Yale students took home four of the 32 Rhodes Scholarships awarded to Americans this year, topping every other college in the country.
Jordan Konell ’15, Jane Darby Menton ’15, Matthew Townsend ’15 and Gabriel Zucker ’12 joined the ranks of many politicians, academics and others who have received the prestigious scholarship. The four were chosen from a pool of 877 students to attend the University of Oxford for two to four years of fully-funded postgraduate study. Yale has the most students represented in this year’s class of scholars, followed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton and Brown, with three winners apiece. Harvard and Stanford each won two scholarships, and students from 16 other schools also received the academic award.
While Yale students were the most successful in winning the awards this year, Konell said the other applicants in his pool were all so highly qualified that virtually any of them could have been selected.
“I don’t know why I got picked, and I think anyone I interviewed with could have gotten picked,” Konell said. “It was an incredibly accomplished, impressive group of people who are all really down to earth and doing amazing things.”
Townsend expressed a similar sentiment, saying the selection of scholars from his region seemed to come down to “sheer luck.”
Administrators interviewed said interest in the Rhodes Scholarship was not noticeably higher this year than in years past, but that a good number of Yale students often win scholarships such as the Rhodes and the Marshall to pursue graduate study in England.
Katherine Dailinger, director for national fellowships at the Yale Center for International and Professional Experience, noted that Yale students have a strong commitment to service. The Rhodes Scholarship emphasizes service, Dailinger said, which attracts many students to apply.
According to the website for the Rhodes Trust, 32 American students are selected annually as Rhodes Scholars for their “outstanding intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service.” Although the application process is known for being particularly strenuous — beginning in August and continuing through the end of November, with several written and interview components — recipients interviewed said they were still surprised by certain aspects of the process, such as the types of questions asked and the enormous time commitment involved.
“The interview process was not like anything I had experienced before,” Townsend said. “A cocktail party on Friday, followed by a full day of interviews and deliberations from 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.”
Townsend, a starting player on the Yale Varsity Basketball Team, added that he had to miss the first two games of a tournament in Ohio that began on Friday, in order to attend interviews. The basketball team was very supportive, he said, and he was able to fly to Ohio right after the Rhodes selection was made in order to help the team win their third game.
Menton, a student from Florida and a former managing editor of the News, described the application process as “individualized,” since applicants were separated by region, and no one else from Yale was applying from the Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi area.
Additionally, applicants are not permitted to let anyone read or edit their personal statement, she said, making the written portion of the process very individualized as well. She added that the process was more work than she had anticipated, with several rounds of interviews spanning the course of multiple months.
During the interview process, Konell said interviewers were not directly interested in his accomplishments and studies, but instead challenged him to better understand his thought process.
“They challenged me a lot in my understanding of race, racial politics, cities and the experiences I’ve had,” said Konell, who plans on studying comparative social policy at Oxford. “It wasn’t so much to see what I’ve done, but to see how I think about what I’ve done, and to see how I think about the things that I care about.”
Although the four winners from Yale all received the same scholarship, their intended fields of study differ dramatically.
Townsend said he has always been interested in food policy and nutrition-related disease, which is why he plans to study medical anthropology next year. He said he was drawn to Oxford by a specific research group associated with the Anthropology Department — the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity.
“UBVO is very interdisciplinary, bringing together amazing thinkers and researchers from sociology, public health, economics, medicine and many more,” he said. “As a team-sport athlete, I really value that kind of collaborative environment, especially for something like obesity and diabetes, which have so many influences.”
Konell also said he was attracted to Oxford’s focus on research. The comparative social policy program will provide him with a qualitative and quantitative research-based background for understanding the things he cares about, he said.
Zucker, an Ethics, Politics and Economics and Music double-major, graduated summa cum laude from Yale in 2012. Following his graduation, he conducted fieldwork in Pakistan and Indonesia at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, and intends to study social intervention and policy at Oxford before pursuing a Ph.D. in economics, according to the Rhodes Trust website.
Because Oxford’s Modern Middle Eastern Studies program has a strong language component, Menton said she preferred it to other similar programs that she looked at the in the U.S. and U.K. She said that because she did not take Arabic at Yale, she wanted a program with intensive Arabic, and most graduate programs either require knowledge of the language in advance, or do not have a strong language component to the degree.
Menton added that she likes the tutorial system and components of British academic life, and that still cannot believe she was given this opportunity.
“When people ask ‘what are you doing next year,’ which is pretty much the worst question anyone can ask a senior in college, I actually have an answer,” Menton said. “I’m going to grad school and doing something I really want to do.”
Three Yale students received Rhodes Scholarships last year.