Recent engineering grad wins prestigious scholarship to study at University of Oxford
BY LORI BONA HUNT
Arani Kajenthira thought she was dreaming when she got the call telling her she had won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.
“Seriously, I was half asleep when the phone rang, so I wasn't sure if it was real or not,” says Kajenthira, three days after learning she would be on her way to the University of Oxford. “It took until yesterday for it to seem real to me.”
She is one of two students from Ontario — and 11 nationwide — to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. The award, which covers tuition, other fees and a living allowance, is worth about $35,000 US a year.
“I've always wanted to go to Oxford,” she says. “It's been a dream of mine since high school. I just didn't think it would ever be financially feasible.”
Kajenthira, a 2005 engineering graduate, was one of 12 Ontario students selected from applications to be interviewed for two Rhodes Scholarships. She travelled to Toronto on the weekend of Nov. 26 for her 5:20 p.m. interview, then spent an anxious evening waiting for the phone to ring.
“They warned us it would be late. So I went out to dinner with my parents, but we all kept looking over at the cellphone, waiting for it to ring. Later, I got tired of waiting and was falling asleep when the call came in at about 10:45 p.m.”
It was a long time in coming.
Kajenthira had hoped to attend Oxford immediately after graduating last spring because she'd been invited to be one of Guelph's two nominees for a Rhodes Scholarship in fall 2004.
“I had found an amazing program that was in line with what I want to do,” she says. Unfortunately, she wasn't selected for an interview.
“I went ahead and applied to Oxford anyway and ended up getting into the college I wanted. But I turned it down because it just didn't make any sense financially, and I had found a job.”
Kajenthira is currently a staff scientist with GeoSyntec Consultants, performing environmental field sampling, data analysis and engineering and earth science calculations.
“I decided to think about it and maybe apply again later,” she says. “So when I was asked to put in an application this year, I figured: ‘Why not?'”
Kajenthira will head for England next fall. She hopes her graduate work will lead to her developing cost-effective remediation technology to remove contaminants from soil and groundwater in Third World countries.
She became interested in the subject while conducting a research project as a U of G student with Engineers Without Borders.
“I was working on introducing a clean water supply to a rural community in Tanzania,” she said. “It really opened my eyes.”
Her long-term career goal is to forge a link between industry and non-governmental organizations.
“I'd like to connect the experience of people in industry with the passion and contacts that NGOs have. A lot of NGOs rely on young people, university students who may be very dedicated but don't have as much practical experience because they're in school or just out of school. People in industry have a lot of experience but may not have time to go overseas. We need to bring the two groups together to create a greater impact.”
While a U of G student, Kajenthira won prestigious Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council awards in 2004 and 2005 that allowed her to work in research laboratories in the Department of Plant Agriculture. There she collaborated with scientists from the California Institute of Technology to study the behaviour of E. coli bacteria. She also expanded on research she began in 2002 on the role of hormones in wound-induced stem cell regeneration. In 2003, she worked at Mount Sinai Hospital as a Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute summer intern, conducting research on the effect of antibiotics on the development of osteoarthritis.
The recipient of a U of G entrance scholarship and an Ontario Aiming for the Top Tuition Scholarship, Kajenthira was on the dean's list her entire career at Guelph. She was an active member of Women in Science and Engineering, Engineers Without Borders, the National Agriculture and Biotechnology Council, and Professional Engineers of Ontario. She also served as an academic cluster leader, mentoring a group of 20 first-year engineering students, and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, the YWCA, Relay for Life, the Dunary Dufferin- Wellington Homes for Psychiatric Rehabilitation and the Onward Willow Centre.
Students from about 20 countries compete annually for 90 Rhodes Scholarships. Created in 1902 and named for Cecil Rhodes, the scholarships recognize “high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential leadership and physical vigour.”
President Alastair Summerlee says he's “delighted for Arani. This will make her dream of studying at Oxford a reality. She will be an excellent ambassador for the Rhodes Scholarship program, the University of Guelph and Canada. The Rhodes Scholarship committee has recognized and rewarded the talents of a remarkable young person.”
Past Rhodes Scholarship recipients have included country presidents, Supreme Court justices, poets, writers, scholars, politicians, Olympic athletics and Nobel Peace Prize winners. Among them are former Canadian governor general Roland Michener; astronomer Edwin Hubble; former U.S. president Bill Clinton; feminist social critic Naomi Wolf; Canadian commentator Rex Murphy; and former Ontario premier Bob Rae.
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