Michael Noonan, a 2007 Science graduate of Vanier College, is one of two Québec winners of a Class of 2012 Rhodes Scholarship, widely considered the most prestigious scholarship in the world. Valued at approximately $50,000 a year, Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

University studies and research

Michael has just completed a Bachelor of Science in Honours Ecology at Concordia University. During his undergraduate studies Michael carried out research focused on fish behaviour and conservation and plans to continue his research while pursuing his doctorate degree in zoology at the University of Oxford.

Remarkably, the 24-year-old native of Chateauguay has already published a research article as a first author in Fish and Fisheries, an internationally top-ranked fisheries journal.

Vanier – the only Cegep with wrestling

Michael Noonan, Rhodes Scholar 2012, 2007 Vanier Science Graduate

When asked why he chose to come to Vanier, Michael’s answer is immediate: “I had started wrestling when I was twelve at Loyola High School and I wanted to continue. Vanier is the only Cegep in Quebec that offers any type of wrestling.” It’s an elite program run by Coach Victor Zilberman, which attracts athletes from all over Quebec, the Maritimes, Ontario and even the United States.

Vanier was a great place to wrestle and study

By the time he got to Cegep, Michael had been wrestling for five years. It took about three years before he started winning important provincial competitions, but still coming to Cegep was a big change.
“I went from 10 hours to 30 hours of training a week. It’s a big commitment. I had to get to school at 7:30 in the morning for my fi rst workout of the day. But Vanier was great. It has excellent facilities – the weight room, the cross training room and the pool are all there, so I could go to class and work out all in the same place.”

Determination and hard work pay off

Given how time consuming wrestling is, why would Michael stick with it? “I’m stubborn, and when I wasn’t doing it, all I could think about was doing it,” he says with a laugh. “When I’m not doing it I want to move constantly – I have a lot of energy and nowhere to put it.” Many students drop out of the sport because it’s so demanding. “But stubborn me, I wanted to continue. I’m glad I did. I didn’t win at the start. It was a lot of hard work to get to the level I’m now at. But once I got to Vanier, the new heavier training program made a huge diff erence. Physically I became stronger and healthier.”

Academics, sport, leadership and service

In addition to academic excellence, the Rhodes Scholarship requires scholars to demonstrate “evidence of physical vitality, leadership, and service, whether in sports,
theatre, music or other pursuits.” Michael certainly meets this requirement. While at Vanier, he wrestled for the College where he won a Silver Medal for Vanier at the
2007 Guelph University Open and a Gold Medal at the 2006 London Ontario Junior Invitational. He also competed for Canada at several international wrestling tournaments.

Be organized

In addition to the heavy workout Michael had to develop organizational skills and learn how to deal with time and stress management. “I did it with a friend who had amazing management skills. Anything I do, I want to do well. I can’t do something half way. But there’s a huge enjoyment when you know that every step you’re bettering yourself.”

What was the hardest part of wrestling?

“For me the hardest decision was just getting out of bed in the morning then taking an hour and a half bus ride to Vanier. I used to set my alarm for about five in the morning. That will power is important.”

Science at Vanier was exciting – I fell in love with biology.

When he came to Vanier, Michael didn’t have a clear idea of what he wanted to study but he followed his parents’ suggestion of trying science. “I wasn’t sure. Science in high school was not exciting or appealing. But science at Vanier was tough and it was unlike anything I expected. As soon as I took my fi rst biology class, I fell in love with it! Before that I had no idea of what I would do at university. But after my two biology classes I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And I knew that it was ecology that interested me the most.”

Research and first authorship

After Vanier, there was only one university Michael wanted to attend: Concordia because it had a wrestling program. At Concordia his interest in ecology deepened radically after he took a course in behavioral ecology with a professor who researched fish. At the end of his second year he obtained a student summer research grant. “The research and writing took a lot more time than I figured. It took two years to finally finish the paper!” But by the time he was barely twenty-three he had published a science article as first author.

The Rhodes Scholarship

It’s thanks to a friend that he applied for a Rhodes Scholarship. “I hadn’t thought of it until a friend applied and one my teachers encouraged me to do so as well. He said I had the right profile of academics and athletics.”

A Rhodes Scholar

As for winning that coveted Rhodes Scholarship, Michael says, “I was pretty happy, but a little surprised. The night before the competition I met all the other finalists and judges and it was daunting – they were all so well rounded.

What would Michael say to high school students entering Cegep?

“Don’t be afraid of making the wrong choice, it can be changed. Don’t make a choice based on job opportunities. Follow your gut. Follow what you’re interested in and like.”

Take your time to do it well

“And don’t be afraid to take longer to do your studies. Take your time to do it well. Because of the wrestling I took only fi ve courses each semester at Vanier and four at Concordia. So it took me longer to do my DEC and my university degree but I saw so many people struggling to get through their studies quickly, that I didn’t feel bad about taking my time.”

Who can argue with decisions that lead to wrestling championships, success and a Rhodes Scholarship?

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