Katherine Dibbon is a strong believer in the power of women. As a child growing up in St. John’s, Newfoundland, she often found herself as one of the few females in the science-focused classes and extracurriculars she loved, which sparked in her a deep desire to see more gender equality in the academic fields she enjoyed and to work to help elevate more women into leadership roles. “It’s incredibly important to have women in decision-making roles, to have a seat at the table to contribute and ensure everyone’s interests are being considered.”

Katherine Dibbon, Shad2018

Being a woman of action, Katherine ran for student government at her high school, living the values she believed in by pursuing leadership roles herself and encouraging women around her to do the same. “Women helping women is a wonderful thing. We have so much to offer and deserve representation, and we need to support one another to achieve those goals.”

When Katherine got to post-secondary, she realized there were many ways to help promote gender equality in the real world. She chose to do a joint BA in Political Science and BSc (Hons) in Chemistry (Biological), which allowed her to combine her passion for activism in the political sphere with research that works to help women understand and address the health problems that affect them. Her honours thesis focused on the impact of plastic exposure on pregnant mothers’ placental function and fetal development.

“I’m a big gender equality advocate and have worked with different groups across Canada and internationally, and this area of study offered an academic stream for something I was really passionate about. I was able to connect my passion for equality and my passion for science in a very social, political, and activism-based way and contribute to research that will impact the changes I want to see in my world.

Katherine working with the Premiers Youth Council

To build the skills needed to meet her goals, Katherine participated in a summer student research program at Sick Kids in Toronto learning about medical imaging. She also performed work for the University Health Network through the Amgen Scholars Program at the University of Toronto in a lab that focused on HIV research, which allowed her to further her understanding of women’s reproductive health. Her research with the lab focused on the effects of antivirals on the health of the mother and the fetus.

Katherine believes in the value of working with organizations that share her desire for gender equality. She co-chaired the Premiers Youth Council where they worked to engage the youth voice in provincial decision making and worked with the UN Women Generation Equality Youth Task Force, operating as their Canadian representative sharing information on the importance of putting women in leadership roles. She also worked with Plan International Canada, where her group created a sustainable development goal framework looking at how we can achieve gender equality in Canada.

“We did consultations all across the country with a diverse range of groups to generate a big picture of what gender equality can look like in Canada. It was amazing to work with women and to understand the power that we have, which ultimately informs my research and motivates me to continue to want to shed light on the true power of women.”

Katherine and friends at ShadCarleton in 2018

Her belief in creating a community network around her of like-minded peers pursuing a common goal is a lesson she learned from her time at ShadCarleton in 2018.

“The friendships and connections you form through Shad is something that just doesn’t compare to other programs I have done. You become a member of a national network of amazing people. The program teaches you a lot about STEAM and enriching yourself with science, but it also teaches you the interpersonal aspects of building your own community and having a network of people across Canada who you’re able to connect with.

When she applied to the Rhodes Scholarship program, she drew on the Shad program’s focus on progress over perfection when highlighting the social contributions she’s made and how she plans to continue to grow as a leader in her community.

Katherine with her design project team at Shad in 2018

“Leadership was always an underlying theme throughout the programming at Shad. We had leaders in the field sharing with us their own experiences and giving us insight into what it means to be in leadership roles. We had people who were with us throughout our month-long experience who exemplified leadership, instilling in us the values of leadership and empowering us as youth to take the lead in situations and see our own potential.”

Having been named a 2024 Rhodes Scholar, Katherine is excited for the journey ahead as she continues to learn and develop the skills needed to continue having an impact, while also building her network of allies who she knows will be integral to achieving lasting change.

Katherine and her design team presenting their design project for the Shad program

“Shad taught me the importance of the community around you and the power of those who are interested in your work and helping you to get to where you need to be. Shad gave me the confidence to tap those around me who can help me to achieve the goals I’ve set. There is very little we can do on our own, at least when it comes to tackling the big issues that matter. Thank you to my Shad community for supporting me and celebrating my Rhodes Scholarship with me. Shad taught me the power of community and it’s a lesson I’ll never forget.”

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