media release

SFU Rhodes scholar sets sights on bettering the world

December 08, 2011

Sarah St. John, 778.834.1014 (cell),
Elizabeth Elle, 778.782.4592,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

Sarah St. John
Photos on Flickr

With her 2012 Rhodes scholarship barely in hand, a Simon Fraser University undergraduate is already envisioning how she’ll use it to strengthen her engagement in solving global challenges.

Sarah St. John doesn’t graduate with a bachelor of science from the faculty of health sciences and a certificate in sustainable community development from the faculty of environment until next spring.

But British Columbia’s newest Rhodes scholar, and the coveted graduate award’s fourth SFU recipient, knows she’ll use it to pursue a masters in public policy at Oxford University. The award is worth up to $100,000.

“I love learning about how global, national and local policies affect the ability of communities to address environmental, social and economic determinants of health and well-being,” says St. John, who grew up in Coquitlam. “In today’s world, policy makers and politicians need to come together, regardless of their ideological ties, to solve significant global challenges, including climate change and global inequity.”

The Vancouver resident’s passion for advancing humanitarianism and sustainability feeds her devotion to community engagement.

The three-time recipient of Canadian Red Cross awards has worked extensively in a variety of volunteer awareness-raising capacities with the organization, including coordinating Humanity Strikes Back — a youth conference.  In 2010, she was a youth delegate with the International Federation of the Red Cross at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Mexico.

“It’s the developing world that has the lowest carbon footprint, yet is feeling the most impact of climate change because it doesn’t have the developed world’s technology and capacity to adapt,” says St. John.

Working first as a board member and then the external chair for Sustainable SFU, St. John garnered SFU undergrads’ agreement to contribute $100,000 annually to the organization through a fee added to their tuition.

Only one of 11 annual Rhodes scholarships awarded in Canada goes to a B.C. recipient. Elizabeth Elle, an SFU associate professor of biology, sat on the 2012 seven-member Rhodes selection committee for B.C., which assessed 18 applicants.

“Sarah was impressive in the depth of her commitment to service, and also in her academic breadth,” says Elle. “She has done extremely well in both challenging science courses as well as a diverse array of social sciences courses. Not many individuals can excel across the disciplines the way Sarah has.”

Rhode Scholar candidates must achieve a high standard of intellectual and academic success, and demonstrate strong leadership, community engagement and a commitment to improving the state of the world. They must also show evidence of physical vitality in sports, theatre, music or other non-academic pursuits.

In addition to her international public service work crossing many disciplines, St. John has maintained a 4.1 GPA and enjoys a variety of recreational activities, including hiking, paddling and Cuban salsa dancing.

Rhodes scholarship backgrounder

Established by British philanthropist and colonial pioneer Cecil Rhodes, the annual Rhodes international graduate scholarship is bestowed on 83 university graduates worldwide. 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. The award covers tuition, college fees and a stipend for living expenses.


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