There must be something in the water in River Heights. How else can you explain that for the second year in a row a Rhodes scholarship has been awarded to yet another former student from Grant Park High School.
Alexa Yakubovich was this year’s recipient, following on the heels of Thomas Toles, last year’s winner.
Every year, 83 scholarships are offered to the brightest students throughout the world, with three being allocated to the Canadian prairie region. Just like last year, two went to Alberta with Yakubovich being the only Manitoba recipient.
The scholarship was set up by Cecil Rhodes in 1902 when provisions in his will provided a substantial fund to allow for some of the world’s keenest minds to further their studies at Oxford, what was then and arguably still is the world’s finest university.
Since graduating from Grant Park in 2009, the same year as Toles, Yakubovich has obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in psychology from the University of Manitoba before going directly to Oxford where she has just completed her Master of Science degree with distinction.
She is currently back in Winnipeg where’s she’s working two jobs. One at the UofM involves research and technical support for improved water sanitation in First Nation communities.
The other is as a data analyst for Oxford University where she collects statistics on the risk and resilience of children living with AIDS.
She plans to return to Oxford next year when the Rhodes scholarship will allow her to continue her studies there, working towards a PhD in social intervention. This will require a year of living in South Africa where she’ll focus on the family conditions and lifestyles of 600 adolescents living with HIV.
Alexa Yakubovich grew up on Borebank Street in Winnipeg, the daughter of an art teacher and structural engineer and has been a keen dancer since the age of 3.
Starting with jazz, ballet and tap, she went on to dance competitively and has performed with both the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and the Oxford University Ballet.
She had one of those life altering moments when she was 12-years-old and a family friend died of cancer. She began making bracelets as a tribute, initially for family and friends, but the project evolved into the “Beads for Cure” which eventually raised $8,000 for breast cancer research.
“The death of our friend shattered my young belief that good things happen to good people, providing a painful lesson on the devastation of disease,” Yakubovich explained. “In turn I was driven to extend my involvement in public health and human rights advocacy, guided by the simple idea that people deserve the best chance to lead their healthiest, happiest lives. The beads allowed me to feel like I was making a difference albeit a small one in the lives of those facing disease and hardship.”
Her goal is to return Canada upon the completion of all her studies and she ideally would like to work for an international non-profit organization or teach at an academic institution.
U of M President and Vice-Chancellor David Barnard commented, “I am delighted that a young woman of such drive and passion has been recognized for her academic and personal achievements”.
He went on to add, “Alexa Yakubovich is an outstanding example of someone who challenges the status quo, wanting to change the world through pioneering and trailblazing work for the betterment of all.”
Alexa, like Thomas Toles before her, join the likes of one of our previous mayors, Bill Norrie, and former world leaders Bill Clinton and John Turner, all of whom were Rhodes scholars. She also won a Leader of Tomorrow scholarship a few years ago, so who knows what the future holds in store for her.
The Rhodes trust not only grants admission to Oxford University, but also pays for all tuition fees, travel expenses from Canada and living expenses during time abroad. That’s an estimated value of $100,000. It’s a great opportunity at what must be a very exciting stage of one’s life.