Four Virginian students among Rhodes Scholarship recipients


Emma Pierson, of Arlington, Va., is among 32 American students who were named 2014 Rhodes Scholars. She graduated from Stanford University in June with a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in computer science. (Courtesy of Jayne Patterson/Via AP)

Virginia has four new reasons to boast of the quality of education in the commonwealth with the announcement that two Northern Virginia natives and two University of Virginia students are among the 32 recipients of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships this year.

Two Arlington residents and two out-of-state University of Virginia seniors will attend Oxford University for two or three years of all-expenses-paid study beginning in 2014, according to the trust that has provided scholarships through the estate of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes since 1902.

The four Rhodes Scholars with ties the region were identified by the trust as: Brian W. McGrail of Arlington, a senior at Williams College focusing on social change and political economy and history; Emma Pierson of Arlington, who graduated in June from Stanford University after earning a bachelors degree in physics and a master’s degree in computer science; Evan B. Behrle of Oxford, Pa., a senior at the University of Virginia studying government-foreign affairs; and Charles S. Tyson, a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., and a senior at the University of Virginia, where he is a double major studying English and the history of political and social thought.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Pierson, 22, said Sunday. Pierson, a 2009 graduate of Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, researched cognitive psychology and biocomputation at Stanford. She also was president of the Stanford Debate Society. She now works for Coursera, a company that provides free online education.

Pierson said she always liked biology, but her interest in biocomputation took off after she learned that she was carrying a mutated BRCA gene, which predisposes women for cancer. Pierson said biocomputation could open doors to personalized medicine by allowing doctors to analyze a cancer patient’s DNA and perhaps tailor treatments for the disease. She said her work was also inspired by the experiences of notable women who had cancer, including the late Marjorie Williams, a Washington Post writer whose essays Pierson admired.

“It was partially that I myself carry this gene and it was also seeing all these amazing women who suffered from this disease that made it concrete to me,” she said.

Pierson said that it was an interesting coincidence that two Arlingtonians made the Rhodes cut. She said she first met McGrail at the U.S. Chess Center in Washington several years ago, where the two played each other and other aficionados of the game.

McGrail, 21, is a Truman Scholar at Williams, where he is majoring in political economy and history and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He is conducting research on the effect of taxation on income equality and behavior. He is president of the Williams College Democrats and worked as a campaign intern for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). He also is a member of the varsity cross-
country team and volunteers helping low-income people prepare their tax returns. He spoke about the likelihood of two Arlington residents winning the prestigious award in the same year. “Honestly I think it speaks to the strength of the Arlington public schools. I think it’s a fun coincidence.”

Behrle, 21, is a senior at the University of Virginia and a Jefferson scholar who is chairman of the school’s Honor Committee, which handles cases involving ethics infractions such as cheating. He also heads an all-male group that counsels sexual assault victims and works to prevent the attacks. He plans to study comparative social policy at Oxford, the trust said. Behrle could not be reached for comment.

Tyson, 21, is a Beinecke Scholar and a Phi Beta Kappa member at the University of Virginia. He is also executive editor of the Cavalier Daily, writing editorials and editing opinion pieces for the student newspaper.

Tyson — who covered last year’s controversy surrounding University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan’s ouster and her reinstatement — said he envisions a career that blends academia and the media, perhaps as a professor of English who writes commentary on current affairs. He said he hopes to focus on the history of science and Victorian literature, especially the work of George Eliot, while studying at Oxford.

“I’m really interested in the history of ideas,” Tyson said.

The 32 winners are: Jessica Wamala, Milford, N.H., Villanova University; Alexander Joel Diaz, North Bergen, N.J., Harvard University; Elizabeth Hockfield Byrne, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard; Katherine Elida Warren, Bainbridge Island, Wash., Harvard; Isabel Emma Eggleston Beshar, Rye, N.Y., Yale University; Paolo Poggioni Singer, Bronx, N.Y., Harvard; Evan Barrett Behrle, Oxford, Pa., University of Virginia; Alexander Gerard Wang, Doylestown, Pa., New York University, Abu Dhabi; Timothy Michael McGinnis, Charlotte, N.C., Princeton University; Charles Samuel Tyson, Chapel Hill, N.C., University of Virginia; Brian Westfall McGrail, Arlington, Va., Williams College; Emma Pierson, Arlington, Va., Stanford University; James O’Connell, Tampa, Fla., Wake Forest University; Lindsay Evans Lee, Oak Ridge, Tenn., University of Tennessee; Melissa Loreice McCoy, Dallas, Georgia Institute of Technology; John Mikhael, Dallas, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Adam Mastroianni, Monroeville, Ohio, Princeton; Courtney Wittekind, Mason, Ohio, Carnegie Mellon University; Vinay Nayak, Oak Brook, Ill., Yale; Calla Glavin, Birmingham, Mich., U. S. Military Academy; Drew Alan Birrenkott, McFarland, Wis., University of Wisconsin; Samuel Martin Greene, Spring Green, Wis., University of Chicago; Donald Mayfield Brown, Vicksburg, Miss., Mississippi State University; Joshua Allen Aiken, Eugene, Ore., Washington University in St. Louis; Meredith Lukens Wheeler, Fort Collins, Colo., Stanford; Erin Alexandra Tanith Mauldin, Albuquerque, N.M., U. S. Military Academy; Suzanna Marie Fritzberg, Lake Forest Park, Wash., Yale; Andrew Scott Lea, Richland, Wash., Harvard; Miles William Unterreiner, Santa Barbara, Calif., Stanford; Clarke Knight, Henderson, Nev., Smith College; Aurora Catherine Griffin, Westlake Village, Calif., Harvard; Zarko Perovic, San Diego, University of California at Berkeley.

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