January 13, 2000 Vol . 17, No. 1

Rhodes scholarship shocks SFU grad

The news that she had been awarded the Rhodes scholarship, one of the world's most coveted academic awards, hit SFU biology and environmental toxicology graduate Natasha De Sousa (right) like a freight train.

"I was definitely shocked. I didn't think I had a chance of winning," says the Burnaby resident and secretary for SFU's English language and culture program at Harbour Centre campus. "The contenders were very prestigious and I consider myself very average," says De Sousa.

But the Kitimat-born graduate is anything but average. Now a member of an elite group of Rhodes recipients, including U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner, De Sousa is the second SFU student to be awarded the scholarship since 1996.

Established by British philanthropist and colonial pioneer Cecil Rhodes, the annual international award is bestowed on 60 university graduates around the world. Eleven are given out in Canada; only one in B.C. The scholarship is worth up to $100,000 and enables recipients to study at Oxford University for up to three years, all travel expenses paid.

The recipient must have completed an undergraduate degree with a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.80, participated in sports, demonstrated strong qualities of leadership and character and been involved in public service.

De Sousa was one of 33 provincial applicants for this year's Rhodes. She beat out seven finalists to become the first B.C. Rhodes scholar of the new millennium.

A former member of SFU's award-winning track and field and cross-country teams and the recipient of several academic awards during her undergraduate studies at SFU, including the Stanley Sievenpiper scholarship, the Distinctive Travel Services Inc. award and the All-American Scholar-Athlete award, De Sousa maintained a 4.01 GPA during her final two years at SFU. "For each year of her eligibility, Natasha attained the highest GPA of all varsity track and field athletes and was awarded the highest academic honour of any varsity athlete in any sport on more than one occasion," notes SFU track and field head coach Brit Townsend.

De Sousa was also heavily involved in mentoring science students, and volunteering at local hospitals and the Valley Royals track and field club, an affiliate of SFU's track and field team. Her demonstration of strength of character made her a particularly deserving recipient of the Rhodes scholarship. Forced to withdraw from school for two months during her second year of studies because she was suffering from severe clinical depression, De Sousa rallied back. "I now see my illness as having been a positive experience," reflects De Sousa. "It made me a stronger person who is more appreciative of her life and the support of loved ones, and more aware of the importance of being honest with yourself about and dealing with problems."

De Sousa says her personal experience of the biological causes and societal misconceptions associated with clinical depression have motivated her to explore the psychological, political and cultural issues impacting society's delivery of healthcare. She will use her Rhodes scholarship to pursue a two-year degree in human sciences at Oxford. Eventually, she wants to attend medical school and work in public health.

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