For most university students, the start of the final semester involves graduate school applications, or the beginning of the job search process. For one McMaster student, the post graduate plan is one of incredible prestige.
In December, Sheiry Dhillon, a fourth-year student in the Health Sciences program, was named one of two Ontario Rhodes scholars for 2012. Even though weeks have passed since the announcement, Dhillon is still in disbelief.
“It feels as if I’m suspended in between two worlds,” she said in an interview. “On one side, it’s such an incredible opportunity and I’m so excited to go to Oxford…and on the other side, it just feels so surreal and I am so excited, but at the same time I have to remind myself that this is actually happening.”
Awarded to approximately 80 students each year, the Rhodes scholarship is widely considered to be the most prestigious program of its kind in the world. It is given annually to students from the British Commonwealth, the United States, and Germany for post-graduate study at Oxford University.
The scholarship was established by British entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes, who at the time of his death in 1902 was considered to be one of the wealthiest men in the world.
In his will, Rhodes stipulated that the scholarship not be given to “mere bookworms;” instead, he intended for the scholarship to be awarded to young people who wanted to “fight the world’s fight.”
Dhillon certainly fits the bill.
Since her high school days, Sheiry has been interested in global issues, particularly maternal and child health. Her impressive resume includes an internship with the Canadian Centre for International Justice and a summer working on a primary health research project in rural Northern India.
“If I look at those experiences, it’s really just a common thread of pursuing my passions, my interests,” she said of her extracurricular activities. “I guess that helps qualify me for the Rhodes, because I guess it came across that I’m quite passionate about global health.”
Her specialization in the Health Sciences program has been in global health. Her passion for the subject led her to work with the department to “develop a global women’s health perspective in the global health curriculum.”
The Brampton, Ontario native credits her experience at McMaster University for much of her success. “I don’t know if I would have had this opportunity if I had gone to a larger university…McMaster has always been home to me, and it’s been so important for my growth and development in these last four years,” she said.
In particular, she credits her mentors as a major influence on her schooling and on her decision to pursue the Rhodes Scholarship.
“I’ve had some mentors and some good friends that have been a part of the Rhodes community and they’ve just said incredible things about the community…so I started thinking about [applying] when some of my mentors started suggesting it,” she explained.
“They just always believed in my work and have always given me the opportunity to excel in a lot of different fields,” she said.
Although her short-term goals upon graduation have been identified, Dhillon has not decided what she plans on doing with her studies at Oxford yet, but she remains confident that global health will continue to be her focus.
“I’ll definitely be pursuing my interests in the global health field.” She expects to study for either a Masters of Science in global health or a Doctor of Philosophy in public health.
“Right now I’m going in with an open mind and I’m just looking at the next three years as an opportunity to really focus on my interest in research and epidemiology…and perhaps, afterwards, maybe medicine is an option, or maybe it’s not,” explained Dhillon.