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‘Completely unreal’

Science alumnus headed to Oxford as N.L's 2021 Rhodes Scholar

By Kelly Foss

Jevon Marsh was stunned when he received the call telling him he was Newfoundland and Labrador’s newest Rhodes Scholar.

“I was absolutely speechless. It was completely unreal,” he said. “They actually said they would call me back because I was not in any mental space to go through the logistics.”

Considered to be one of the most prestigious international scholarship programs, the Rhodes Scholarship is a postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. The scholarship covers all tuition and fees, plus recipients receive an annual stipend.

Mental health advocate

Hailing from Bonavista, Mr. Marsh graduated from Memorial University in 2018 with a joint B.Sc.(Hons.) in biochemistry and chemistry.

While completing his undergraduate degree, he became heavily involved in research and was an invited scholar in Germany and France.

During his time at Memorial, he was an executive member in various organizations and student societies, including Memorial Minds, a mental health advocacy group, where he helped pioneer a peer support program and a scholarship program, Beneath our Surface Scholarship, for students at Memorial.

He also organized conferences and fundraising events alongside other passionate mental health advocates, raising more than $10,000 for community non-profit organizations working with low socio-economic status and marginalized populations, and taught English to incoming refugees in St. John’s at the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council.

International research

After graduation, Mr. Marsh completed a master’s in synthetic chemistry and supramolecular chemistry at Queen’s University.

“I worked on the development of a family of therapies for the treatment of a rare form of thyroid cancer,” he said. “Currently, the only option is surgical removal of the gland, which poses many issues because of its importance to the body.”

Mr. Marsh continued international research while at Queen’s, travelling to Switzerland to work on characterizing a three-dimensional architecture in cancer cells.

“Luckily, there is a brilliant researcher who works in my field at Oxford.”— Jevon Marsh

That work will guide therapeutic development for a wide array of cancers, such as breast cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is currently being readied for publication.

His research has been presented nationally at the Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition and internationally at conferences and symposiums in Spain and Germany.

At Queen’s, he was vice-president of the Queen’s Graduate Chemistry Society and co-president and director of finance for the Queen’s Graduate Management Consulting Association, where, as part of a team, he was responsible for organizing and offering a mini-master of business administration program to professional and medical students to enhance their business and consulting skills.

He is also a member of the board of a German academic exchange service alumni association (DAAD) in Canada, where he promotes exchange programs to strengthen the Canada-Germany research relationship.

At a crossroads

Since wrapping up his master’s degree, Mr. Marsh completed an Indigenous Canada certificate, a course exploring Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada – something he says he “always wanted to do.” He also became a certified yoga instructor.

“That was a very grounding experience, teaching me about balance and self-awareness,” he said. “Academia can be very mentally fatiguing and after my master’s degree I felt like I was running on fumes, especially at the end. Working through a pandemic posed a lot of very unique challenges. This was an opportunity to take a break from academia, the intensity of my studies, and really focus on myself.”

Jevon Marsh will focus on pediatric cancer during his Oxford studies.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The Rhodes Scholarship came at a time when Mr. Marsh was at a crossroads, trying to figure out what his next steps would be, and whether he would continue on with academia or pursue something else.

“My field is very small, and if I wanted to pursue a PhD I was restricted in where I could go,” he said. “Luckily, there is a brilliant researcher who works in my field at Oxford.”

It takes a village

While details are still being finalized, Mr. Marsh intends to begin his D.Phil. studies at Oxford in the fall of 2021.

“Eventually, I hope to continue research, whether in academia or industry,” he said. “I’ve found my passion in cancer research, and more specifically in rare-based pediatric cancers.”

He hopes his accomplishments can inspire youth from rural communities or low socio-economic statuses to see what they can achieve, and he thanks all those who helped him on his way. He says the Rhodes scholarship isn’t “just my own success.”

“There was a village of people who got me to the point where I am. Growing up in rural Bonavista has many challenges and barriers, and I’m very grateful to have my parents, who have made sacrifices to get me where I am, for the strong sense of community in Bonavista and all of my friends and fantastic mentors at Memorial, Queen’s and abroad. It’s their success as much as mine.”

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