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Record five Rhodes Scholars reflect on process


(Photos courtesy of scholars)

Clarification: A previous version of this article quoted Tenzin Seldon ’12 referencing “the 6 million people of the Tibetan diaspora and refugees around the world.” In fact, Seldon intended this statistic to include the current population of Tibet, as well as those in the diaspora.


Stanford can claim five of the 32 recently announced 2011 Rhodes Scholars — more than any other university and the most in Stanford’s history.


Through their accomplishments and intended career plans, the new Rhodes Scholars represent a microcosm of Stanford: a human rights activist, an economist, a medical anthropologist, a biomedical scientist and an opinion columnist.


Seniors Tenzin Seldon ’12 and Ishan Nath ’12 and recent alumni Anand Habib ’11, Katherine Niehaus 10, M.S. ’11 and Aysha Bagchi ’11 joined 102 prior Stanford winners of arguably the world’s most prestigious fellowship, the Rhodes Trust. Nath is a writer on The Daily’s Editorial Board, and Seldon serves as The Daily’s student-at-large.


The Rhodes Trust announced the recipients on Nov. 19. The scholarship will pay tuition and expenses for up to three years of graduate work at the University of Oxford in England.


To determine whom to endorse for the Rhodes Scholarship, Stanford has a process which Bechtel International Center oversees. An internal Stanford committee composed of faculty and former Rhodes and Marshall Scholars interviews candidates who are recommended by faculty members. This committee evaluates potential Stanford applicants and sends letters to the Rhodes Trust supporting the candidates they choose to endorse.


“I am delighted for the students,” said John Pearson, director of Bechtel.


According to Pearson, around 35 to 40 students seek endorsement from the University each year for either the Rhodes or Marshall Scholarship. He said this number has stayed constant over time, and noted there is no quota for how many students the internal committee can endorse.


Pearson said a factor that has contributed to the high number of University winners is “the remarkable possibilities of engagement with senior faculty for research and teaching that are offered to the undergraduate population.” He also emphasized the involvement of former Rhodes Scholars in the process, noting that prior Stanford winners have used their experience to help current candidates.


Seldon, who became the first Tibetan-American Rhodes scholar, also cited the involvement of the Stanford community.


“My professors and Stanford administrators were invaluable in this process,” Seldon said. “Although at first I wavered in applying, my professors believed in me and told me I was ready for this.”


In particular, Seldon lauded the assistance of both Pearson and Diane Murk, manager of the Overseas Resource Center. She noted that they nurtured her to think about her role as a leader and were both supportive throughout the process.


Seldon said the best piece of advice she received was from the mentor Stanford paired her with, 2007 Rhodes Scholar Julie Veroff 07. According to Seldon, Veroff counseled, “Do not let anybody influence who you authentically are. They are not always looking for the most charismatic leader, and in the process of trying to be what you think they want, people lose their true voice.”


Seldon, an emerging leader of the Tibetan diaspora who served as a regional coordinator of Students for a Free Tibet, said that throughout her Rhodes interviews–which were focused on international policies and ethical dilemmas–she always stayed true to her authentic self.


“That was something I never lost,” she said.


Seldon, who will study refugee and forced migration studies at Oxford, said that “in a time of turmoil around the world including Tibet, I hope that this achievement can bring about a lessening of suffering and a smile to the 6 million people” of Tibet and the Tibetan diaspora, as well as refugees around the world.


Nath, who worked as an intern at the Office of Economic Policy at the White House and as a consultant to the Department of Energy, noted that he hopes his future will also involve government service — but as an economist.


“It would certainly be a dream come true to follow in the footsteps of some of President Obama’s economic advisers,” Nath said.


A former political columnist for The Daily, Nath said that “winning the Rhodes Scholarship is such a team effort.”


Nath said he is appreciative of the support that Stanford provided in the application process, adding that the advice he received from Pearson was instrumental in helping him figure out which parts of himself and his passions to present.


“This scholarship is, more than anything else, a statement about what is expected from you in the future,” Nath said. “There’s definitely a sense of responsibility to use this scholarship to the fullest not just in pursuit of my own goals, but also to make an impact on the broader issues I hope to work on.”


Habib, who will study public policy and medical anthropology at Oxford, noted that he felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to study at Stanford, where so many resources are available. He said students should “explore all [of their] options at Stanford, and be thankful for all the individuals ready to support you whatever you choose to do.”


Currently working in a community health program in Haiti, Habib said the key to success is to “be both your toughest critic and your greatest cheerleader.” He pointed out that he has received more rejections than acceptances and advised students not to be afraid of failure.


“Thinking about being one of 32 Americans named Rhodes Scholar still gives me chills,” Habib added.


Niehaus, whose work focuses on biomechanics and its application to high technology entrepreneurship, said she would like to either be a professor or lead a company one day–using either profession to make advancements in the field of medicine.


A former captain of Stanford’s varsity track and cross-country teams, Niehaus won the Pac-10 5,000 meters and was named an Academic All-American. She said that she learned through track that she only performs her best when she’s calm and confident, and knows “despite my best, I might not reach my goals.”


She also said she appreciated how Stanford handled the process.


“I was quite surprised when I talked with other finalists to hear how involved their schools are–sometimes initiating contact with them very early in their undergraduate career, making comments on recommendation letters,” Niehaus said. “I think that Stanford’s approach is more hands-off, which I think is good.”


Niehaus plans to pursue a doctorate in systems approaches to biomedical sciences at Oxford. She noted how quickly the Rhodes interview seemed to go and how much she enjoyed talking “with a group of thoughtful, opinionated people.”


Rounding out the group is Bagchi, who said she plans to pursue editorial interests.


“I am considering going into opinion journalism, a field I first discovered a love for as a columnist at The Stanford Daily,” Bagchi said.


She commented that she was also attracted to the idea of a career in human rights, constitutional law and public policy. She was the recipient of the 2011 Dinkelspiel Award for her contributions to undergraduate education.


“The biggest thing Stanford did for me is bring into my life a handful of extraordinary teachers and mentors over the past four years,” Bagchi said. “It is the simple truth: I have them to thank for the scholarship.”


In addition to the five Rhodes Scholars, Stanford also claimed two Mitchell Scholars and two Marshall Scholars.


Philippe de Koning ’10 and Tommy Tobin ’10 both won the Mitchell Scholarship, which is granted to 12 students and funds one year of graduate study at a university in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Koning plans to pursue a master’s degree in international security and conflict resolution at Dublin City University, while Tobin plans to study law at University College Cork.


Rayden Llano ’10 and Will Stoeckle ’12 were named two of the 36 Marshall Scholars this year. The Marshall Scholarship, founded in 1953 by a British Act of Parliament and named after U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, covers the expenses for typically two years of higher education at a university in the United Kingdom. Llano plans to study international health policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science while Stoeckle will pursue master’s degrees in both international political economy and international conflict studies at King’s College London.

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