Fourteen Women Win Rhodes Scholarships

The Rhodes Scholarships, considered by many to be the most prestigious awards given to U.S. college students, were created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, an industrialist who made a vast fortune in colonial Africa. According to the will of Rhodes, applicants must have “high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor.”

Each year, 32 Americans are named Rhodes Scholars. The scholarships provide funds for two or three years of graduate study at Oxford University in Britain. Rhodes Scholars from the United States join students from 14 other jurisdictions including Australia, southern Africa, Kenya, India, and Canada. All told, about 80 Rhodes Scholars worldwide are selected each year for study at Oxford.

This year, 1,750 American students sought Rhodes Scholarships. Of those, 857 were endorsed for selection by 327 different colleges and universities. Of the 32 American winners this year, six are affiliated with Harvard University and three have been students at Yale University. For the first time, a Rhodes winner is a student at Smith College, the highly rated women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Women were first included in Rhodes Scholarships in 1976. This year there are 14 women and 18 men. Since 1976, 487 women have been named Rhodes Scholars. There have been only four times, the last being in 2011, when women outnumbered men among the American Rhodes Scholars selected in that particular year.


(L to R) Top row: Isabel E.E. Besher, Elizabeth H. Byrne, Suzanna F. Fritzberg, Calla Glavin, Aurora C. Griffin, Clarke Knight, and Lindsay E. Lee. Bottom row: Erin A.T. Mauldin, Melissa L. McCoy, Emma Pierson, Jessica Wamala, Katherine E. Warren, Meredith Wheeler, and Courtney T. Wittekind.

Here are brief biographies of the women who won Rhodes Scholarship this year.

Isabel E.E. Besher, from Rye, New York, is a senior at Yale University. She is a double major in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and the history of science and medicine. Besher has conducted research in Panama and Ecuador and she is president of the Yale Public Health Coalition. She has also been a columnist on health-related issues for the Yale Daily News. Besher plans to study economics at Oxford and then to enter medical school.

Elizabeth H. Byrne is a senior at Harvard University where she is majoring in human developmental and regenerative biology. She has conducted research at the university’s medical school and Massachusetts General Hospital. She plays field hockey and ran in the Boston Marathon to raise money for pediatric oncology research. She will pursue a master’s degree in applied statistics at Oxford.

Suzanna F. Fritzberg is a senior at Yale University from Lake Forest Park, Washington. She is majoring in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. She is writing a senior thesis on the normative role of the state in citizen welfare. At Yale she is active with the Yale Women’s Center and the Yale Dramatic Association. She has interned with the Roosevelt Institute and the public defender’s office in New Orleans. At Oxford, Fritzberg will enter the master’s degree program in comparative social policy.

Calla Glavin, from Birmingham, Michigan, is a senior at the United States Military Academy, where she is majoring in mathematical science. She is president of the society of women engineers at West Point and is the founding editor of the student publication Past in Review. She also is the goalie for the women’s lacrosse team. She conducted research at Harvard University on a mathematical model for nanofiber formation for use in healing wounds. Glavin will study applied statistics at Oxford.

Aurora C. Griffin, from Westlake Village, California, is a senior at Harvard University. She is majoring in the classics and is interested in western ethical thought, Christian theology, and bioethics. She is president of the Harvard Catholic Student Association. Griffin has already studied abroad at Oxford and also in Rome at the Regina Apostolorun Pontifical University. Griffin will study for a master’s degree at Oxford in theology and Christian ethics.

Clarke Knight, a senior from Henderson, Nevada, who is majoring in chemistry, is the first Rhodes Scholar from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her research interests include food security and management of soil and water resources. She conducted research on potato disease in Tasmania. At Smith, she is a member of the crew and cross country teams. She will enroll in the master’s degree program in geography and the environment at Oxford.

Lindsay E. Lee is a senior at the University of Tennessee, where she is a double major in mathematics and Spanish. She has conducted research at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She was also a columnist for The Daily Beacon, the student newspaper. During her time at the university, she has studied abroad in Barcelona and Tokyo. At Oxford, Lee will enroll in the master’s degree program in comparative social policy.

Erin A.T. Mauldin of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is an international history major at the U.S. Military Academy. She currently ranks first in her class academically. At West Point, she is the co-captain of the crossfit club and competes on the military skills team. She is the only non-French woman to ever complete training at the French Commando School. At Oxford, Mauldin will pursue a master’s degree in nature, science, and environmental policy.

Melissa L. McCoy is a summa cum laude graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology. She graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. At Georgia Tech she was the founder of Enterprise to Empower, an organization that seeks to educate, enable, and engage students in social entrepreneurship. Since graduation, she has been studying at the NASA Ames Research Park in California. McCoy will study for a master’s degree in environmental chemical engineering at Oxford.

Emma Pierson, from Arlington, Virginia, graduated from Stanford University this past spring with a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in computer science. She is now working for the online education firm Coursera. At Stanford, Pierson was president of the debate society. She will enter the doctoral program in computational biology at Oxford.

Jessica Wamala is a graduate of Villanova University, where she majored in political science, Arab and Islamic studies, and global interdisciplinary studies. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in political science at Villanova and is captain of the university’s basketball team. At the age of 14, she was ranked fourth in the United States in chess for women under the age of 21. At Oxford, she will study for a master’s degree in modern Middle Eastern studies.

Katherine E. Warren graduated from Harvard University last spring with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She won the award for the best undergraduate thesis in the Class of 2013. She is serving as an Albright Fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services working on women’s and Native American health issues. She also ran in the Boston Marathon to raise money for research. Warren will study for a master’s degree in global health science at Oxford.

Meredith Wheeler, from Fort Collins, Colorado, is a senior at Stanford University. She is a double major in political science and history. Wheeler has served as a research assistant for Condoleezza Rice at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and has interned for U.S. Senator Mark Udall. While at Stanford, Wheeler has been a member of the university’s Alpine ski team and served as a student representative on the board of trustees. She will seek a master’s degree in modern Middle Eastern studies at Oxford.

Courtney T. Wittekind is a 2013 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she doubled majored in sociocultural anthropology and art. After graduation, she worked in Myanmar for the United National Commission for Refugees and is currently working at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. At Oxford, Wittekind will enter the Ph.D. program in anthropology.

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