May 27th, 2018

Former Medicine Hat High School student wins Rhodes Scholarship

By Gillian Slade on January 12, 2017.

James Thorogood, right, in Kenya working with Engineers Without Borders Canada. While there, Thorogood is involved in such projects as designing passive cooling for a greenhouse to developing a program for cattle nutrition. --Submitted Photo  @MHNGillianSlade

A former Medicine Hat High School student has been awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, one of only 11 awarded to Canadians annually.

James Thorogood, who has a B.Sc. in mechanical engineering from the University of Calgary, is only the 15th student to achieve this in the university’s 50-year history.

“James is a natural in terms of collaboration, community and compassion — qualities all great engineers possess,” said Marjan Eggermont, associate dean (student affairs) at the Schulich School of Engineering, U of C. “I am extremely happy and excited for him — he had enormous potential and his time in Oxford will open doors for him that will add to the positive impact he is having on the world already.”

He stood out from the crowd even in his first year, said Eggermont. He was taking on a range of activities outside school curriculum.

“Being so pleasant always, a smile on his face, and open to all suggestions. An open accepting and giving person,” said Eggermont.

Thorogood wrote his fourth-year finals early in order to work in Kenya through Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

“…he is taking on a breadth of activities from designing passive cooling for a greenhouse, to developing a program for cattle nutrition, to networking with investors and building financial models,” said Eggermont.

U of C nominated a number of students for the scholarship. Thorogood then worked with a selection committee for the Prairies that is comprised of previous Rhodes Scholars. After that, 12 finalists were invited to Winnipeg in November for interviews.

“With support from the University of Calgary I was able to fly back from Kenya where I was working at the time,” Thorogood.

In the 30-minute interview, which Thorogood describes as “terrifying and exhausting,” he talked about his experiences in Kenya. The results were announced that evening by telephone. His parents, Mark and Carla, were with him at t.he time.

“It was really electric, a really exciting moment,” said Thorogood. “It was nice to have people there to share it with. I didn’t know what to speak or think for a good 30 seconds.”

A Rhodes Scholarship covers all Oxford University fees, a personal stipend, and a return economy class airfare to and from the student’s home country. The selection committees choose “women and men of outstanding intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service. It supports students who demonstrate a strong propensity to emerge as ‘leaders for the world’s future,’” according to its website. Only 95 students worldwide are awarded a Rhodes Scholarship annually to do post graduate studies at Oxford.

At Medicine Hat High School it was his achievements in so many disciplines that made him stand out from the crowd.

“He was a star athlete, played the lead role in our drama production, he was a star performing arts student and he was second runner-up valedictorian. When I say second runner-up I mean we are talking about a fraction of a per cent,” said Boris Grisonich principal.

To participate in so many things occupies a large amount of time, and he was still able to maintain incredible marks, said Grisonich.

The scholarship covers two to three years depending on the program selected, said Thorogood, who expects to spend two years at Oxford.

The first year he plans to study water science policy and management in a condensed masters program and then pursue an MBA.

“I think the nature of some of these problems is very interdisciplinary so I figure the broader my perspective the better,” said Thorogood.

He worked in Ghana with EWB as an intern in 2013. When he graduated last May he took a contract with EWB in Kenya working with small dairy farmers.

“Kenya has a dynamic dairy industry. I think they’re one of the highest consumers of dairy per capita in the world,” said Thorogood.

A farmer there may only have three or four cows. The engineering aspect of EWB is economic in nature providing investment and human capital to small businesses in Kenya making a systemic impact on issues of poverty, he explained.

Thorogood had been visiting family in Medicine Hat over Christmas and is about to return to Kenya. He anticipates starting at Oxford in September.

His mother Carla says she is very grateful to all the people who mentored James at school, music teachers and U of C for its support of him.

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