Three University of Alberta students, awarded one of the world's most coveted scholarships, have each taken an unlikely path to academic excellence.

Billy-Ray Belcourt, Carley-Jane Stanton and Zia Saleh have been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and will be travelling to England this fall to attend Oxford University.

Billy-Ray Belcourt

Billy-Ray Belcourt is the first-ever First Nations Canadian to be named a Rhodes scholar. (CBC)

 

Belcourt is the first ever First Nations person in Canada to receive the scholarship. 

Belcourt comes from the small reserve community of the Driftpile First Nation, north of Edmonton.

"I was raised by my grandparents in a single-income home, in a small hamlet of about 100 people and my high school graduating class only had about 22 people."

At Oxford, Belcourt plans to research how colonialism has contributed to increased rates of HIV in Canada's indigenous populations, and how feminist theory can be used to respond to violence against indigenous people.

"My family instilled in me the drive to succeed as an indigenous person," said Belcourt who hopes to inspire other aboriginal students.

"I want to be a voice amongst many."

Carley-Jane Stanton

Carley-Jane Stanton is pursuing a master's of philosophy in economic and social history at Oxford.

 

For her part, Stanton is pursuing a master's of philosophy in economic and social history at Oxford and hopes her studies overseas will help shape the work she's already begun in Edmonton's non-profit community.

Stanton recently founded the Alder Food Security Society, an organization which aims to reduce food waste while feeding the needy.

"I started off on a teenager living on my own. I just was sixteen years old when I left home so as you can imagine that comes with some food insecurity issues, and that led to a passion for food and food systems."

Zia Saleh

Zia Saleh wants to expand his passion for medicine and international development.

 

Saleh has already had an extensive career in international development, working with the World Health Organization in Geneva, and as co-founder of Learning Beyond Borders, an organization that facilitates educational opportunities for young adults in Uganda.

Now a third-year medical student at U of A, Saleh will study global health science at Oxford.

"The Rhodes scholarship is going to give me the opportunity to go ahead spend some time away from medicine and look at education in others ways ... and hopefully I will be able to bring that back together and work for an international development agency in the future and fulfil my dream."

Saleh and his brother were raised by a single mother in Edmonton's Ismaili Muslim community and he credits his upbringing for his drive to succeed and to give back.

"Critical parts of my upbringing taught me about the responsibility I have in my own life, but also my responsibility to my community."