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(February 8, 2001, Gazette)

All Rhodes lead to Oxford

Rhodes Scholarship winner Niall O’Dea with his parents Moiré and Shane.Photo by Mary MacGillivray

Rhodes Scholarship winner Niall O’Dea with his parents Moiré and Shane.

By Mary MacGillivray

This year, Memorial student Niall O’Dea has been awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. His parents, English professor Shane O’Dea, and deputy registrar Moiré O’Dea, are very proud of him. This spring, Niall will graduate with an honours degree in biology as well as a bachelor of arts in philosophy. After five years of hard work, he has a grade point average of 3.0, and a lot to be proud of.

Niall already has his post-graduation schedule planned. In mid-May he is off to St. Vincent and the Grenadines through the volunteer organization Canadian Crossroads. Here he will volunteer for four months, and hopes to be involved in an environmental development project.

In October, Niall will travel to England, where he will begin his attendance at the University of Oxford. Interested in the study of ecology and conservation, he is seeking a master’s of science in environmental change and management. His great-uncle Fabian O’Dea, former Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland, won the Rhodes Scholarship in 1939.

As one part of his application, Niall required six personal and professional reference letters. He approached some of his past and present professors, as well as personal references, to gather support in his candidacy for the esteemed scholarship. Niall was happy with the positive responses that he received.

Dr. John Scott and Dr. Peter Trnka of the Philosophy department, as well as Dr. Dick Haedrich, Biology, and Bob Olivero, Fellow, Channing Chair on Public Policy, supplied academic references without reservation. Dr. Mary Courage, Psychology, and Bert Riggs, archivist for the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, were each pleased to supply personal references.

Dr. Haedrich, Biology, Niall’s honours supervisor, is one reason why Niall has become so interested in ecology. Niall said that Dr. Haedrich has been a “mentor” to him in terms of his undergraduate work in biology. He has also found that courses with
Dr. Scott and Dr. Trnka of the philosophy department have been particularly rewarding.

“When I really started to get excited about my some of my philosophy courses, like my courses with Dr. Trnka and Dr. Scott, is when analogies about the body and about things like action really did come in close parallel with what I was already learning in biology.”

Mr. and Mrs. O’Dea considered it important that each of their three children attend Memorial, and this has been upheld. Though he was offered a scholarship to another university, Niall decided instead to stay in Newfoundland and says that he has never regretted this decision. He appreciates the quality of the education that he has received at Memorial and feels that he has learned a lot here.

Intrigued by nature and learning since his childhood days, Niall would go exploring and sometimes bring home funky looking bugs in matchboxes for further examination. It would appear that today, at the age of 22, he retains this quality of eager curiosity.

“From day one my plan was always to do biology because as a child I was really into nature, but I have always been really interested in arts too, like going to painting classes and doing sculpture and photography. My parents are both graduates of English programs and we have always had a lot of reading in our house so I have always been interested in that side of things.”

Some of his favourite activities are music, (for example, he has sung baritone in a choir for years), tennis on weekends with his grandmother, and reading imaginative fiction. Niall says that he has always been highly sociable, so getting out to talk to people on weekends and “just hanging out” is very important to him.

Niall’s fateful Rhodes interview took place Dec. 18 at 10:30 a.m. Within the same day, the winner of the fellowship is decided and notified. Niall was to get the call sometime after 6 p.m. to learn of the results. As he had to leave early to perform in a Christmas concert that night, his parents were there to receive the news for him.

The choir was just finishing their first set of music. Niall was walking down from the stage, when he spotted his parents who had just arrived. From afar, Mr. O’Dea mouthed the words “you won” to him. Niall was instantly “baffled” and “completely surprised.” He turned to his friend beside him and said, “I think I’ve just won the Rhodes Scholarship.”

She passed it on, and soon the choir spokesperson was proudly congratulating him and announcing his accomplishment to everyone at the concert.

Hoping that he had understood his father correctly, Niall smiled.

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