November 20, 2007

Three from University win Rhodes scholarships

Two recent University alumni and one current U of C student were selected as Rhodes scholars Saturday, tying the U of C with Stanford University for most recipients this year.

Isra Bhatty A.B. ’06, Andrew Hammond A.B. ’07, and Nadine Levin A.B. ’08 were among 32 scholarship winners selected from 764 applications for the oldest and most prestigious international scholarship for Americans. Past recipients include former president Bill Clinton and U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter. The scholarships, worth between $40,000 and $60,000 a year, cover tuition, transportation, and fees for a two- or three-year term at Oxford University in England, beginning October 2008.

“All the contestants were in a room. The judges came out and said congratulations,” said Levin, a fourth-year recipient who plans to study global health science at Oxford. “I was just like, I want this to be over. It was stressful. I had no expectations of winning, so I just wanted to know whether I should be excited or just move on with my life.”

Rhodes scholars are typically distinguished not only by academic mien, but also by diverse, even offbeat skills and interests.

A biology major, concert violinist, and nationally competitive Frisbee player, Levin assisted the development of an experimental vaccine for bubonic plague and worked at a public hospital in Bolivia. Both professional experiences influenced her decision to apply for a Rhodes.

“It’s such a hard place,” Levin said about Bolivia. “The reality of their situation reinforced for me my intent to try to help these areas.”

Andrew Hammond, a fellow at the Center of the Study of Social Policy, Truman scholar, MAROON editor, and amateur opera singer, plans to study child poverty at Oxford. A political science graduate from the College, Hammond will examine Britain’s plan to eradicate child poverty by 2020, and investigate whether a similar program could be implemented in the U.S.

Isra Bhatty, now a first-year law student at Yale, plans to study evidence-based social intervention at Oxford. A double economics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations major in the College, Bhatty chaired Chicago’s inner-city Muslim Action Network and served as an English translator of Urdu for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The Rhodes application process is famous for its rigorous standards and extreme selectivity. The scholarship, begun in 1902 at the behest of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist, colonist, and diamond miner, judges applicants on the basis of academic achievement, leadership ability, character, and even athletic prowess.

“We are extremely proud of Isra, Andrew, and Nadine, both for their signal academic achievements and for their strong leadership contributions to our community. They represent the core values and traditions of the College in a superb way,” said John Boyer, dean of the College, in a University press release.

Levin found the application process difficult but exciting. “You sit down and they immediately start firing questions at you, from what my project was to what I thought of politics in Bolivia right now. They want you to be able to think and talk on the fly, which was really stressful but fun at the same time,” she said.

Part of the Rhodes application process includes a cocktail party in which applicants are expected to mingle with professors, alumni, and other guests, an experience Levin found “odd, a little awkward, but cool because it formalizes that you’re going through this experience.”

“I’d gone through the Truman process before, and that was helpful, but the process was incredibly difficult, even gut-wrenching at times,” said Hammond of the experience. “The other people are enormously qualified, but more than that, they’re idiosyncratic and interesting.”

Both Levin and Hammond stressed the role of mentors and advisers in the development of their applications.

“A lot of credit goes to my adviser, Barbara Miner, for putting the idea in my head and repeating that it was something I had a chance at getting,” said Levin. “A lot of people contributed to this, but Barbara was really there for me the whole way through.”

Hammond cited Dennis Hutchinson, a law professor and associate dean of the college, as a significant adviser on his Rhodes application and as an all-around intellectual mentor.

“The U of C is a ridiculously supportive place. We don’t have a Rhodes class, like they do at some places, but you do get a lot of support,” said Hammond.

Himself a past Rhodes scholar, Hutchinson sits on the U of C screening committee for Rhodes applicants. Hutchinson said Hammond was “someone whose interests coincided with a number of my own, and was a fascinating person to talk with.”

Hutchinson praised the U of C for producing students with “ability, industry, and ambition,” and credited his own Rhodes experience with having enriched his professional career and introducing him to “three or four of the best friends of my life.”

For future applicants, Hammond advised students to look past the scholarship’s prestige. “It’s a scholarship to study in a foreign country, and the people that succeed in the interview and the people that succeed once they get there are the people who want to study there in particular. Make sure you can make the case for yourself and to yourself to study at Oxford,” said Hammond.

Levin noted, “It’s something that should be organic for you, something that flows. It’s not something you should force on yourself, but something that matches your qualities.”

Princeton, Columbia, and Harvard Universities, the University of Georgia in Athens, and St. Olaf College each had two scholarship award winners.

Correction appended: This article contained a misspelling. Nadine Levin, not Nadine Levine, was a Rhodes winner.