By McGill Reporter Staff
At least two McGill students have captured 2017 Rhodes Scholarships this year, bringing to 141 the number of McGill Rhodes Scholars since the awards were created in 1902 to provide for studies at the University of Oxford.
Aaron Gluck-Thaler, a prizewinning Mechanical Engineering student, is a scholar-elect from Quebec. Angela Yu, a graduate student in Biology, who studies the initiation of DNA replication in yeast using super-resolution microscopy, is a scholar-elect chosen from the Maritimes.
“Congratulations to Angela and Aaron,” said Principal Suzanne Fortier. “The Rhodes scholarship is internationally renowned as an acknowledgement of outstanding accomplishment. Over the years, it has recognized excellence in McGill’s student body, and their passion and drive for changing their world. I wish Angela and Aaron every success in their next chapters at Oxford.”
“If the Rhodes is one thing,” Gluck-Thaler said, “it’s an amazing platform to do work in the public interest…. It’s a community I’m thrilled to a part of.” He said the Rhodes Trust has shown its commitment to equipping the leaders of tomorrow with the resources they need to benefit the public.
Passionate about cyber security, surveillance and privacy issues, Gluck-Thaler, 23, said he started focusing on these issues four years ago when he did an internship with an organization called Privacy International. There, he learned about the unregulated global trade in surveillance technology, often involving the world’s most repressive regimes, as well as the Canadian government, who use that technology against society’s most vulnerable people.
“What we’ve learned in recent years is that surveillance apparatus and practices are far from the standard of being necessary and proportionate,” he said.
And yes, he attended the recent video event at McGill featuring whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Born and raised in Montreal West, Gluck-Thaler enjoys running and “building all sorts of machines.” One of these, a 3-D printer that can produce low-cost medical supplies like stethoscopes and prosthetics, won a nationwide competition.
Gluck-Thaler, a former president of Hillel Montreal, plans to pursue an MSc in Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute and then a Masters of Public Policy and the Blavatnik School of Government.
Noted McGill professor Gabriella Coleman, an expert on social media and cyberspace, said on Twitter she was delighted Gluck-Thaler had snagged a coveted Rhodes. “Super proud @agthaler was student in my hacker class & RA. Has done great work fighting surveillance in Canada.”
Gluck-Thaler and his fellow McGill Rhodes winner, biology student Angela Yu, share more than a passion for running. They are both focused on helping other members of society.
Yu, who serves as Equity and Diversity Commissioner for McGill’s Post Graduate Students’ Society, has, for example, played a leading role in the development of McGill’s nascent sexual violence policy. And she’s most interested in making sure scientists take social values into account.
“Thrilled and a little bit shocked,” was the way Yu reacted to the news she’d won a Rhodes. “It doesn’t feel like my life.”
The Fredericton, N.B., native had been thinking for a while about applying, as during her undergrad years at McGill it seemed like every year someone from McGill was winning one. “It just seemed to be a really good opportunity that was too good to pass up. I felt this was something worth doing.”
Yu has an ambitious, multidisciplinary academic goal, to study how social values influence the development of science, technology and medicine, and she expects her study at Oxford to propel that forward. It is important, she said, to have researchers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine) who are socially engaged.
“The way we use science and technology often perpetuates existing systems,” Yu said. “That’s the perspective that I’m coming from.”
As PGSS Equity and Diversity Commissioner, she walks the talk. “I’ve been working with students in the STEM disciplines to improve the equity culture” at McGill, she said.
She explained her role on the PGSS website: “As Equity and Diversity Commissioner, I hope to make our community a more equitable and accessible place for members who belong to historically marginalized groups,” she wrote. “I collaborate with students and campus organizations to establish and improve resources, accommodations and opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds, identities and experiences.
Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) Angela Campbell, who worked with Yu in developing the draft policy on sexual violence, was full of praise.
“Angela represents the best of McGill. She’s not only incredibly bright, but also committed to making the world around her a better place for all.
“She has been perseverant and insightful in her many efforts related to equity on campus. She has also been crucial to the development of a robust Policy against Sexual Violence for the University. Throughout, she has modeled diligence, respect for diverse views, and terrific leadership. I could not be happier for, or prouder of, Angela,” Campbell said.
The Rhodes Scholarships, named for Cecil Rhodes, a British mining magnate and South African politician at the pinnacle of the British Empire’s influence around the world, are widely considered to be one of the world’s most prestigious. McGill counts more Rhodes Scholarships among its students than any other university in Canada.