At the University of Toronto, I have had the opportunity to study under truly outstanding professors, like Dr. Kanta Murali and Dr. Lynette Ong. Both have expanded my interests, helped me approach problems from new angles, and helped me develop academically. I owe a great deal to their advice and guidance.”

JP: “I would definitely not be here today if it was [sic] not for the amazing opportunities U of T has which allow undergrads to participate in research and many other extracurricular activities.”

TV: “Who is your mentor or role model?”

KH: “I’ve benefitted to a large extent from the mentorship of many people throughout my U of T career: I owe a great debt to Professors Joy Fitzgibbon, John Kirton, Arun Ravindran, Helen Dimaras, Arne Kislenko, Mairi MacDonald, and Robert Bothwell. I’ve also received phenomenal support from Provost Mayo Moran at Trinity College, Andrea Levinson and Janine Robb at Health & Wellness, Danielle Thibodeau and Jennifer Newcombe at Hart House, and the staff at the Loran Scholarship Program. Overall however, at the risk of being unimaginative, my role models will always be my parents, whose struggles in immigrating to this country and making a life for themselves will forever overshadow my own paltry trials.”

JF: “My mother. She has worked so hard to give me opportunities to succeed, and she has supported me in every single one of my endeavours. She is always the first one I go to for advice; I owe so much to her.”

JP: “I find Emma Watson’s work very inspiring.”

TV: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

KH: “After working for a few years for an international organization like the World Bank or WHO, I hope to be serving as a policy advisor or political staff at Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs or at Environment and Climate Change Canada.”

JF: “Learning, whether in a formal, academic environment or an informal one. Education is such a valuable experience — no matter one’s age.”

JP: “I see myself researching Antarctica’s biodiversity and being involved in efforts to protect the continent and the species that inhabit it.”