Find Your Passion: A Man With Plans

By Chris Bryant

John CanadaCanada, a sophomore, has presented at two international scientific conferences (Jeff Hanson).

John Canada has plans. To see one of them unfolding, you’ll have to be an early riser and willing to peer through the fog as it lifts off the Black Warrior River.

For others, you’ll need to take the long-term view.

Goals set by The University of Alabama sophomore include: making the UA crew team on which he competes one other schools dread racing, becoming a patent lawyer, helping other young people better understand climate change and building a better weed killer.

If the chemistry major and UA Honors College student sounds a tad busy, that’s one reason his alarm sounds at 4:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays. On the weekends, he sleeps in, sometimes as late as 6:30 a.m. (Slacker.)

“My goal is, and always has been, to become a lawyer,” says Canada, in response to a question. “That’s what I want. The plan is to become a patent lawyer. In order to do that, you have to have a strong background in one of the sciences, a major at the very least, and, possibly, a doctorate in chemistry, biology or engineering. But, regardless, I’m going into law.”

John CanadaFive days a week you can find Canada joining his crewmates at the boathouse at 5 a.m. (Jeff Hanson).

Sounds determined, huh? Oh, and his crew coach … meet Erik Glenn. “He doesn’t spare the rod,” Canada says.

One hopes he’s speaking figuratively. Glenn is a former Marine. You know what they say about Marines -- once a Marine always a Marine.

“We’re pretty intense,” Canada says of his team. Gotcha.

So, it’s up at 4:30, rain or shine. Lightning is about the only thing keeping Canada off the weekday waters. He and his crewmates are at their boathouse by 5 a.m. and out on the river by 5:15 a.m.

“We stay on the water for a good two, two and a half hours,” Canada says. About 7:30 they head back ashore. “Because,” Canada says almost as if apologizing for the mere 2-plus hour pre-dawn workout, “a lot of us have 8 a.m. classes.”

Then, after classes and, for much of the last two years, work in Dr. Robin Rogers’ chemistry lab, he re-joins his crewmates at the gym for two-hour weight-lifting sessions every evening.

In the fall, UA’s crew team, the youngest in the country, Canada says, finished third in the nation’s largest race. Another UA team, competing in the novice division, also won third place.

“Alabama hasn’t medaled there in almost a decade,” Canada says, “and we came away with two.”

Canada says he believes the event marked, not the end, but the beginning for UA’s renewed crew success. Sound familiar?

John CanadaMembers of the crew team glide row across Tuscaloosa's Black Warrior River (Jeff Hanson).

“When people see us in the bracket, we want them to say, ‘we don’t want to race those guys.’ That’s not something people associate with Alabama, but we’d like them to.”

Finishing at the top of his class at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, Canada says many of his friends didn’t associate him with attending college at UA.

“They were surprised,” he says, when learning of his college choice.

Perhaps they shouldn’t have been. Both Canada’s dad and mom, each a practicing attorney, earned their undergraduate and law school diplomas from UA. Canada says he was “indoctrinated from an early age.”

His impressions, however, are not just legacy-based. Considering the opportunities he’s had in his first two years at UA, the Capstone more than stacks up, Canada says.

“I don’t know of any undergraduate students elsewhere who, by their sophomore years, have already been able to go to two international scientific conferences and present and have three or four more scheduled on the books and get to go to a U.N. conference in Africa.”

The U.N. conference, held in Durban, South Africa from Nov. 29 to Dec. 9, was the world’s primary climate-change conference, attended by representatives from more than 190 nations. The American Chemical Society selected five students nationwide to attend. Canada was one of them.

He was encouraged by apply by Rogers, the Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry at UA and director of UA’s Center for Green Manufacturing.

“John, as a sophomore, already has broad experiences and broad interest combined with technical ability which will allow him to understand and assess the complex issues to be discussed,” Rogers said at the time of Canada’s selection. “John communicates well within a broad spectrum of society -- being an athlete, chemistry major, and having interests in law, science, and entrepreneurship. His ability to communicate is perhaps one of his biggest strengths.”

Canada’s role included interviewing world leaders in the climate change field and attempting to get his peers back in the United States to think more about climate change.

John CanadaCanada, center, with crewmates, from left,  Matt Hennigan, Jason Grenier, Ryan McArthur, and Tyler Bartlet (Jeff Hanson).

While in South Africa, Canada engaged other youth organizations who were active in climate change. One key tie he made was with a Chinese student organization. Many of these students had been active in climate change discussions in China but since moving to the U.S. were finding it tougher to stay plugged into the issue, Canada says. Through the newly formed collaboration, Canada hopes each can benefit the other, all the while bringing more climate change discussion to the forefront.

To learn more about the students’ roles in the project, and to read some of Canada’s blogs from South Africa, click here. An earlier UA news release and articles in The Birmingham News and The Tuscaloosa News describe Canada’s efforts.  Students attending the conference recently posted this documentary they made about the conference.

And, as for the aforementioned weed-killing work, that too came from Canada’s affiliation with Rogers’ lab, something he began shortly after arriving in Tuscaloosa.

Rogers is an expert in ionic liquids – liquid salts that have melting points below 100 degrees Celsius. They are a new class of solvents that are typically non-toxic, nonflammable, and do not evaporate, significantly reducing harmful emissions.

And, as Canada describes it, one type may become the farmers’ friend.

“A lot of times, the herbicides that are used are not very effective,” Canada says. “They have to spray everything in large areas, and it ends up affecting the ecosystem. A lot of damage is done to plants other than the one they are actually trying to kill. Using ionic liquids increases selectivity.”

By incorporating, chemically, the ionic liquids into the herbicide, the final product could exhibit some of the herbicide’s desired properties but also contain additional properties, such as a slow release mechanism, Canada says. Achieving the desired result while using smaller quantities of the chemical could be both cost-effective and more environmentally friendly, the student says.  The research is in its early stages, but the goal is to develop a marketable product.

Canada indicates he’s pleased his own experience at UA appears well on the way to helping him make himself more marketable to those future law schools … and beyond.

“I have been very happy with my time here. I’ve been very busy … it’s a lot of work, but Alabama has provided me with so many opportunities that I’m grateful for.”

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This story is part of the Find Your Passion feature section of the UA home page. For more stories, please visit Find Your Passion or Crimson Spotlight. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.