By Ainslie Coghill
Photos by Ainslie Coghill

Two gifted athletes, scholarship recipients, and first year engineering students have just completed their first semester at Carleton University. Their chosen paths are quite different, and yet the two young women share a few common qualities: passion, commitment, and the drive to succeed.

What brought these talented students to Carleton, and what have the first few months been like? We caught up with both of them – Bryn Reynolds and Céline Kavanaugh – to find out more.

Bryn Reynolds

The Ravens women’s basketball team room in Carleton’s Athletics building is a lively space filled with friendly faces, a cozy couch, and an array of team apparel. Bryn Reynolds stores her Nikes in a corner cubby.

This is her first year playing for the Ravens. Reynolds arrived to Ottawa from Kingston, ON in early July to get acquainted with her teammates and begin practice. As of December 2019, her team is tied for the top spot in the Ontario University Athletics standings.

In September, Reynolds began a degree in environmental engineering. Her teammates have helped her prepare for the balancing act of pursuing two passions.

“The older girls on the team are so helpful, and demonstrate great leadership,” she says. “In the summer, I lived at three of the girls’ shared house, and we walked together to the gym every morning.”

With four practices a week, plus additional workout sessions, Reynolds says she doesn’t mind when she feels tired, and sharing laughs with her teammates helps.

“We’re gone most weekends for games, too, but school comes first. So if I do have to miss a practice here or there, it’s not the end of the world,” she says.

Reynolds knew environmental engineering would be a natural fit for university. Along with her favourite teacher, best friend, and sister, Reynolds formed an eco-club and held an eco-awareness week at her former high school.

Reynolds’ extra-curriculars and impressive grades helped land her one of Carleton’s Prestige Scholarships, the Riordon Scholarship.

Reynolds says she is looking forward to her fourth year project and getting into water treatment topics.

“I really enjoyed my first elective course in geography,” she adds. “It’s less of a scientific standpoint, but it helps me relate what I learn in environmental engineering to what I could see myself doing in the future, and how it will impact society,” she says.

Her inclination to help others is not dissimilar to her style on court. A 5’10 guard who, in her words, “makes other people better,” Reynolds opts for passes that help her teammates score. A number of injured players and a smaller team has shifted the dynamic slightly.

“I was never really a scorer, but for now my job is to shoot threes,” she says with a laugh.

While she’s only just begun her engineering degree, the skills she’s learning while balancing her schedule will last a lifetime.

“Being on the basketball team has definitely taught me time management skills. Knowing how to work hard, and that I can’t slack off, means I’m pushing myself all the time”, she says.

“But I’m prepared.”

Céline Kavanaugh

Born and raised in northwestern New Brunswick, Céline Kavanaugh attended a small French high school where she excelled in physics and calculus, and loved hands on projects.

She wanted to go into engineering, and follow in the footsteps of her older siblings, who attended English universities away from home. Kavanaugh took part in the SHAD Canada (summer enrichment) program in 2017, and her visit to Newfoundland with the program opened her eyes to the world of engineering and ignited a newfound sense of independence.

“Going to SHAD proved to me that I was ready. It was a trip far away from home, and I did it by myself when I was only fifteen,” says Kavanaugh.

She learned about Ottawa’s Carleton University while on skiing trips to Quebec, just across the river. At the time, she was in the market for a university with a ski team.

A para-nordic skier and former athlete with Parasport New Brunswick, Kavanaugh was a triple medalist at the 2019 Canada Winter Games. She is visually-impaired, and skis alongside a guide. With her guide Charlotte Toner, she led team New Brunswick into the closing ceremonies in Red Deer, Alberta.

Kavanaugh skiing with her guide, Charlotte Toner (Parasport NB)

Kavanaugh never thought she’d be a skier. When she was younger, she attended a Parasport New Brunswick banquet, then someone contacted her mother to ask if she might be interested.

Though she ultimately decided to forgo competitive skiing during her first year of university, she is pleased with her decision to attend Carleton University in the Nation’s Capital.

“Ottawa is a community with a city feel, and I like the French aspect. If I do want to go skiing, it’s easy to get to the trails,” she says.

Kavanaugh, who received Carleton’s Akbar Mashaie Scholarship, has now completed the first semester of her degree in mechanical engineering.

“I’m really interested in disability studies,” she says, “but the reason I got in to engineering is I feel there needs to be more diversity in the people creating technologies, and I know I can act as an advocate.”

Kavanaugh in her residence lounge during exam season.

Before her degree, in 2018, she visited Carleton’s campus as part of the annual Shaking the Movers workshop, designed by the Landon Pearson Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights. The youth-driven workshop promotes the rights of children to participate as citizens in society. The youngest workshop facilitator, at only 17, Kavanaugh helped participants with physical and non-physical disabilities share their voice and impact public policy.

“My disability has brought me this sport that I love, and all these different events and initiatives and opportunities are because of my disability,” she says. “My ways of adapting stem from it, and without my disability, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”