Five Elis win Rhodes

Four Yale undergraduates and one student from the Graduate School are among the 32 students around the country to receive Rhodes scholarships this year.

The five Elis — Avi Feller ’07, Whitney Haring-Smith ’07, Aaron Mertz GRD ’13, Maya Shankar ’07 and Amia Srinivasan ’07 — were selected from 896 applicants endorsed by 340 colleges and universities across the nation. Yale had the second-highest number of winners, behind Harvard University, which had six recipients. The scholarship funds all expenses for two or three years of advanced study at the University of Oxford in England.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he is delighted by the number of scholarships awarded to University students this year.

“The large number of Rhodes Scholars in recent years at Yale very much reflects the excellence and breadth of our student body and the helpful guidance they receive from the International Education and Fellowship Programs Office as well as their masters and deans,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Feller, a political science and applied mathematics double major, said Morse College Dean Alexandra Dufresne encouraged him to apply earlier in the semester. He said he was completely surprised and extremely excited by the news.

“You can never expect this,” he said. “I was absolutely astonished that they picked me.”

Feller has interned at the State Department in international environmental policy and is the president of the Yale Alley Cats. He said he plans to undertake a M.Sc. in Applied Statistics at Oxford.

Haring-Smith, who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Political Science and a graduate certificate in security studies, said there was a sense of camaraderie between the finalists during the final day of interviews, and that meeting the other students was one of the most valuable parts of the entire experience.

“What’s nice about the Rhodes process is that you get to get to know the other finalists,” he said. “You meet a lot of really stunning people and it is an honor to be selected from a group of people that I have such respect for.”

Haring-Smith has worked on weapons collection in Afghanistan, for the United States Secretary of Defense on Western Hemisphere Affairs and for the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees in Sri Lanka. He is the founder and former executive director of the student run non-profit New Haven Action and a member of the Yale Mock Trial Association. Haring-Smith plans to complete a doctorate in politics at Oxford and hopes to eventually work for the U.S. government.

Shankar, a cognitive science major, has done research in psychology, language, visual perception and cognition in Australia, Germany and Puerto Rico. A violinist who was formerly a private student of Itzhak Perlman, Shankar founded the Downtown Development Program and FIVE Magazine, sits on the Student Advisory Board for Campus Progress and was named one of Glamour magazine’s Top Ten College Women earlier this year.

“I was just so surprised and so honored,” she said. “I had never really included it in my life plan. Life is pretty unpredictable.”

Shankar said although her research at Yale has focused mostly on visual perception, she wants to take advantage of Oxford’s Cross-Modal Research Laboratory, which focuses on multisensory perception. She said she plans to complete a M.Sc. in experimental psychology at Oxford, and then perhaps stay another year to complete a doctoral degree or return to the U.S. for further graduate studies.

Srinivasan, a philosophy major who lives in London, said her family and Calhoun College Dean Stephen Lassonde supported her application for the award. She said her interest in the scholarship stems from her desire to continue studying philosophy at Oxford, which has a particularly strong program in the discipline. A playwright and founder of the Yale Philosophy Review, Srinivasan said she plans to work for either a B.Phil. or D.Phil. in Philosophy.

“I’m incredibly excited and humbled to have won the Rhodes,” Srinivasan said in an e-mail. “Winning the Rhodes is never expected, and it is never an individual effort — I have the support and advice of my family, friends, and professors to thank.”

Mertz, who is currently a first year student in Yale’s Ph.D. program in Physics, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2006 with a degree in physics and American culture studies. Mertz was a finalist for the Rhodes scholarship last year as a college senior, he said, and he decided to try again when he did not win the award the first time.

He said although his goal is to become a research scientist in physics, he wants to complete an M.Phil. in the history of science at Oxford in order to broaden his perspective in the sciences.

“I want to work to engage the public in science and the broader implications of science,” he said.

Mertz has studied at the Max Planck Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory and served on the Washington University Board of Trustees. He is a cellist and a Goldwater Scholar.

“Aaron’s Rhodes is an enormous honor for him and is particularly gratifying to the Graduate School,” Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said in an e-mail. “It reveals the exceptional versatility and depth of creativity possessed by the men and women studying for the university’s highest degree.”

The Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 according to a provision in the will of Cecil Rhodes, who founded the De Beers diamond company and colonized the state of Rhodesia, now Zambia and Zimbabwe. Criteria for receiving the award include high academic achievement, integrity of character, potential for leadership and physical vigor.

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