Between competing as part of the University of Guelph cheerleading team, volunteering as an adult literacy tutor, founding a student club to draw awareness to eating disorders, coaching and assisting with physiotherapy at the Health and Performance Centre, Madison Hughes has made the most of her time at U of G.

When the BSc ‘24 graduate takes the convocation stage next month, it will mark the end of one chapter and the start of another, as a McCall MacBain Scholar headed to McGill University.

The first McCall MacBain Scholar from U of G, Hughes will begin a fully funded course-based master’s program in public health this fall.

“I’ve really loved my education thus far,” Hughes says. “I knew I wanted to continue my education in some capacity, but it was a tough decision to pick which direction to go in. I’m excited about studying public health because it’s different from my undergraduate degree in that it provides a larger-scale perspective on health care.”

How the pandemic influences the education path

As an undergraduate studying biomedical toxicology across the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences and the College of Biological Science, during the first years of the pandemic, Hughes was impacted by the way health policy became a household topic. She began to understand the vital role policy plays in the Canadian health care system and identify areas of improvement.

The needs of the health care system and its shortcomings remain a prevalent topic of conversation, she says. “I’m really looking forward to applying the knowledge I have gained about research methods. It will be interesting to offer a deeper perspective and understanding of that.”

For Hughes, whose passion for science began in a Guelph high school chemistry class, relocating to Montreal is an exciting step in her education journey, but also a bittersweet one.

“The hardest thing about any graduate program is leaving Guelph because I love the school so much,” says Hughes, who is wrapping up her time working in Dr. Sarah Wootton’s lab in the Department of Pathobiology, where she started as a co-op student two years ago.

“I like to be involved in the community and through those endeavours, have met so many great people who have really shaped the path I’ve been on,” she says. “Especially the University community.”

McCall MacBain Scholarship modelled after Rhodes Scholarship

The McCall MacBain Scholarship is a program supported by a $200-million gift from John and Marcy McCall MacBain and established in 2019 to create a comprehensive master’s-level scholarship, to build on academic excellence in Canada.

The program marks the country’s first comprehensive, leadership-driven scholarships for master’s and professional degree studies, modelled after the Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford.

A person with long brown hair wearing a white blouse and gray cardigan clasps her hands while standing over the rail of a staircase in the Waasamowin atrium with red brick and a U of G banner in the background.
As an undergraduate at U of G, Madison Hughes studied biomedical toxicology.

Scholars connect with mentors and participate in an interdisciplinary leadership program while pursuing a fully funded master’s or professional degree at McGill University that includes a living stipend.

Hughes, the sole finalist from U of G, says the scholarship process was a valuable learning opportunity that pushed her out of her comfort zone. The application included a thorough two-part interview process. First, Hughes met the selection committee in Toronto and then, as one of 55 finalists, was invited to Montreal for the next phase that included a weekend to network with current McCall MacBain Scholars, visit the McGill campus and get a taste of what Montreal has to offer.

“Everyone involved with the scholarship is so impressive,” she says. “The process allowed me to reflect on my accomplishments, and to set new goals.”

Of the 700 Canadian students who applied for the scholarships, 20 were selected along with 10 international students. Recipients were chosen based on exceptional character, community engagement, leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, academic strength and intellectual curiosity.

“Madison’s remarkable accomplishments at U of G are a perfect example of our philosophy to Improve Life,” says Dr. Byron Sheldrick, associate vice-president (academic). “Not only is Madison the first U of G recipient of the McCall MacBain Scholarship, she also volunteered her time to speak to fellow students about this generous opportunity to inspire others to continue their education.”

Applications open June 1, 2024, for the 2025 cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars. There is no fee to apply. This year the program also offered 117 entrance awards ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 each to top candidates who were not selected for the cohort.

For more details, including the next information session, visit