HALIFAX -- A 22-year-old Dalhousie University student has been named a Rhodes Scholar.

Sierra Sparks of Dartmouth, N.S., is in her last semester of engineering at the Halifax university.

“When I got the call to say I was a Rhodes Scholar, I was freaking out,” she said with a laugh, “I was at my parents’ house, so I was able to run downstairs and tell my mom right away, and we were all kind of freaking out together.”

Sparks is just one of 11 students across Canada to receive the prestigious scholarship to the University of Oxford, which is valued at over $100,000.


This year’s class of Rhodes Scholars is one of the most diverse ever – but Oxford says it didn’t influence their selections.

“Although the [Rhodes] Trust strives for the most inclusive application pool possible through outreach efforts, consideration of balance or diversity are not factors in selection,” a portion of a press release on the university’s website reads, “a Rhodes Scholar should show great promise of leadership. In short, we seek outstanding young people of intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service.”

Sparks said she’s happy to be in a class that includes people from so many backgrounds.

“In Canada, there were four Black scholars, and there’s six women of the [total] 11, including people from LGBTQ+ backgrounds, first generation Canadians,” she said. “It’s one of the most diverse classes of Rhodes scholars, and I’m really excited to be part of it.”

The program will cover Sparks’ tuition, flights, health insurance, and much of her living expenses while she studies in 2021.

Sparks said she plans on doing a DPhil (the Oxford version of a Ph. D) in biomedical engineering.

“I want to look at how artificial intelligence can improve the diagnostic quality of medical imaging,” she said, “and make it a lot more accessible to remote communities.”

Sparks said she doesn’t know if her first semester will be online or in person, but regardless, she’s grateful.

According to the university, the Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest international scholarship in the world. Their website says it enables “outstanding young people from around the world to study at the University of Oxford” in England.

“I’m hoping that I’ll be able to travel to England safely, and take some classes and do my research in person,” she said, “but, if there’s a virtual component, it’s still a really fantastic opportunity and I’d be excited for that as well.”

Sparks is the 92nd Rhodes Scholar to come from Dalhousie University.