When Meagan McLavish left Red Deer five years ago to begin university, there were great expectations for the young leader. She didn’t disappoint.
The former Loran scholar. Loran is a prestigious and highly competitive award handed out to a select group of students who have the potential to take their communities to a new height.
She has finished her bachelor of science degree in nutrition and food science at the University of Alberta. McLavish, 22, is now in her final months of her one-year internship with Alberta Health Services and will be writing her exam in November to become a registered dietician.
“I have really found my niche in nutrition … I wanted a degree where I could learn something about people, something applicable and that I could see in day-to-day life, but also something that would allow me to delve deeper into an area of expertise,” McLavish said.
“It has the science background but also the big picture, like looking at culture and food, religion and food, the economics of food, and public health and health promotion.”
The Loran scholarships cover four years of tuition and living expenses up to a maximum of $80,000. Only 30 Canadian students are chosen per year. McLavish was one of the 30 in 2009, from a total of 3,200 applicants.
“It really opened my eyes to my own potential. … The networks I was connected with in terms of peers nationally who’d also won the award, and alumni, really inspired me to want to pursue more and to contribute more in more meaningful ways and to think critically about how I was contributing to my community. It’s shaped a lot of the values I have now when it comes to leadership.”
The scholarship entailed four annual summer program options, presenting McLavish with the chance to go to Nicaragua for three months in the summer of 2010. There she learned Spanish from local teachers and volunteered in the hospital lab, doing blood work and tests and helping staff use donated equipment by reading the English instructions. She was also involved in mobile health clinics, going into rural settings to raise awareness around breast feeding and reproductive health.
Another summer she received hands-on public policy experience in Toronto with a non-profit called the Learning Enrichment Foundation, where she researched food security, and later used this information to help an advocacy group make recommendations to the City of Toronto. She also helped organize a farmers’ market to connect recent immigrants to their new Canadian community and provide an alternative, low-cost gathering space.
“It really has been life changing,” she said.
McLavish had her eye on neurology and becoming a doctor when she was at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. She said she is still interested in pursuing medicine down the road but wants to be open-minded about the future.
“I’m exploring right now … I’m in no hurry,” she said.
After her internship wraps up at the end of May, McLavish said she hopes to have a chance to globe-trot, specifically to South America.
“I’ve been locked down with commitments for the last five years, honestly, and haven’t had any time where there hasn’t been something I’ve had to do. So I’d like to just enjoy some time doing whatever I feel like doing, experience more cultures.”
And as for coming back to Red Deer one day, McLavish said she holds her hometown in a special place in her heart and “you never know.”
An avid volunteer since she was in Grade 5, McLavish is on the organizing committee for the TEDxEdmonton conference, happening on June 14.
She was a Big Sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area for four years while attending classes and helped fine-tune the inner workings of the Interdepartmental Science Students’ Society. She was also involved with the University of Alberta Canadian Red Cross Club for four years, serving as chair for the last two and organized countless fundraisers on top of helping the club restructure itself through transition periods.
“I’ve had a lot of great role models and examples in my life, through my parents and great teachers. I learned early on that I felt the most meaning in what I was doing when it was something for others. … I think it comes down to that what motivates me is empowering people.”
In 2010, McLavish was the recipient of Red Deer’s Young Citizen of the Year award for her leadership while on her high school council at Lindsay Thurber. In Red Deer, she also volunteered for a therapeutic riding program for special needs children and organized a citywide barbecue for the homeless.