Elis are awarded 5 Rhodes, 1 Marshall

Six Yalies will travel to England next fall to undertake fully funded graduate study programs as recipients of this year’s Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships.

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.

In addition, Betsy Scherzer ’07 is the only Yalie among the 43 students nationwide awarded the Marshall Scholarship this year.

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.

An environmental engineering major, Scherzer said graduate study in England was particularly appealing because of the strides that have been made there in her field.

“I wanted to study in England because my focus is on climate change, and England has really been a leader in that originally,” she said.

On campus, Scherzer is active in the Yale Biofuel Project, the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, the Yale Algae Project and the Yale Paper Project and is the co-president of Engineers without Borders. A Udall Scholar, she has also been a member of the Yale Climate Campaign, lobbying for issues involved in climate change and renewable energy, and works at the Stocks and Flows Project at the Yale Center for Industrial Ecology. Scherzer plans to get a Master of Science in Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford during her first year as a scholar, and an Master of Arts in Sustainable Business from the University of Leeds during her second year.

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 Master of Science 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 10 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 Master of Science in experimental psychology at Oxford and then perhaps stay another year to complete a doctoral degree or return to the United States 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 doctorate 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 Master of Philosophy 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.

The Marshall Scholarships were created by passage of a law in 1953. The purpose of the Marshall is to expand upon the Rhodes to include a larger pool of candidates and all universities in the United Kingdom.

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