Meet the 2014 Rhodes Scholars

November 26, 2013

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year, the Rhodes Trust announces its next class of Rhodes Scholars, the elite academic club that counts prominent politicians, academics, journalists and one president among its alumni.

The classes are typically heavy on Ivy Leaguers, although this year only 11 of the 32 scholars attended one of the Ivies. Harvard University had the most scholars with six, followed by Yale and Stanford universities with three each. The University of Virginia had two, as did Princeton University and the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. First-time winners include Smith College and New York University Abu Dhabi.

This year about 1,750 students sought the endorsement of their school to apply for the program, and 857 were endorsed by 327 colleges and universities. From there, 208 applicants from 91 schools reached the final stage of the competition, which includes an interview. Thirty-two won and will study at the University of Oxford starting in October 2014, along with about 50 scholars from other countries.

Here are the 2014 Rhodes Scholars, along with one interesting fact about each:

Charles S. Tyson, Chapel Hill, N.C., U-Va.: There’s one name on this year’s list that I know well — although I know him as “Charlie” Tyson, the executive editor at the Cavalier Daily who reported on the ouster and reinstatement of U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan last summer. A turning point in that saga was when Cav Daily leaders filed a public information request for e-mails exchanged by governing board leaders in the weeks leading up to Sullivan’s ouster and received a pile of documents that revealed worries about online education. Lately, Tyson has been writing editorials and editing. He dreams of one day being a writer and professor at a state institution. Congrats, Charlie. (Cavalier Daily / U-Va. press release)

Adam Mastroianni, Monroeville, Ohio, Princeton: Mastroianni is an improv comedian and cartoonist who has conducted research on the social psychology of humor -- including how laughter influences people’s perception of each other — so he made puns during his Rhodes interview that reportedly delighted the panel. (Daily Princetonian)

Jessica Wamala of Milford, N.H., Villanova University: Wamala is a Gates Millennium Scholar, recipient of a full-ride scholarship funded by Bill and Melinda Gates that assists students with significant financial need, and has interned with the State Department and at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. (Okay, one more fact: Wamala is also No. 34 on the Villanova women’s basketball team, a forward who walked-on her sophomore year and is now the team’s co-captain. She is the school’s third student-athlete to become a Rhodes Scholar.) (Villanova press release)

Miles W. Unterreiner, Santa Barbara, Calif., Stanford: Unterreiner was a Rhodes finalist last year and jetted between a NCAA cross country championship event in Louisville and Rhodes events in Seattle, thanks to the use of a private jet provided by an anonymous donor. (San Jose Mercury News)

James O’Connell, Tampa, Fla., Wake Forest University: O’Connell has written one feature-length screen play that’s based on his senior thesis about al-Qaida following Osama bin Laden’s death. (Associated Press)

Emma Pierson, Arlington, Va., Stanford: Pierson works for Coursera — the closely watched educational tech company started by two Stanford professors that works with major universities to create and share MOOCs. (Washington Post)

Calla Glavin, Birmingham, Mich., U. S. Military Academy: When Glavin learned the Rhodes news, her first call was to her mentor, Army Maj. Keith Benedict, a former Rhodes scholar who taught at West Point and urged her to apply. (Associated Press)

Vinay Nayak, Oak Brook, Ill., Yale: Nayak worked on President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and interned in the White House Office on Digital Strategy, where he managed a social media presence following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Chicago Tribune)

John Mikhael, Dallas, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Mikhael wrote about growing up in the U.S. and then Lebanon in an essay titled “Lost in Translation.” At one point he writes: “I suppose sometimes you get that feeling, when you’re straddling two different cultures, that you’re two different people depending on what language you’re speaking in. And rather than using those pieces of yourself to build something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, you just end up juggling the two different ‘you’s. ...How do you reconcile the influence of two different cultures when you’re trying to define your own identity?” (Mikhael’s essay)

Joshua A. Aiken, Eugene, Ore., Washington University, St. Louis: Aiken has been a passionate advocate for international human rights and domestic civil liberties, saying in a statement: “I have had the experience of being able to live openly and freely and to be who I am. Knowing that so many people can’t do that motivates me.” (Press release)

Alexander J. Diaz of North Bergen, N.J., Harvard: As a psychology major, Diaz has studied the “cognitive mechanisms that underlie unconscious race, ethnic and gender bias” — and he cried “tears of joy” upon learning that he was selected to become a Rhodes Scholar. (CBS New York)

Elizabeth H. Byrne of Cambridge, Mass., Harvard: Byrne is interested in using statistics to understand the spread of disease, especially the HIV virus in South Africa, where she has visited and was affected by “seeing that young women exactly my age were most at risk.” (Boston Globe)

Katherine E. Warren of Bainbridge Island, Wash., Harvard: The summer after freshman year of college, Warren lived in New Mexico and was inspired by her uncle who is a doctor for the federal Indian Health Service and cares for residents at a Navajo reservation. (Bonus fact: Byrne and Warren are friends and were together when they received the Rhodes news.) (Globe)

Isabel E.E. Beshar of Rye, N.Y., Yale: Beshar is president of the Yale Public Health Coalition and has written several health-related editorials for the Yale Daily News, including one in September about the overuse of antibiotics. (Daily News)

Paolo P. Singer, Bronx, N.Y., Harvard: Singer was a competitive figure skater in high school, rowed for a Harvard crew team and interned at the White House last year, during which the “brainiac” and his fellow “awestruck interns” met President Obama. (New York Daily News)

Evan B. Behrle, Oxford, Pa., U-Va.: Behrle is chairman of the U-Va. Honor Committee, the student-run group that upholds the university’s revered honor code, a pledge to not lie, cheat or steal. Lately, Behrle has overseen subtle changes to the historic system. (Cavalier Daily)

Alexander G. Wang, Doylestown, Pa., NYUAD: Wang has bounced around New York University’s global network and is a member of NYU Abu Dhabi’s inaugural class. (NYUAD press release)

Timothy M. McGinnis, Charlotte, N.C., Princeton: McGinnis spent two years at Deep Springs College in California, an alternative liberal arts school located on a cattle-ranch and alfalfa farm in the middle of the desert, and was one of the school’s two emergency medical technicians. (Daily Princetonian)

Brian W. McGrail, Arlington, Va., Williams College: McGrail is president of the Williams College Democrats, worked as a campaign intern for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and helps low-income people prepare their tax returns. (Washington Post)

Lindsay E. Lee, Oak Ridge, Tenn., University of Tennessee: Lee was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when she was 3 and founded Campus Disability Advocates, an organization that provides a voice to students, faculty and staff with disabilities. (Press release)

Melissa L. McCoy, Dallas, Georgia Institute of Technology: While in college, McCoy founded an organization that uses social entrepreneurial technology to address the lack of drinkable water following a disaster, a program that was piloted with the Red Cross in a Chilean town destroyed by an earthquake. (Associated Press)

Courtney Wittekind, Mason, Ohio, Carnegie Mellon University: Wittekind has long been fascinated by Burma, having worked with Burmese refugees and migrants in Thailand in 2009, then learning Burmese and returning to the region during her junior year of college. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Drew A. Birrenkott, McFarland, Wis., University of Wisconsin: Birrenkott is working to design a “rugged, inexpensive, battery-powered infant cardio-respiratory monitor for use in developing countries,” according to his Rhodes bio. (Daily Cardinal)

Samuel M. Greene, Spring Green, Wis., University of Chicago: Greene’s father is a Zen Buddhist priest, and he’s acutely aware of and interested in the connections between the mind and body. (Sun Times)

Donald Mayfield Brown, Vicksburg, Miss., Mississippi State University: Brown founded a creative arts journal and wrote his senior thesis about novelists like Ralph Ellison who had to mute their politically racial ideas to become visible and respected. (Associated Press)

Meredith L. Wheeler, Fort Collins, Colo., Stanford: Wheeler is a member of the alpine ski team, and worked as a research assistant for Condoleeza Rice at the Hoover Institute. (Stanford Daily)

Erin A. T. Mauldin, Albuquerque, N.M., U. S. Military Academy: Mauldin ranks first in her class academically and second in academics, military leadership and athletics combined. She is the only non-French woman ever to graduate from the French Commando School. (Rhodes bio)

Suzanna M. Fritzberg, Lake Forest Park, Wash., Yale: Fritzberg is majoring in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and designed her own course work so that she can “develop multi-disciplinary academic understanding of social justice.” (Rhodes bio)

Andrew S. Lea, Richland, Wash., Harvard: Lea was a member of his high school Knowledge Bowl team and is now the editor-in-chief of the country’s only undergraduate journal of the history of science. (Bellingham Herald)

Clarke Knight, Henderson, Nev., Smith College: Knight is the author of “Footnotes in Architecture,” a book that details the history of women architects. She is now compiling the biographies of Smith College chemistry graduates to help fill “the gap in the early history of American women chemists.” (Smith press release)

Aurora Catherine Griffin, Westlake Village, Calif., Harvard: Griffin told her student newspaper that she is “firmly committed to fighting the world’s fight through bioethics, using principles from my faith and education in the Classics to address questions never asked before about emerging biotechnologies.” (Harvard Crimson)

Zarko Perovic, San Diego, University of California, Berkeley: As a child, Perovic and his family fled Serbia during the Kosovo crisis. In college, he researched the Cambodian genocide. Since graduation he has worked in the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the State Department and at the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, where he is designing a system that would allow people to document atrocities occurring in conflict zones. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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