University of Toronto undergrads Moustafa Abdalla and Caroline Leps are heading to Oxford University next year for postgraduate studies – as two of Canada’s 11 students named 2015 Rhodes Scholars.
“It hasn’t settled in yet. It’s really exciting. I can only imagine the kinds of opportunities I will have,” says Leps. The Rhodes Scholarship program is the oldest – and one of the world’s most prestigious – postgraduate award programs. It supports exceptional, all-round students at Oxford. According to the Rhodes web site, scholars are selected for their “outstanding intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service.” Rhodes Scholars have gone on to become Pulitzer Prize winners, heads of state and Nobel Laureates. Among the well-known Canadian Rhodes Scholars are Bob Rae, David Naylor, Marc Kielburger and Rex Murphy. Just 83 students from around the world will be awarded Rhodes Scholarships this year.
Abdalla, a student at Victoria College, is studying biochemistry and physiology. He also works as a youth director at Flemingdon Park Parents Association, a community advocacy group in North York, and tutors chemistry at Vic.
He plans to study computational biology and computational medicine at Oxford, and hopes to one day contribute to the advancement of medicine through the ethical use of artificial intelligence. “At the moment, I am interested in the application of machine learning in the context of ‘big data’,” says Abdalla, “to develop models and predictions that could, for example, identify disease-causing genes, or genes that cause bad drug reactions, or more generally, for developing personalized or precision medicine.”
Leps, a Trinity College student, is studying global health and international relations. The co-president of the International Relations Society and of Trinity College’s Women’s Athletic Association, Leps is co-captain of Trinity’s basketball team, and plays violin in the Hart House Orchestra. She also volunteers at a children’s hospital and a camp for kids with cancer.
At Oxford, she will be pursuing a master’s degree in global health science, with aspirations to become a pediatrician working in global children’s health in low– and middle-income settings.
“I believe in global children’s health – it’s a field we should invest in. Ensuring children have a healthy childhood means they can contribute to our community as adults,” she says.
“On behalf of the U of T community, I congratulate Moustafa Abdalla and Caroline Leps on being selected Rhodes Scholars,” says President Meric Gertler. “I would also like to thank them for their example. Each has an outstanding record of multifaceted excellence, and both are determined to use their talent and learning to benefit individuals and communities, here and around the world. In this they demonstrate brilliantly the highest ideals of the University of Toronto.”