Two New Brunswick students awarded prestigious Rhodes scholarship

Ethan Nylen from Saint John said it’s “hard to put into words
Ethan Nylen from Saint John said it’s “hard to put into words

St. Thomas University student Ethan Nylen was pacing back and forth as he awaited a phone call from the selection committee for the Rhodes scholarship.

After the phone call came, Nylen said he dropped to the ground in "pure disbelief." From there, he called his parents who had been doing their own pacing.

Nylen, who was born and raised in Saint John, said it's "hard to put into words" how great an opportunity it is to be a Rhodes scholar, especially for someone who comes from "humble beginnings."

"You have students winning the Rhodes scholarships in the United States … many from Harvard and MIT and Yale and Columbia, kind of all the Ivy League schools," said Nylen.

"And it's a real honour to be mentioned in the same breath as some of these people."

The scholarship, which was awarded to 11 students across Canada this year, allows recipients to complete their graduate studies at Oxford with all course fees covered along with an additional annual stipend for living expenses.

Nylen is one of five St. Thomas University students to be awarded the scholarship since 2003.

And he's not the only New Brunswick-based student to be planning his education at Oxford next year.

Submitted by Mount Allison University
Submitted by Mount Allison University

Tess Casher, a fourth-year student at Mount Allison University, said getting the scholarship is surreal and a dream come true. She is the 56th Rhodes scholarship recipient to come out of the Sackville university.

Casher calls Whitehorse home but grew up in Qatar. She said upon finding out she got the scholarship, she started "happy dancing."

Casher is completing an English honours degree and plans to study Victorian literature at Oxford. She hopes to continue in academia after that.

Nylen is doing an honours degree in Great Books and majoring in political science at St. Thomas. He plans to study politics at Oxford, and from there, Nylen has his sights set on the non-profit sector.

"My passion right now is to help provide education to marginalized communities, to those who might not have the same kind of access to education as other people, knowing very well that education is a really strong form of activism, providing the kind of dignity to people who have had their dignity taken away systemically," said Nylen.

What got them to Oxford?

Casher has a speech impediment that she said contributed to her love of communication. She finds it interesting how the way people speak and think can contribute to their actions.

She has worked with her local World University Service of Canada chapter, a non-profit international development organization for young people. She also wrote a book about stuttering which will be published next spring to help with clinical training at the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research in Alberta.

"It's been a lot of really exciting opportunities to be involved with how communication impacts us," said Casher. "I was just able to continue in that area, which is something I really hope to pursue for the rest of my life."

Nylen recently co-founded a tutoring program for people studying for their General Education Development certificate, known as a GED, and he's also an avid volunteer and varsity athlete.

The scholarship process is a long one, with many applications, personal statements and interviews along the way. Nylen said he just tried to present an honest picture of himself.

"I can genuinely say, throughout the whole process, that I was being myself," said Nylen. "It's the cliché piece of advice that everyone gives you before every interview. But when it comes to something like this, it is really the most valuable thing."

Nylen said his inbox is already filled with congratulatory emails, and he has thousands of texts to respond to. He said the support is encouraging.

"I'm really, really fortunate to have a really great support system here in Fredericton and in Saint John of just different kinds of people who have had a really great influence on me," said Nylen. "And their many congratulations are just, you know, the cherry on top."