Four Yale Students Win Rhodes Scholarships

Yale News

Mary Orsak ’22 hid in the Pierson College seminar room on November 20, shielding herself from the Yale-Harvard match festivities as she found out which candidates had received this cycle’s prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

She won.

Orsak and three other Yalies – Liam Elkind ’22, Kate Pundyk ’22 and Shreeya Singh ’22 – were awarded the Rhodes, which funds one to three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Elkind, Orsak and Singh are three of 32 Americans selected for the Rhodes Scholarship, while Pundyk, a former SciTech News editor, will join 10 other Canadians at Oxford in October 2022.

The majority of every Rhodes Scholarship cohort is female this year. There are 22 American women and seven Canadian women preparing to move to England next fall, compared to 10 American men and four Canadian men.

“The scholarships recognize a set of timeless virtues – intellectual excellence, strength of character, energy to strive, commitment to serve and instinct to lead,” said Richard Pan, Canadian Secretary of the Rhodes Trust and President of Rhodes Scholarships in Canada. . “We are proud of the opportunities that scholarships offer our most talented, passionate and charismatic university graduates.”

Last year, three Yalies won Rhodes scholarships. In recent years, one or two Yale students typically receive the honor. For the second consecutive year in its 100-year history, the application process was conducted entirely online. Still, Elliot F. Gerson, US secretary of the Rhodes Trust, has said he hopes to return to selection in person next year.

Although he described the process online as “bizarre,” Elkind said he found it less stressful to participate in interviews with a virtual panel.

Elkind took a leave of absence last year and founded a nonprofit called Invisible Hands, which delivered essentials such as food and groceries to those most at risk during the pandemic. Invisible Hands has grown exponentially, he said. At one point, a New York City hotline referred the hungry residents to Invisible Hands, who then used Elkind’s personal phone number.

“It seemed unacceptable that we as a society were dependent on these disparate self-help groups,” Elkind said. “Even the New York City food system relied on a 20-year-old answering his phone. Why is the government not fulfilling these roles? Why is the government unable to help people in a meaningful and effective way? “

In Oxford, Elkind seeks to study comparative government between the United States and the United Kingdom – particularly reform, campaign finance and voting rights – before returning to the United States and strengthening the democratic infrastructure. American.

For Orsak, the Rhodes scholarship is about service.

“Everyone who gets involved in this – at some level – wants to see the world change,” she said.

Orsak, who is studying Russian at Yale, will pursue a master’s degree at Oxford to learn from leading professors of East European studies. She said that she aspires to teach Russian and Czech at university level in the future.

In one of her interviews in Rhodes, Orsak said, a panelist asked her why she “is just going to be a teacher.” Orsak responded that as an academic she will have an impact by educating the next generation and adding scholarships to a smaller field.

Similar to Orsak, Pundyk shares a value for education and has credited Yale and Wellesley College – where she completed her first two years of undergraduate studies before taking time off to work for the Premier of Alberta, then move to New Haven – to prepare her for the Scholarship. Still, she stressed that she was excited for “a new adventure”.

Pundyk, who has wanted to enroll in Oxford since the age of 11, is studying the role of technology in crimes against humanity. She said she wanted to join Canada’s “strong” group of academics and technology policy activists to “amplify Canada’s role in the discussion of how technology is changing conflict and humanitarian crises.” .

The Rhodes Scholarship requires applicants to examine the values ​​that underpin their accomplishments, Pundyk said.

Singh has been involved in the application process for several prestigious programs this year, winning finalist spots for the Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships, although she only won the latter.

“[The Rhodes] is one of those impossible dreams, ”she said. “During the whole process, I never internalized it as a real possibility.”

Singh, who was born in India before immigrating to the United States as a child, examines Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim policies in her homeland. She said she was thrilled to continue her graduate studies, to meet the international cohort of Rhodes Scholars in her class and to start paying for the “kindness, love and wisdom” she received when applying. .

Singh said anyone can win a Rhodes scholarship.

“It’s one of those things that people see as if you have to be perfect or like there is a certain type of person who wins the Rhodes,” Singh explained. “They are athletes, and they have perfect grades, and they have it all together. This is not true. Much of it is luck, hard work, and the people around you. There is not one type of person who is a Rhodes Scholar. If you think about it, I encourage you to throw your hat in the ring.

Rebekah Westphal, Associate Dean of Yale College and Director of Scholarships and Funding, called this year’s course “amazing and inspiring”, although she noted that all of the students who received the Yale nomination were ” absolutely stellar in terms of academic achievement and achievement “.

Westphal, whom Singh describes as “a wizard,” meets all the Yale students interested in pursuing Rhodes.

“I think a lot of people don’t apply because they think it’s too difficult, but the application process is incredibly helpful in itself,” Westphal said. “Candidates always learn a lot about themselves, they strengthen their networks, and get excellent interview practice and support that is useful for many other things. “

The Rhodes Scholarship was first awarded in 1902.


Jordan Fitzgerald edits for WKND and writes on admissions, financial aid, and alumni. She is a student at Trumbull College majoring in American history.

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