History Students Meredith Wheeler and Miles Unterreiner are two of the three Rhodes Scholarship recipients.
Emma Pierson ’13 M.S. ’13, Miles Unterreiner ’12 M.A. ’13 and Meredith Wheeler ’14 were named 2014 Rhodes Scholars in an announcement made by the Rhodes Trust on Saturday.
The Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious award that selects just 32 American recipients each year. According to the Rhodes Trust, candidates are evaluated on their high academic achievement, integrity of character, spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor. Winners receive funding for up to four years of graduate study at the University of Oxford in England.
Pierson, who is originally from Arlington, Va., graduated last year with a bachelor’s degree in Physics and a master’s degree in Computer Science. While at Stanford, she was a recipient of Stanford’s 2013 Deans’ Award for Academic Achievement, which honor exceptional undergraduate students.
Pierson was also the president of the Stanford Debate Society and took second place in the United States Debate Championships. She credited her experience debating as one of the factors that helped her prepare to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship.
“[The Rhodes interview] is very smart people asking you very aggressive questions—not mean questions, but very pointed questions—and being able to respond to those is the kind of thing that debate teaches you,” Pierson explained.
Pierson intends to earn a Ph.D in computational biology at Oxford and ultimately, to become a professor of computation biology. She said she wants to applying statistics to develop screens and treatments for cancers.
Unterreiner, a native of Gig Harbor, Wash., left Stanford last spring with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in History. He said he would like to become an international human rights lawyer and judge and so he applied for the Rhodes—for the second time—because earning a masters of philosophy degree in international relations from Oxford “provides an amazing foundation for that long-term goal.”
“There’s a really cool center at Oxford called the [Institute] for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict,” Unterreiner said. “I’m hoping to work with some researchers and professors from that center as I work to completing my dissertation in the second year.”
Last fall, Unterreiner made national news after a University donor provided a private plane so that he could run in the NCAA cross country national championships and participate in his Rhodes Scholarship interview in the same day, but he was not awarded the scholarship. Unterreiner said he didn’t have a strong explanation for why he was more successful this year, but said that his family, friends and advisors encouraged him to apply again.
“It was a really great experience this year—all the other candidates were fantastic, I loved the panel members and the interview was actually really enjoyable,” he said. “I loved last year too, but I don’t think I could tell you why this year was different.”
Unterreiner is a former writer, columnist and managing editor of The Daily and won the Robert Novak Collegiate Journalism Award for his four-part series on Stanford’s decision to end student management at Suites Dining.
Unterreiner also ran for Stanford’s track and field and cross country teams, where he was a two-time All-American. Last spring, he was recognized as holding the highest grade point average among Stanford’s graduating varsity athletes.
Wheeler is a senior majoring in history and political science. Earlier this year, Wheeler, who hails from Fort Collins, Colo., also earned recognition as a 2013 Truman Scholar.
She is the current chair of Stanford in Government and has been active with the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS). Wheeler said her interest in the Middle East led her to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship because of Oxford’s history of Middle East scholarship and proximity to the region. At Oxford, Wheeler plans to pursue a master’s degree in modern Middle Eastern studies and potentially a doctorate in politics.
Wheeler said she was completely shocked to have won the award and described the announcement as “the weirdest moment of her life.”
“The other finalists were so incredible and were doing really amazing work in all of their fields,” Wheeler said. “Having spent the whole day with them and hearing more about their experiences, their passion and the work that they had done, I just didn’t think I had any chance at all.”
Wheeler has also been involved in The Daily, as well as Herodotus, Stanford’s undergraduate history journal, and the alpine ski team while at Stanford. Academically, Wheeler was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior and has done extensive research in Morocco during the summers and also served as a research assistant to Condoleezza Rice for a summer.
“The whole process of preparing for the application just made me really grateful for all of the resources I have at Stanford—the professors who’ve really invested a lot of time in mentoring me and also just my friends and all the conversations that we’ve had about our interests and our plans and our goals,” Wheeler said.
According to the Rhodes Trust, approximately 1750 students sought endorsement from their college or university and 857 ultimately were endorsed. Last weekend, 208 applicants went through the final interview process before the 32 winners were selected. With six scholars chosen, Harvard had the most affiliated recipients, while both Yale and Stanford had three winners selected. Including the 2014 class, 112 Stanford affiliates have been named Rhodes Scholars during the history of the award.
“It’s very gratifying to win because it’s important to me to be helping the world, and it’s a sign that maybe I was heading in the right direction towards doing that,” Pierson said. “I would encourage other people to do it—I think it’s very good in terms of self-discovery and determining what matters to you.”
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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