York University students in running for McCall MacBain Scholars prizes

glasses and pen resting on notebook

Van Thien Pham (BEng ’23) and Essete Tesfaye (BA ’23) are finalists for the first global cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars at McGill University. The scholarships are the result of a $200-million gift in 2019 from John and Marcy McCall MacBain – the second-largest single donation in Canadian history.

Designed to encourage purposeful leadership, the scholarships enable students to pursue a fully funded master’s or professional degree while participating in mentorship, coaching and a leadership development program.

“Our aim is to provide a life-changing opportunity for students who have a track record of contributing to their communities and a genuine desire to make a positive impact,” said John McCall MacBain, Chair of the McCall MacBain Scholarships at McGill.

Students and graduates from more than 1,200 universities around the world applied for the McCall MacBain Scholarships in this first year of global admissions; 242 participated in regional interviews with local leaders in October and November; and 87 finalists were selected. Up to 30 McCall MacBain Scholars will be selected after final interviews.

Van Thien Pham close-up portrait
Van Thien Pham

Pham and Tesfaye will attend the final round of interviews in Montréal from March 8 to 12, meeting with leaders in academia, business, government and the social sector.

Pham, a student at York’s Lassonde School of Engineering, contributed to the student community as vice-president of finance of the Engineers Without Borders university chapter. He’s a member of two engineering student society committees and a student orientation executive. He co-founded the EngiQueers chapter at York, served on the school’s Learning, Curriculum, and Students Committee, and volunteers as a translator for migrant workers. He also runs an online coffee company and is interested in advancing technology to improve the lives of coffee farmers.

Essete Tesfaye close-up portrait
Essete Tesfaye

“The Lassonde community has always opened doors and given me many opportunities to explore, which sharpens who I am today,” said Pham.

Tesfaye, a fourth-year global health student at York, is a youth liaison for a grassroots collective that provides mental health resources to Ethiopian and Eritrean youth in Toronto. Among other contributions, she gathered data for grant applications and identified barriers to access. Tesfaye also designed a social media strategy for a reading club and helped research the use of virtual reality to manage pain and anxiety. Previously, as a high school student in Uganda, she helped organize a Model United Nations conference. She is applying for master’s programs in public health and epidemiology.

“I am excited to have the chance to interview for such a fantastic opportunity,” said Tesfaye. “I choose to volunteer my time on campus because I would not have been able to achieve this without my community, and I want to ensure that I create the same sense of community for future students.”

Areeba Chaudhry close-up portrait
Areeba Chaudhry

“We are all very proud of Van Thien Pham and Essete Tesfaye for making it to this stage of the process,” says Nona Robinson, vice-provost, students. “Being selected for an interview is such an incredible accomplishment among so many exceptional nominees, and we wish them all the best.”

In addition, the McCall MacBain Scholarships program also offered Regional Awards of $5,000 each to 38 more Canadian candidates who were among the top in their region. Biomedical science students Areeba Chaudhry and Aleeza Qayyum both earned Regional Awards, which are tenable at any public university in Canada.

Aleeza Qayyum posing in laboratory
Aleeza Qayyum

Chaudhry is vice-president of the STEM Fellowship chapter, a program facilitator at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), serves on the executive branch of the Science Society, and is a two-time recipient of the NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award to carry out independent research projects in therapeutic development. She plans to study medicine after graduating.

Qayyum chaired the science student caucus and has been volunteering with CNIB for seven years and has spent the past three summers working in research labs and created a first-place award-winning presentation of her NSERC USRA-funded research project on Alzheimer’s disease. She is also applying to medical and biochemisty graduate programs.

Applications will open in June 2023 for the 2024 McCall MacBain Scholars prizes.