TOM Ward has done at age 21 what most people achieve in a lifetime.
The Iona College, Lindum old boy has gone from strength to strength after being chosen as the Queensland recipient for the 2001 Rhodes Scholarship.
Tom will join students from other Australian states and territories and travel to Oxford University in England next year to continue his research techniques and studies in medical engineering.
This year, 20 students from Queensland were chosen for the Rhodes shortlist, and of those, four were picked to progress one step further, through several challenging tests.
On October 30, the four shortlisted people were invited to Government House in Paddington.
“We went to the Governor’s for dinner, which is the first test and there we had a five-course dinner,” said Tom. “We met the committee and drank fantastic wine – it was awesome.”
Luckily, Tom didn’t consume too much vintage red because the next day was the scholarship applicant’s greatest challenge – the interview.
“They are notoriously difficult but it was really good fun,” said Tom. Fun? “If you see it as a challenge and don’t take it too seriously.”
The interview committee, which the students had met the night before at the dinner consisted of the vice-chancellor of the University of Queensland, the chief executive officer of Main Roads, professors from other universities and former Rhodes Scholars.
“For example, a guy might ask me a question and he might be a QC barrister and you have to argue with him,” Tom said laughing. “So you can imagine that it’s tough and they challenge you on purpose.”
Tom said he had been quietly confident after his interview.
“I knew I had nailed it because the answers came so easily and I was relaxed. However, I wasn’t sure I had got it because chances are, everyone else is going to nail it too,” he said
Tom was then made to wait three tense hours until the final result was announced.
“My parents were pretty stoked,” he said laughing.
Tom has already been around the world twice and has already worked in the medical engineering research department at Oxford University.
“I was working with surgeons and engineers together to develop research techniques. My time at Oxford also helped me convince the committee that I had a reason to go back.”
But how did he land a gig like that?
“Well, I had a look around and they had a really cool department so I made some contacts via e-mail.”
At Oxford, Tom will be developing new techniques for orthopaedic surgery and in particular, developing imaging techniques for knee replacements.
“The idea is to get a video replay of an X-ray so you can assess how the person is recovering after a knee reconstruction,” he said.
“Many things worked in Tom’s favour when the Rhodes Scholarship Committee was reviewing his school, university and personal life.
Tom is Iona College’s first Rhodes scholar. He attended the school from 1989-96 and was elected school captain in Year 12. After gaining an OP1, Tom was accepted into a medical engineering course at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
“I actually wanted to do medicine but I had to do a degree first and I’d always liked engineering so medical engineering was like a split down the middle,” said Tom.
While at Iona, Tom played in the school’s 1st XI cricket team in addition to the 1st XV rugby team, where he was selected to go to the National Rugby Championships.
He is also an amateur ballroom dancer, rock climber and a team leader for Rosies Youth Mission.
Christmas will be a busy time for Tom, as he develops an educational module for a minor project involving landmine victims in Cambodia.
“I want to teach people who make artificial legs, principles of engineering, so my role overseas will be e-mailing tutorial answers and answering any of their questions,” he said thoughtfully.
Wherever the road takes him, the future looks very bright for Tom.
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