Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
March 26, 2002
U of G student wins prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship
University of Guelph student Janet McLaughlin says being in the right place at the right time helped her win a prestigious 2002 Commonwealth Scholarship. She will study in England next fall for a master's degree in human rights.
McLaughlin, a fourth-year international development student, didn't even know the scholarship existed until four days before the application was due last October. By chance, she had dropped in talk to a professor and was waiting outside his office when a friend happened along. The friend was just finishing off his own application for the Commonwealth Scholarship and asked her if she was applying, too. Within minutes after learning what the scholarship was all about, McLaughlin was making a dash for the student awards office for an application form, arriving just as the doors were about to close. She then spent a frantic couple of days writing a research proposal, ordering transcripts and lining up letters of support.
The reward for that good timing and quick response - not to mention her years of academic achievement and long-standing commitment to international development - is the chance to attend the University of Sussex, where she's longed to do graduate work since she was a high school student in Waterloo. "I've always been interested in world issues, and Sussex has one of the best development programs in the world," McLaughlin said. "I was in England a couple of years ago and visited Sussex, and it just felt right. It's the same feeling I had when I first came to U of G."
McLaughlin arrived at Guelph in 1998 as a President's Scholar, an award that recognized not only her academic excellence but also her commitment to social justice and human rights issues. She has been an active student leader, serving as a residence assistant and on Interhall Council and the Central Student Association (CSA). Her summers were spent volunteering in Guatemala and India. In Guatemala, she taught Spanish, mathematics and English to children in a rural village. In India, she worked with street children in Calcutta, an experience that she says proved to be a huge lesson in humility and in recognizing her own limitations. "When I went to India, I had this big idea to start up a centre to help street kids. Instead, I ended up just hanging out with them and trying to get them into school programs. There was just so much bureaucracy, and the system was so complex," she said.
"The lesson I learned was that you can't just go to a country with a naive conception that you can help people. It was a hard lesson for an idealist to learn. I cried a lot, and I felt naive and useless. But then I told myself that I can't do everything - I can just do what I can. This has allowed me to focus on what I can do and to do it well. Now I put my time and heart and soul into whatever project I'm working on instead of trying to do too much."
During her summer in India, McLaughlin also travelled throughout that country and Nepal with another Canadian student to visit small organizations that use volunteers from abroad. After gathering information about the needs of those organizations, the two students created a Web site to provide information for people interested in volunteering in India and Nepal. They have since expanded the scope of the Web site to countries around the world.
As her experience testifies, McLaughlin believes strongly in putting academic knowledge to a practical purpose. "There has to be some way of applying it to the world or what's the point?"