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Friday, January 28, 2022

Two Montrealers overcame adversity to win prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

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The National Secretary for Rhodes Scholarships in Canada said Sabine Plummer and Ramez Razak “really represent the best of Quebec”.

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Back at CEGEP, one of the teachers told Sabine Plummer that she should quit chemistry because she didn’t have the proficiency in the subject.

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“I remember being exposed to it, and reading the entire manual with a grudge,” Plummer said. “I didn’t do well in that class, but I eventually decided to do well in chemistry.”

Now majoring in chemistry with a minor in interdisciplinary science and art history at Concordia, Plummer received a Rhodes Scholarship, and is one of two Montreal-area students to win the award this year. They are among 11 students in Canada and 100 students in the world to receive the award which includes two years of paid tuition fees to study a master’s degree at Oxford University in England, plus room and board.

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“It’s an acquittal,” Plummer said.

She chose to study chemistry because, as a highly accomplished academic, it was one of the subjects she most challenged.

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“I enjoy overcoming this challenge, and I love learning. I am naturally curious about chemistry and its applications, and they are very broad in scope,” said Plummer, who was born in Toronto but grew up in Montreal.

Plummer is an artist who hopes to marry her studies in chemistry and art history to work on historic art restoration while at Oxford.

“I like the idea of ​​applying all the theory I’ve collected in the past four years to something tangible, like an artifact or a painting. I definitely want to work in this field.”

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With more attention paid in recent months to mental health crises, Plummer’s work in supporting students with mental health issues was one of the reasons she was awarded the scholarship, which also emphasizes work within the community.

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In high school, Plummer struggled with depression and vowed to help raise awareness and help others get the support they needed. In Concordia, it was A founding member of Chapter Stronger than Stigma and was the chief operating officer of the mental health organization WellMTL in Montreal.

Although Plummer was threatening to derail her academic career, she came out of her bout of depression through treatment, and believes she is mentally stronger because of it. She encourages others not to neglect their mental health and to “live a nice, balanced life.”

Ramez Razak was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship for his studies in Applied Mathematics and Economics.
Ramez Razak was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship for his studies in Applied Mathematics and Economics. Photo by Allen McInnes /Montreal Gazette

Ramez Razak also overcame adversity to reach his academic achievement as a Quebec scholarship recipient. His parents moved to Montreal from Pakistan and India and set up a textile company shortly thereafter. But when the industry fell on hard times in the early 2000s, they started a new business, running several local Indian restaurants, including the newly opened Maison ChaïSha on Bishop St.

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“This has been a huge motivator for me to move forward, and a huge motivator for the kind of work I do,” said Razak, who is often recruited to help his parents with their businesses.

Razak, a Harvard student who grew up in Broussard, is studying applied mathematics and economics with a minor in philosophy. He is interested in economic crises and the tools for their management, with an emphasis on how minorities and vulnerable communities are harmed.

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This topic is particularly important as the global economy struggles to weather the shock of the pandemic. At Oxford, Razak hopes to combine philosophy, economics, and history to gain a better understanding of how policymakers will manage current and future economic crises.

“We’re in a really fun time,” he said. “We got into the COVID pandemic with very little ammunition in the form of interest rate policy, and that really leaves the question: What is the role of fiscal policy in a world where monetary policy might not have the ammunition that it usually has to deal with the kind of crisis we are facing?”

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Razak applied for the Rhodes Scholarship because he wanted to obtain funding to study at Oxford, as he believed that this was the best place to pursue his academic goals.

“The scholarship has emerged as a unique opportunity to get funding for your studies and get a salary so that you can focus on yourself and immerse yourself in your studies and work,” he said. “I was committed to finding a way to get this training, and if the Rhodes didn’t work out, I might have applied for other opportunities.”

Razak found out he had received the grant while at a restaurant in Montreal last Saturday to celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday.

“I was shocked when I first heard the news,” he said. “I stood outside for a bit to process what was going on, then went back to the restaurant, called my dad and shared the news with everyone. It was just a great night.”

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The students “really represent the best of Quebec,” said Richard Ban, National Secretary for Rhodes Scholarships in Canada, adding that both have shown remarkable resilience in their lives.

“Sabine has had her struggles, but she’s been very successful and has a lot to teach people about mental health,” he said. “Razzaq is very interested in society, and he is very interested in how to formulate central bank policy that more reflects real conditions. He is well aware of the difficulties in trying to restore stability.”

jmagder@postmedia.com

twitter.com/jasonmagder

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