When you’re applying for a Rhodes Scholarship, it’s hard not to get caught up in looking forward: ahead towards the tantalizing opportunity to study at the University of Oxford, supported by one of the world’s most prestigious scholarly awards.
But as he sat down to write his application, Paul Manning, a fourth-year Environmental Sciences student in Dal’s Faculty of Agriculture, instead cast his gaze backwards, towards a vivid memory from his childhood growing up in Canning, N.S.
“I started my essay with a story about my brother and I when we were kids,” he explains. “One day we ran into this collection of hundreds and thousands of ladybird beetles being sucked away by the ocean on the salt marsh that we lived on. We started moving them from the water, doing what we could to help. That memory got me wondering about the impact of our actions, and ideas about modifying landscapes to support beneficial insects within an ecosystem.”
Saturday night, Manning lived another moment he won’t soon forget. While walking alongside classmates in Truro’s Santa Claus Parade — wearing a cardboard airplane, no less — he got the call that he had been awarded one of the two 2013 Rhodes Scholarships for the Maritimes.
“I could barely hear it over the music of the float, and people in the crowd,” he laughs. “The others on the float knew I was waiting for the call, so it was really tense and when the secretary said he had some good news for me, I was in complete shock, so incredibly excited.”
Character, vigour, respect, leadership
The Rhodes Scholarships, awarded since 1903, were established from the will of famous magnate Cecil Rhodes. They’re awarded throughout the Commonwealth, the United States and Germany, providing full expenses to travel to, and study at, the University of Oxford for two years, with an option for a third. Their value is in excess of $100,000.
With his award, Manning becomes Dalhousie’s 87th Rhodes Scholar.
Rhodes candidates must have exceptional academic records, but the scholarships are not awarded on grades alone. Candidates are expected to show “integrity of character, vigour, interest in and a respect for their fellow human beings, the ability to lead and the energy to use their talent to the full.”
Manning, who specializes in organic agriculture, certainly fits the bill. He has a stellar academic record, with two Undergraduate Student Research Awards from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to his name. He’s currently working on his fourth-year project on nocturnal pollinators in blueberry production.
He’s also the president of the Dalhousie Agricultural Students’ Association, representing all students on Dal’s Agricultural Campus in student government and leading the planning of major events, such as orientation. He’s interned with the Canadian International Development Agency, organized flood relief efforts for Pakistan and is an accomplished athlete — he was the named most valuable player on the Rams’ cross country team last year.
“I try and keep some balance in my life,” says Manning. “I make sure I always have time for my friends, to have a coffee or call home or whatever. It’s about making sure you have time for the things you want to do, while still taking on lots, and working with lots of great people along the way.”
Speaking with Manning, what comes across is his passion for his work and his eagerness to share it with others.
“He’s a natural communicator,” says Keith Taylor, Dalhousie’s associate vice-president academic programs.
Together with a small committee, Dr. Taylor worked with Manning and Dal’s other Rhodes applicants as they made their way through the process, offering coaching, support and guidance as needed. In Manning’s case, much of this was done by Skype, but even through a computer screen it was clear that Manning was an impressive candidate.
“He has a strong vision about what matters in his life: he wants to not only be a scientist, but a communicator of science. He’s going to be the sort of person who’s committed to bringing scientific knowledge to policy-makers, industry and society at large. He’s a very compelling young man.”
Discovering his passion
As suggested by his application, Manning’s interest in nature and agriculture stretches way back.
“I worked on farms growing up in the summers as a child for pocket money, though I spent most of my time being distracted by grasshoppers and bumblebees,” he says. “My family lived near many fields, with a beef farm across from my family’s home. My first favourite book was a book on native flowers.
“So I’ve always had a really keen interest in nature, and agriculture seemed to be a great area to learn more about the environment and develop my passion for living things.”
Manning says he’s had countless mentors among his professors — “too many to name them all” — but he does cite two in particular: Nancy Pitts, assistant dean of internationalization, who encouraged him to successfully apply for an inspiring internship in Ethiopia following his first year; and Chris Cutler, entomologist, who is supervising Manning’s fourth-year project.
“Besides being obviously very bright, amiable, and active in the community, Paul exudes a passion for nature, particularly aspects related to insects and ecology,” says Dr. Cutler. “His level of intellect and enthusiasm are rare and will undoubtedly give him continued success in life.
“He’s been incredible to me over the past few years,” says Manning of Dr. Cutler. “His supervision has really pushed me towards a career in the natural sciences and in research.”
That career is about to gain a huge boost with the Rhodes Scholarship. Manning’s plan is to pursue a Masters of Science in Zoology, with a focus on ecology and conservation. He says he’s excited to study in an environment with the scholarly diversity that Oxford offers, but he’s eager to make his career back home when all is said and done.
“I really want to come back and work in the Maritimes, and work in the agricultural sector, hopefully with some teaching and research . . . I’d love to be in the Annapolis Valley. It’s where I call home, and there’s some amazing agriculture to work on, but I’d love to be anywhere in the Maritimes, really, especially Nova Scotia. It’s where my roots are.”
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