By Tejas Athni
Biology major and computer science minor Kristina Correa ’19 was named a 2019 Rhodes Scholar on Nov. 19. Correa was one of 32 college seniors from the United States chosen to study at the University of Oxford in England after graduation.
Established in 1902, the Rhodes Scholarship is one of the oldest and most prestigious international fellowships in the world. The applicant pool consists of students at over 320 American universities and colleges.
Correa grew up in Robstown, a small city in south Texas, after immigrating to the United States from Mexico with her parents. In conversation with The Daily, Correa discussed her journey through Stanford and her career aspirations.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Winning the Rhodes Scholarship is quite an impressive feat. What does the scholarship mean to you?
Kristina Correa (KC): Winning something like this means a lot for me in terms of going against traditional narratives. I’m a low-income student, my parents are immigrants from Mexico [and] I am a woman in STEM — I did not come from the traditional background that a lot of people have come from.
Being able to work my butt off and achieve something that is not typical [for] people like me to achieve makes me feel good about the role model I am for the Hispanic community.
TSD: How do you plan to make use of your time at Oxford? After your time there, do you have any ideas on what your career path might look like?
KC: At Oxford, I plan to do a master’s in immunology and a master’s in computer science. I want to do an M.D.-Ph.D., a combined research degree and medical degree. It’s a really interesting educational trajectory, and mostly I want to do translational research, eventually becoming a professor and principal investigator.
TSD: What has your journey been like so far through your four years at Stanford?
KC: Stanford was really hard during my first year, and it’s still kind of hard. I think the transition from where I’m from — a pretty low income town called Robstown in South Texas, with a mostly Mexican population — to Stanford was an enormous culture shock.
My first year, I was definitely struggling a lot, and so that in and of itself was hard. Sophomore and junior years were pushing through work, trying to stay afloat. It was really tough.
TSD: Looking back, if you could rewind the clock, what would you tell yourself as a freshman?
KC: Stop comparing myself to other people earlier on, which is still sometimes hard. I used to get caught up in little things, really trying to push myself in ways that I didn’t need to.
TSD: What experience or event has had the greatest impact on your life?
KC: My eighth grade year, I switched schools, and that specific move gave me a lot more opportunity. I had teachers pushing me to go to an Ivy League college; other kids would say “You’re from Robstown, why don’t you talk differently? How are you smart?” My teachers pushed me out of thinking that those negative stereotypes were true.
TSD: Have there been any people in your life that you look up to as role models or who have influenced your life in a significant way?
KC: My mom is really cool, a total badass. She didn’t even know I was applying for this whole situation. When I told her I got the Rhodes, she Googled it and was like “Oh, there’re only 32 people, congrats mija.”
The fact that she put no pressure on me means that I did whatever I wanted to do, in a way. She works her butt off, and I see that. I see the ways education has driven her success. My brothers also both went to college; I know that if my older brother didn’t go to college, I would not be here today.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed.
Contact Tejas Athni at tathni ‘at’ stanford.edu.