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This article was published 13/12/2014 (1737 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Alexa Yakubovich just became the 98th graduate of the University of Manitoba to be awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship; next fall, she'll pursue her PhD in evidence-based social intervention at the University of Oxford in England.
Amazingly, the 23-year-old Yakubovich is the second member of the 2009 graduating class at Grant Park High School to be a Rhodes Scholar, joining 2012 recipient Thomas Toles.
She's already earned a master's degree from Oxford, and will concentrate next fall on achieving her doctorate through research into the social conditions affecting South African children suffering from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and asthma.
When Yakubovich was 12, a family friend died of cancer, and she began beading bracelets for family and friends, a project that evolved over several years into Beads for the Cure raising thousands of dollars for CancerCare Manitoba.
From from age three to 19 she danced with Shelley Shearer School of Dance, and then afterwards with Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, followed by the Oxford University Dance and Ballet Societies.
Yakubovich has been involved with research into homophobia in schools in Canada and the need for gay-straight alliances; with Save a Child's Heart, which brings children to Israel for heart treatment; and is currently working with Prof. Katherine Starzyk of U of M's Social Justice Laboratory and the Centre for Human Right Research, on strategies to improve water and sanitation services for First Nations in Canada.
When Yakubovich stopped briefly to take a breath, she had a conversation with reporter Nick Martin.
WFP: How hard do you study?
ALEXA YAKUBOVICH (pauses, laughs): I don't really know. I work hard, I really do, but it's important to balance your life. I have been dancing since I was three, I did jazz dance until I was 19. A (Rhodes) criterion is, use one's talents to the full. If you spend all your time in your room, you're depleting your experience. If I'm writing a paper, I might take one or two nights to write the paper, I might take one or two days off; the shortest time I could do it at Oxford was a day and a night. When I was writing my Oxford exams, I was studying for two weeks...
WFP: When did you first think about applying for a Rhodes Scholarship? Grade 6? Fourth year?
ALEXA YAKUBOVICH: I probably first thought about it as an undergraduate at U of M. I applied to Oxford (for her master's) and got in, which was pretty shocking. I decided I wanted to do a DPhil, which is an Oxford PhD. I had to apply (for the Rhodes) through U of M, since I did my undergraduate there; it's not awarded in the U.K. They (UM) have a whole Rhodes system — they contacted me in my third year of university to think about applying, and again in my fourth year. When I decided I wanted my DPhil, I contacted them again and they nominated me.
WFP: What were your aspirations as a high school student?
ALEXA YAKUBOVICH: I had been involved in so many committees at Grant Park — social justice, AIDS, the environment. I just knew I was interested in social justice broadly.
WFP: Was creating Beads for the Cure a seminal moment?
ALEXA YAKUBOVICH: It was definitely my first big volunteer project. I was doing friendship bracelets for my friends and family. I started contacting stores. CancerCare got wind of it and reached out to me; we established a partnership with the foundation. It was nine years I did it — it was my first opportunity to go outside of my family, and see how illness was affecting so many people.
WFP: Why did you choose your areas of study at U of M?
ALEXA YAKUBOVICH: I took very random classes — the only one I enjoyed reading my textbook for was psychology. I am really interested in understanding people. In second year, I took philosophy with Prof. Arthur Schafer; it was so amazing to be taught by him. I was going to do a one-year master's and then go to law school... I started learning what I could do with a PhD, and with a law degree.
WFP: How did you become so eclectic in your interests?
ALEXA YAKUBOVICH: It comes down to an interest in people; I'm interested in all the things they do.
WFP: What will you study during your Rhodes Scholarship?
ALEXA YAKUBOVICH: I'm doing a PhD in social intervention, studying children in South Africa. I'm looking at HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, asthma. My stipend will be able to cover some travel. British PhDs are faster — one reason is you focus on your research right away. I looked at the experience of GLBT women with cancer, whether they experience any barriers. I did that with Prof. Janice Ristock. I looked at homophobia in schools, I worked on Bill 18: the findings of the study clearly showed a gay-straight alliance would be effective.
WFP: Where do you hope to go in life?
ALEXA YAKUBOVICH: I want to be in Canada. I'd like to continue researching social determinants of children's health and well-being. I would love to live in Winnipeg if there's work available... U of M is looking at a master's in human rights, there's the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I'm slightly leaning towards academia.