Western’s Amazing Grads – Brian Coulter

Graduate finds the Rhodes to success



Along with his luggage and books, Rhodes Scholar Brian Coulter is bringing the experiences and knowledge gained at Western to Oxford University in England. Coulter, a combined Engineering and Ivey student, is the 12th Western student to receive a Rhodes Scholarship since 1970. 


When Brian Coulter picked up the phone last winter, the voice on the other end asked whether he was sitting down. It was a call he had been waiting his whole life to take.

The University of Western Ontario student received news he was awarded the 2009 Rhodes Scholarship, a prestigious honour shared by the likes of U.S. president Bill Clinton, and American author and social critic Naomi Wolf. He will be heading to Oxford University in England in October.


“It was definitely very exciting,” he says. “I’d applied hoping this would come about, but having met the various people who were applying … I kind of realized it was a long shot.


“When that phone call came in, it was amazing.”



To say Coulter has the aptitude to be a Rhodes Scholar would be an understatement.


Growing up, Coulter was always drawn to engineering, partly to follow in his father’s footsteps. He recognized early on social and communication skills are not always well developed amongst those working in the field.



His desire to be a well-rounded student brought him to the concurrent Engineering/Ivey program, focusing on mechanical engineering and business administration.


“The Ivey way of teaching is so different from Engineering and I like how those two complement each other.”


Completing two undergraduate degrees in five years seems to predicate a grueling schedule. But it wasn’t all work for Coulter.


He joined the SunStang solar car team shortly after he began at Western. He was fascinated by the idea of running a car completely on sunlight. He later took over the mechanical management of the team and worked to expand the number of participants.



“Seeing the engineering design from cradle to grave … was really exciting,” he says. “This was probably the only opportunity I would have to work with these really exciting materials that are being developed every day.”


In 2005 he participated in the World Solar Challenge, a 3,000-kilometre race in a solar vehicle across the Australian outback. “That was just an incredible experience,” he says.



As underdogs in the race, Coulter was elated when the team crossed the finish line. Although the group didn’t come in first, completing the race was just as rewarding.



Furthering his mentorship of younger students, Coulter spent four years as a residence don. 


Helping students during their most vulnerable moments was a different kind of learning experience for Coulter and forced him to strengthen his interpersonal skills.


“I like to think I serve as a strong role model for others,” he says.



Although he has forged many relationships at Western, it is residence life that he is going to miss the most.



“You really get the opportunity to help people when they really need it the most.”



Coulter credits the experience, knowledge and skills gained at Western for giving him a solid grounding for his next academic adventure.


He intends to focus on mathematical and computational finance – once again combining his business and engineering background – at Oxford.



“The engineering way of thinking is something I hope to take with me to the business world. The analytical, step-by-step way of looking at problems is what engineers are well-known for,” he says.



Each year 11 Canadians are given the prestigious honour and only 90 people worldwide are named Rhodes Scholars. Coulter is the 12th Western student to receive a Rhodes Scholarship since 1970.