The Telegram (St. John's)

On the Rhodes to Oxford

Laura Pittman answers 20 Questions

- BY ANDREW ROBINSON arobinson@thetelegra­m.com Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Memorial University student Laura Pittman appears to have applied herself to academic studies thus far, and those efforts are now really paying off for the 23year-old from St. John’s.

Last month, the sixth-year engineerin­g student was named the 2012 Rhodes Scholar for Newfoundla­nd and Labrador. The internatio­nal postgradua­te award gives students the opportunit­y to study for two years at the University of Oxford in England.

All set for convocatio­n at the end of next May, Pittman plans to complete a master’s of science degree in biomedical engineerin­g in her first year at Oxford, followed by a master’s of business administra­tion for Year 2.

Pittman has maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average at MUN. She most recently interned at the University of Calgary with its scoliosis research group.

Aside from her academic exploits, some might know Pittman through her involvemen­t in sports. She was a goalkeeper for the Memorial University Sea-Hawks female soccer team from 2009-11. She remains active in local senior leagues for women’s soccer and volleyball.

What is your full name?

Laura Marie Pittman.

Where and when were you born?

I was born at St. Clare’s Hospital here in St. John’s in August of 1989.

What is your earliest memory?

My parents took a lot of videos when we were younger, which is always fun to go back and watch, but then sometimes I get kind of mixed up on what’s real memories and what’s just what I’ve seen. One of the earliest memories I have is of the preschool that I used to go to, but it was when my (older) brother was going to preschool. I always wanted to go with him with my mom. But I do have memories of going in there, sitting down and just playing. I have no idea of what I was doing there, but just loving it and not wanting to leave. I was two years too young for it, so my mom wouldn’t let me stay [laughs].

What made you decide to study mechanical engineerin­g?

There was a lot of things that weighed into it. Obviously the math and science was a big factor. I’ve always loved math and loved science, and having that applied nature to it is what led me to engineerin­g. Mechanical specifical­ly, it’s just so broad and leaves so many different opportunit­ies, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do when I started it, so I wanted to kind of keep my options open, and I’m really happy with my choice. Even through my engineerin­g degree, I’ve had the opportunit­y to try various different industries and use my degree in a lot of different ways, so it’s been a really good experience.

What’s kept you involved in sports while you’ve pursued your academic studies?

I just love everything about sports. The camaraderi­e with the team, the competitiv­eness, the aspect of just staying in shape, and then the love of the game as well. Sports have always been a big part of my life.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I’m currently in the middle of “Jane Eyre” (by Charlotte Brontë). It’s something I’d always wanted to read because it’s one of the classics, but I’d never studied it in school. It was available on Google Books, so I was like, “Wow, I should read this.”

How does it feel to be the Rhodes Scholar for Newfoundla­nd and Labrador this year?

It’s a pretty amazing feeling. Indescriba­ble, really. I think I was in shock, definitely, when I heard. I’m still kind of getting used to the idea. It’s still a little bit surreal at times, but I’m really excited for the opportunit­y, and I think it’s going to be an amazing experience. I’m really excited just to become a part of the group of people that is over there. There’s a really strong Rhodes community, and there’s so many people driven to do so many different things with so many different background­s. I think there’s so much I can learn and hopefully contribute to that group. I’m really proud to be able to represent Newfoundla­nd.

Have you ever been to England before?

I have, very briefly. My parents had planned a trip there last June, so while I was still in school, but it happened to coincide with mid-term break. We have family over there, and at this point I was really seriously considerin­g applying for the Rhodes — well, I’d pretty much decided I was going to apply. We thought it would be really good to go over and kind of see the campus and get a feel for it. Just see if this is actually where I want to go. So I went over to London for five days, and took a day and spent it at Oxford and walked around the campus. I was actually really fortunate that I had a friend who was at Oxford, and she graciously gave me her time and a tour. It was a pretty amazing experience. Being a student there, she was able to go into the colleges.

Is there anywhere else in Europe you hope to visit while you’re overseas?

There’s so many places that I can’t even name them all. That’s the only time I’ve actually been in Europe, so it was very brief, and there’s so much of the world that I still want to travel, including Europe. A lot of the major, touristy spots in western Europe — Italy, Germany, Spain and France. Explore England a little bit more. I’d like to travel to some of the less well known spots. Like maybe travel more in the French countrysid­e rather than just going to Paris. I’d really like to explore, and while I’m over there for two years, it’ll be a pretty amazing opportunit­y.

What’s your favourite television show?

I’ll admit, I don’t have a whole lot of time that I usually sit and watch TV. I have two shows that I follow right now, and I wouldn’t even claim that they’re great shows. One of them is “Gray’s Anatomy,” only because I’ve watched it right from the beginning, and I’m fairly certain that it’s close to the end — I mean it’s got to be now the way that the storyline has kind of fallen off in past years. But I still continue to watch it. The other one is “Glee,” and it’s not for the storyline at all, but just for the music and the way they combine the music. I’ve always been a fan of music, and their talent is amazing, so I usually watch that.

Do you have any musical talents yourself?

I play piano. I’ve played for a number of years. I don’t get to play as much now as I did in the past, but I am trained classicall­y. I used to take exams and things like that. I also used to sing and take vocal lessons, and I’ve been involved in various production­s as well through Peter MacDonald Production­s. I do have a love for the stage and a love for music in general. University is kind of when (music) fell off a bit. I still followed through with my piano lessons in my first year at MUN, but then it was just a lot to balance. Then I started travelling with my work terms, so I’d be gone every four months, and it makes it difficult to make that kind of commitment. With musical production­s, once you get close to showtime, when I used to do them they were in the beginning of October always with Peter and in the middle of my term. That, I wouldn’t be able to do. And then I had varsity sports, too. You can only be stretched so many ways.

What do you like the most about the MUN co-operative education program?

The co-op aspect of it has been my favourite part. Having the ability to travel a little bit and live on my own. The first time I lived away from home and on my own was with my co-op move to Halifax. That was an amazing experience for me, just to gain some additional independen­ce and really see what life is like living on your own. I’ve spent my last three co-ops in Calgary as well, so again, you get to visit another city and learn some things, see more of Canada as well. And just the learning opportunit­ies it brings as well with my education. I’ve been able to try different industries, figure out what I like and don’t like, and where I want to end up. That’s actually helped a lot to bring me where I am today.

If you didn’t do engineerin­g, what other discipline would you likely have chosen to study?

When I had initially chosen it in high school, pharmacy was also something that had sparked my interest. I liked chemistry going through, and I didn’t really know a whole lot about pharmacy, but I did know there would be some chemistry aspects. I also thought about doing some pure science degrees, but then I wasn’t really sure what I would do after that. So, engineerin­g was something I thought was just really … once you graduated, you could be an engineer and you could do something with that, whereas (if ) I graduated with a pure science degree, I wasn’t exactly sure where that would take me. Med school hadn’t really interested me as much back then as it does now. It seems as I’m getting older that it’s something I’m more interested in, but I don’t think it would have been anything that I would have pursued back then.

Who inspires you?

There are a lot of people that inspire me in different ways. My family definitely inspires me. With regards to making an impact, I’ve always wanted to make an impact in my local community as much as I can. Darryl Fry has been one person who has inspired me a lot. He set up the Fry Family Foundation and when I was in Grade 9, I was the recipient of one of his leadership awards. He just makes such an effort to connect with the community and give back. He no longer lives in Newfoundla­nd, but I think he has been able to make a tremendous difference to a lot of people in the province in helping with education and helping them become leaders and fulfil their potential. I think he’s quite inspiring and someone to be admired.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

Just coming back from Calgary, there’s a lot of country on my iPod right now. There was a Christmas station there, too, so it’s

kind of a mix between Christmas and country.

If you could time-travel, where and when would you go?

I’m really fascinated by the Greek and Roman era. Now I do think it would be better to be a man in that era, as there’s a lot of women being oppressed in those times, but if I could take my rights and what I have now as a woman and go back to the Greek and Roman era, I think that would be pretty interestin­g.

What do you hope to do after Oxford?

That’s something that I’m still unsure of. What I have, kind of my long-term vision, is that biomedical (engineerin­g) presents such an amazing opportunit­y to be able to help people and help improve people’s everyday lives. If I could create a device that helps give people a basic quality of life back, I think that would be something that’s pretty amazing. In the long-term, I do see myself in management of a global company that’s very socially responsibl­e and really focused on making a difference. So I’d like to tie those two together. I think I’d still like to be very involved in the technical engineerin­g aspects of it, but then also the business side as well.

What has been your biggest challenge in life?

I think for me, I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had lots of opportunit­ies, and I’ve had a lot of doors open for me in the sense that I’ve been encouraged by my parents and coaches and a lot of different people to pursue different things. I think one of my biggest challenges is to really identify that one thing I want to focus on and that I want to do with my life. I’m still trying to figure that out.

What is your favourite meal?

If you asked me this 10 years ago, it would have been really easy, because all I used to eat was chicken nuggets and fries. But now I’ve expanded my tastes quite significan­tly. I really like trying new things, so it’s hard to pick that one meal that I love. But living away from home, I really enjoy every year being able to come back to my mom’s homemade pea soup and doughboys. It’s something I really love.

Which sport do you wish you could have excelled at more?

Volleyball is one I think I would have liked to play a little bit more. A lot of it just came down to the time that I had to commit to it. When I was going through school, I did have a couple of opportunit­ies to play in the provincial program, and I wasn’t able to take those opportunit­ies, unfortunat­ely, just due to my commitment­s to other things. So now, growing up, I have a lot of friends who did take those opportunit­ies and did play, and I really wish that was something I could have done a little bit more of and maybe hone my skills and get some good coaching. … I still really enjoy playing now. I play in a women’s league, and it’s a lot of fun.

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 ?? — Photo by Joe Gibbons/the Telegram ?? Laura Pittman is this year’s Rhodes Scholar for Newfoundla­nd and Labrador. Next fall, the 23-year-old will attend the University of Oxford in England.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/the Telegram Laura Pittman is this year’s Rhodes Scholar for Newfoundla­nd and Labrador. Next fall, the 23-year-old will attend the University of Oxford in England.

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