Dalhousie student Sierra Sparks awarded a 2021 Rhodes Scholarship

Sierra Sparks became Dalhousie University’s 92nd Rhodes Scholar after winning the prestigious award last weekend.

The Rhodes Scholarship offers fully paid travel, study and living expenses for two years at the University of Oxford in England. Only 100 students are accepted every year.

Sparks, who grew up in Dartmouth, says the response to her announcement was overwhelming.

“It’s been really fantastic to hear from everyone and to see that this is some good news, in what we’re living in right now,” she says.

Sparks is in her final year studying biomedical engineering at Dalhousie University.

She says she is passionate about supporting women and underrepresented groups in that field.

Read more: Women in STEM: the ongoing struggle against inequality

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Engineers Canada says as of December 2019, only 17.9 per cent of licensed engineers in Canada are women. Nova Scotia has the highest number countrywide with 24.4 per cent.

Women, and particularly women of colour, are underrepresented in the field.

Sparks says it’s important to be representing those groups “and be a role model for them,” she says.

Sparks’ role model was her older cousin who studied engineering and introduced her to that field.

“It’s really important for me to be able to do that for someone else… to convince everyone that if they want to do it, it’s something they can do.”

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Sparks was one of eight finalists for the Rhodes Scholarship in Halifax, and she says she was at her parent’s house when she got the call.

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“The minute I was off the phone they came over and gave me a big hug ad we all celebrated together, it was great.”

Sparks is hoping to be able to go to England to attend Oxford University in October 2021, but she says the school would be supportive with online learning as well.

“They’re very hopeful that they’ll be able to welcome the next class of Rhodes Scholars in-person… either way I’m so excited to have this opportunity.”

Right now, Sparks says she is focused on finishing her undergraduate degree and hopes the news will really set in once she’s done with exams this semester.

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