Conversations with McCall MacBain Scholars: Brendan Cottrell

In the Reporter's ongoing series of Q&As, members of the inaugural cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars reflect upon a ground-breaking year
“My experience in the scholarship program has been one of growth,” says Brendan Cottrell. “No matter what field you are in, there is opportunity to explore the world’s pressing issues from any perspective.”

This past fall, the first cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars arrived at McGill to begin their fully funded master’s or professional degrees.

 Launched in February 2019, by a landmark $200-million gift from John and Marcy McCall MacBain, the McCall MacBain Scholarship provides mentorship, coaching, and a leadership curriculum, while covering tuition and fees, as well as providing a living stipend of $2,000 per month.

Each member of that first cohort was chosen based on their character, community engagement, leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, academic strength, and intellectual curiosity. They are a diverse group, representing a wide range of interests and experience, ambitions and motivations.

With the 2021-2022 academic year drawing to a close, we caught up with members of that trail-blazing cohort of Scholars and asked them to reflect upon their ground-breaking experience.

As part of our Conversations with McCall MacBain Scholars series, we spoke with Brendan Cottrell who is pursuing a Master’s of Science in Geography at McGill. 

Born and raised in Surrey, British Columbia, Brendan Cottrell was involved with B.C.’s marine mammal response program for over eight years. He assisted rescue experts with seal and whale rescue operations and helped maintain underwater monitoring stations. While completing his bachelor’s degree in Applied Physics at Simon Fraser University as a Schulich Leader, Cottrell coordinated a tutoring program, volunteered with a sustainability club, and managed logistics for cancer research fundraising events. He was working as a drone technician and database administrator prior to applying for the McCall MacBain Scholarships.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Surrey, British Columbia.

What is your field of interest and when did you start developing your interest in it?

My field of interest early on changed with the wind. I began my undergraduate degree in engineering, then ended up graduating with a degree in applied physics. I have always been fascinated by all aspects of the natural world and this degree provided a solid knowledge and skills base that could be applied to most anything.

True to that, I ended up in the Department of Geography’s Applied Remote Sensing Lab, where we investigate the cutting-edge applications of imaging technology to anything from ecosystems and biodiversity to infrastructure inspections.

Did you have any mentors along the way?

I have had too many mentors to thank throughout this process without whom I would never have imagined this kind of opportunity being available to me.

What was your reaction when you found out you had been selected as a McCall MacBain Scholar?

I was on a ferry headed to Vancouver Island for work and was looking out over the beautiful sunny Salish Sea. It was a surreal moment that filled me with an immeasurable sense of opportunity.

What has been your favourite part of becoming a McCall MacBain Scholar?

 My favourite part of this entire experience has been the closeness of our first cohort and the breadth of knowledge and experience we bring when together.

It is easy in graduate school to become so laser focused on your project and program that the rest of the world outside of your field becomes peripheral. Being surrounded by a group of leaders from so many disciplines so regularly forces all of us (for the better) to broaden our perspectives in new ways!

Overall, how would you describe your experience in the scholarship program so far?

My experience in the scholarship program has been one of growth. No matter what field you are in, there is opportunity to explore the world’s pressing issues from any perspective. It has been such a unique and unforgettable first year and I look forward to taking part in what this scholarship becomes as it grows.

What kinds of people do you think should apply for this program? What would you say to those prospective applicants?

Do not be afraid to apply – a major strength of this scholarship is the diversity of recipients. No matter the field, experience, or age, if the drive to be a leader and improve to your utmost is there, you have a chance.

Learn more about the McCall MacBain Scholarships program

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Ghasan Issa
1 year ago

My greetings
I am very happy that you achieved your dream of studying in McCall MacBain Scholarships program
I wish you continued excellence and success