Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

McKenna Centre Leadership Fellows Program providing scholarships, opening pathway to public service for recent StFX graduates

July 11th, 2019
McKenna Centre Leadership Fellows, l-r, Elizabeth Wallace, Allyson Amodeo, Alejandra Torres, Mackenzie Sly, and Matthew Eliot.

Five recent StFX graduates are the recipients of $125,000 in scholarship funding and will complete an eight-month paid placement with the federal government in Ottawa, thanks to the recently launched McKenna Centre Leadership Fellows Program at St. Francis Xavier University. 

Matthew Eliot of Kingston, ON; Elizabeth Wallace of Antigonish, NS; Mackenzie Sly of Ottawa, ON; Allyson Amodeo of Kingston, ON; and Alejandra Torres of Honduras; are the inaugural McKenna Fellows, each recipient of a $25,000 scholarship.  

The program is open to recent StFX graduates interested in public policy, public service and leadership, and includes a one-year commitment to further education and training. 

“With the McKenna Fellows Program, there are a lot of things to be excited about,” says program coordinator Larry Swatuk. “The most exciting thing is the fact we are creating a bridge into public service for youth who have passion and energy,” he says. 

“They are ready, but they’re often not taken seriously, or don’t know a way in. We’re opening that pathway for them.”

Mr. Swatuk says StFX has such an emphasis on quality undergraduate education, that the university and the McKenna Centre for Leadership wanted to offer a bridging program for great students, to give them a leg up in the working world with a focus on public service. 

Additionally, he says today’s youth are disengaged with politics, and that’s a problem.  

“Young people are opting out of the system, they’re not opting in. We’re opening up that pathway so they can become part of the solution. 

“Twenty-first century Canada needs these people to be able to thrive and survive, and that’s exciting.” 

As part of the bridging program, Mr. Swatuk says they are working to provide the scholarship holders with two four-month paid government internships. He says the participants will go through interviews and a matching process, and the intent is for them to gain experience with government, including learning how they can work in government, and to have meaningful work as professionals.

Mr. Swatuk says the McKenna Fellows Program has connected with the StFX network on the Hill and has been working with, among others, StFX graduate and NSERC vice-president Alfred LeBlanc, who chairs an alumni caucus of StFX graduates working in a range of careers for and in government in Ottawa.

“This fellowship is a great opportunity to get your foot in the door to learn,” says Matthew Eliot, who graduated from StFX with a degree in math and aquatic resources, and who has always been interested in public policy. He says he is excited to see how government works from the inside and to see if this is a field he wants to work in. 

“I’m excited about expanding my knowledge base. I’m excited to try something new, to get out of my comfort zone and gain confidence in new fields,” says Ms. Sly, who graduated with a BBA in international business and will complete her first internship with the Treasury Board Secretariat, Centre for Greening Government. She previously worked three student jobs with Transport Canada and was involved in the Deputy Minister University Champion Initiative associated with StFX. She says the fellowship particularly appealed as it allows her to keep working with government and maintain ties to StFX. “What I’m most excited about is to build a network and to have the support from StFX alumni,” she says.

Ms. Amodeo says while she has always been interested in effecting change, she was never one for politics, and wasn’t going to apply for the fellowship until her StFX history professor Dr. Rhonda Semple encouraged her, noting you don’t have to be an expert in politics to be involved and create change. Ms. Amodeo says she is excited for the opportunity, and seeing how everything she has learned as a history and English graduate can apply, and what doors this may open. 

Ms. Wallace, who graduated from StFX with a human kinetics degree and is finishing a masters in global health, also didn’t see herself involved in policy or politics, but through her studies saw how tied the social determinants of health are to public policy and how policy really impacts health. “That kind of drew me to pursuing this opportunity,” she says. “I’m excited to be able to work and to put five years of university to work in some capacity.”

“Echoing a lot of what my fellow colleagues said, I never saw myself working in politics,” says Ms. Torres who graduated in May with an honours degree in English. “My research incorporated different fields such as critical race theory, ethics and production, and theoretical analyses of identity politics. Although I focused mainly on the media industry, my main interest lied on minority rights and cultural analysis. As a result, I became keenly interested in applying all of my research experience to an area that focuses on making tangible changes for society—governance,” she says. 

As an international student, Ms. Torres says she feels honoured to have an opportunity to learn more about policy making and governance in Canada. “I hope I can also contribute a different perspective to this field for I am an immigrant in this country. This program will allow me to contribute to the country where I have been fortunate enough to receive my undergraduate education. And I feel very fortunate to be able to continue to enhance my skill set and gain new skills with the federal government in Ottawa.” 

Currently, the McKenna Fellows are participating in a two-week course on campus. During this portion of the training, Mr. Swatuk says the Fellows are completing three certificate-based courses centred on key government issues such as climate change and environment; gender and social equity; and Indigenous rights and treaty law. They will also participate in a one-day training session on ‘how government works;’ take part in leadership skills seminars, as well as in a field trip integrating all of the above. Additionally, they will visit two First Nations communities to talk about issues and concerns, and they will complete a day of hands-on environmental training around the Bras d’Or Lakes. 

The McKenna Fellows will then complete the two internships between September-December 2019 and January-April 2020. The internships will include direct experience working in federal government, such as a policy analyst, or assistant to a senior manager in a government department or agency.

The program concludes with a two-day capstone exercise at StFX in April 2020 that will include a debriefing exercise involving a presentation to other program Fellows, members of the university, the wider community, NGOs, and the private sector.

Start Your Journey