After narrowly missing out last year, Miles Unterreiner ’12 M.A. ’13 will be attending Oxford University next year as a 2014 U.S. Rhodes Scholar.
Last year, an anonymous donor provided a private plane so that Unterreiner could run in the NCAA cross country national championships and interview for the Rhodes scholarship on the same day, but Unterreiner was not named a winner. This year, with a less hectic schedule, Unterreiner took the award.
“I didn’t have the added pressure of competing in the national championship race [this year],” Unterreiner explained. “I remember last year when I got off the plane and had 15 minutes to get from Boeing Field to downtown Seattle and running to the interview location in my dress shoes and suit.”
Unterreiner said that he got to know the other finalists and interviewees throughout the course of the interview process, including at a reception the night before the interviews.
“That’s where we mingled with the judges, met the other finalists and the judges. We got to know each other,” he explained. “It wasn’t informal, so we got dressed up nice and were professional, but at the same time it was relaxed, and I felt very comfortable being myself. No one felt like they were being fake or trying to impress anyone.”
Unterreiner achieved success in a variety of areas at Stanford, where he competed on the varsity track and field and cross-country teams, worked as managing editor of opinions for The Daily and served as the president of Stanford’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He also won a variety of academic awards, including the Robert M. Golden Medal for Excellence in Humanities and Creative Arts and recognition as the 2013 graduating varsity athlete with highest GPA.
“Miles’ greatest attribute is that he holds himself to the highest standards in everything he does academically and athletically,” said Chris Miltenberg, Unterreiner’s cross-country and track coach.
“He’s a brilliant, brilliant student and intellectual and a really wonderful guy to interact with,” said history professor Matthew Sommer, Unterreiner’s undergraduate advisor. “We have a lot of very fine students who happen to be athletes on this campus, but Miles is truly exceptional even in that crowd. He just seems to be a real Renaissance man.”
Last year, Unterreiner led the fight against the changes at Suites Dining after writing an award-winning, four-part expose on the situation. He said that his experience campaigning to protect the chefs and student autonomy at Suites Dining cemented one of his long-term goals.
“Fighting the Suites campaign last year, and standing up for something that I felt to be right, very much cemented my desire to be a human rights lawyer, which is my goal after Oxford,” Unterreiner explained.
Sommer said he is impressed by Unterreiner’s dedication to improving the world around him.
“This is a young man who could do anything and be successful — he could have a career and make tons of money and that would be well with in his reach,” Sommer explained. “But he has always struck me as a very idealistic person, someone who has genuine intellectual curiosity but also a real commitment to social justice and human rights.”
Unterreiner added that going through the Suites campaign helped him prepare for the application process as well.
“At a more abstract level, going through that myself made me a braver and more courageous person,” he said. “I was never a person who was into conflict and fighting battles publicly. Suites really required me to step outside my comfort zone, and Suites was an important learning experience for me,”
Unterreiner said that the campaign came up during the infamously difficult Rhodes interview process, but overall, the interview was more conversation than interrogative.
“I found that it was really helpful to look at it not as an inquisition as people are often inclined to, but to use it as an opportunity to find out about who you are,” he said. “The judges are not there to tear you apart, they just want to know who you are, really, and that’s what they are trying to find out about.”
After waiting and watching a movie with the other finalists, Unterreiner was invited back for a second-round interview along with one another candidate.
“If they invite you back for a second interview, it usually means that they’re thinking about you in some way,” he explained. “You might be on the edge — they wouldn’t invite you back if they weren’t at least thinking about you. For that reason, it tends to be a very tough interview.”
After a second interview, Unterreiner waited for another 90 minutes before the judges came out and announced the two regional winners.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Unterreiner said of finding out that he won. “I don’t even know how to describe the moment. I was so excited and grateful that they chose me to go — I just sat there and thought about that.”
Unterreiner explained that experiences dating back to his childhood helped set him on his current path.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a community that really valued education,” said Unterreiner, a native of Gig Harbor, Wash. “I had some amazing teachers from an early age. I think that really got me started on a path of valuing education and loving going to school every day.”
He also emphasized the value of his experiences at Stanford, calling it “one of the best undergraduate educations in the world.”
“I think that talking to professors outside of class — and learning about their research and field — is something that is really unique and that Stanford does really well,” Unterreiner said. “I also think that the experiences Stanford provides outside the classroom are incredible, such as our top-notch athletics programs.”
Unterreiner said that students shouldn’t be overwhelmed or intimidated by the process of applying for the Rhodes Scholarship.
“The other people who are applying are very capable and incredibly intelligent, but at the same time, they are people like you,” he said.
“And at a very basic level, if you don’t get the scholarship one year, don’t hesitate and apply for the next year,” Unterreiner laughed.
Contact Nitish Kulkarni at nitishk2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.