This article has been updated to reflect the version published in print on Dec, 2, 2013.
After a grueling application process that began with informational sessions in February and ended with a series of intensive interviews, seven Yale students will be studying in England next year after winning either a Rhodes or Marshall scholarship.
Last Sunday, three Yale students were named as members of the Rhodes Scholars Class of 2014. The winners — Isabel Beshar ’14, Vinay Nayak ’14 and Suzanna Fritzberg ’14 — all said they experienced disbelief and delight when they first heard they had received the Rhodes Scholarship, which provides full funding for students to study at the University of Oxford for two or three years. Four graduates — Alyssa Bilinksi ’13, Tantum “Teddy” Collins ’13, Natalia Emanuel ’13 and Derek Park ’13 — expressed similar sentiments upon winning the Marshall Scholarship, which covers the cost of graduate study and living at a British university of the recipient’s choice for up to two years.
“It’s been a big shock. I keep asking my family if I’ve been dreaming this,” Beshar said. “The past few days have been kind of crazy.”
Katherine Dailinger, director for national fellowships at the Yale Center for International and Professional Experience, said that while dozens of students apply for one of Yale’s nominations for these elite scholarships, student interest in the award may have been even higher than usual this year because Yale won nine Rhodes Scholarships last year, breaking the University’s record. Dailinger added that Beshar, Nayak and Fritzberg are all “wonderful scholars [who showed] desire to fight the world’s fights as well as a demonstrated potential to do that.”
Although no Yale students or alumni won Marshall Scholarships in 2012, the University had one winner in 2011 and three winners apiece in 2010 and 2009.
Nayak said that he could not believe his ears when the Rhodes Trust affiliates came down to the waiting room and called his name as one of the two recipients chosen from his home district of Illinois and Michigan.
“I was speechless. I was, and still am, in a state of shock. I never thought in a million years I’d be given such a wonderful opportunity,” he said, adding that he is grateful for his friends, family members and professors who have served as his academic mentors.
According to its website, the Rhodes Scholarship is awarded annually to 32 Americans, along with students from 13 other countries, who exhibit “outstanding intellect, character, capacity for leadership and commitment to service.” Though each student won the same award, their interests are diverse, ranging from political science to global health.
Beshar, who is one of two recipients from New York, is a double major in Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology and History of Science and Medicine with a focus in chronic diseases such as diabetes. Though she became interested in global health before she came to Yale, Beshar pointed to the University’s global health fellowship and to her work at a Type 1 diabetes laboratory as two important reasons for her success at Yale.
Beshar said she first considered the Rhodes Scholarship as a sophomore after one of her professors recommended that she apply. After researching more about the scholarship and about how it would fit with her aspiration to attend medical school, Beshar said she came to view graduate school at Oxford as a unique opportunity to study medical anthropology. Studying this field would help her construct health interventions for diabetes in developing countries because it would teach her how cultural and religious factors may contribute to the disease’s prevalence in specific communities, Beshar said.
Nayak, who majors in Political Science, intends to study public policy and the social science of the Internet at Oxford. He said his academic interests stem from a desire to empower and motivate ordinary individuals to become better political citizens. Nayak has extensive experience in this field, as he managed national digital programs and social media outreach initiatives for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and interned for the White House Office of Digital Strategy this past summer.
“At Oxford, I hope to learn new ways to engage people in civic discourse, in elections and in government,” Nayak said, adding that he is excited to be studying in the United Kingdom when a general election takes place in 2015. While Nayak does not know his future plans beyond his sojourn at Oxford, he said he wants to remain involved with political organizing.
Fritzberg, who currently majors in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and is interested in poverty policy research, cited the major differences between how Britain and America approach policy alleviation as one reason for her desire to study at Oxford after graduation. Whereas American policymakers use piecemeal programs to fight poverty, the British government seeks to use a more holistic approach and also has a robust welfare state, she said. She also added that she was drawn to Oxford because of the strength of its faculty, many of whom have written extensively about the connection between gender and the welfare state.
Although she was familiar with the Rhodes Scholarship for a number of years, Fritzberg said she did not decide to apply for it until the summer before her senior year, when her intellectual interests narrowed after she worked as an Arthur Liman fellow as a poverty policy analyst at the Roosevelt Institute. Fritzberg said that while the Rhodes never seemed like an unattainable ambition, she was grateful every time she passed another hurdle to the scholarship.
All three students interviewed said they are excited to experience Oxford’s unique culture and also meet their fellow Rhodes Scholars.
“I would say I’m most excited by the opportunity to immerse myself in the Rhodes Scholars community at Oxford. They come from all cultures, walks of life, and all different academic backgrounds and I’m really looking forward to meeting those inspiring people and the chance to learn from them,” Nayak said.
Outside the classroom, the students said they look forward to participating in a range of activities such as a cappella, intramural sports and some of Oxford’s richer traditions like cricket and punting.
All said they are also excited to choose one of Oxford’s residential colleges in which to spend the next few years of their academic lives. Oxford’s residential system is “like Yale’s on hyper-drive,” Fritzberg said.
The Marshall Scholarship is awarded to candidates who “have the potential to excel as scholars, as leaders and as contributors to improved UK-U.S. understanding,” according to its website. Like the Yale students who won Rhodes Scholarships, each of the graduates who won a Marshall scholarship had diverse interests and intended fields of study.
Bilinski, a political science major and global health fellow at Yale, is interested in improving global health through the application of empirical analysis. She is the only one among the four who did not opt to study at Oxford. Instead, she will first pursue a M.Sc. in health policy, planning and financing, co-taught at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the London School of Economics and Political Science, and then a M.Sc. in epidemiology.
Collins, a Global Affairs major, spent his first year after graduating from Yale working on a book with General Stanley McChrystal, a senior fellow at the Jackson Institute. Next fall, Collins will study international relations at Oxford University. At Yale, Collins was the president of the Yale International Relations Association and a freshman counselor in Timothy Dwight College.
Emanuel, who graduated with a degree in economics, currently works as a research assistant for the National Bureau of Economic Research. At Yale, Emanuel worked with the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project in the Prison Education program. She also advocated for inmate rights within the New York Department of Correction and helped create America’s first Social Impact Bonds system for the state of Massachusetts. These efforts led Emanuel to be the first undergraduate recipient of the Yale-Jefferson Award, which is awarded for inspirational contributions to public service. At Oxford, Emanuel plans to study evidence-based social intervention.
Park was an intensive ecology and environmental major at Yale before conducting research this year at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. A Beckman Scholar for excellence in chemistry and the biological sciences, Park will pursue a doctorate at Oxford, where he hopes to conduct further cancer research. After his time as a Marshall Scholar, Park hopes to attend medical school and continue a career in research.
Six students from the Rhodes Scholars Class of 2014 came from Harvard — the only school that surpassed Yale’s representation. While Stanford also claimed three recipients, Princeton, the University of Virginia and West Point won two scholarships apiece. Twelve other schools were represented in this year’s class. The Marshall scholarship, which is awarded to 40 Americans annually, has yet to publish a list of this year’s winners on its website.