Three Rhodes Scholars reflect range of academic interests, backgrounds

Three University of Chicago students were named 2010-2011 Rhodes Scholars on Sunday, advancing their studies in fields ranging from linguistics to public policy and biochemistry.

The recipients are Anna Alekseyeva and John Scotti from the Class of 2011, and Prerna Nadathur, a 2010 graduate of the College.

The University of Chicago is one of only three institutions this year with as many as three Rhodes Scholars; the others are Harvard University and Stanford University.

In all, 32 American men and women received the prestigious academic scholarship for study in the United Kingdom. A total of 48 UChicago students have received Rhodes Scholarships since 1904; the number includes 19 recipients in the last 12 years alone.

Awards show “intellectual leadership”

 “This brilliant achievement is a measure of intellectual leadership, creativity, and extraordinary dedication on the part of our students in the College,” said Dean John Boyer, John W. Boyer, Dean of the College and the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History.  “I am also struck by the diversity of academic passions and personal backgrounds among this year's winners. We are all enormously happy for Prerna, Anna and John, who have brought our community great pride."

Alekseyeva, a history and public policy major, is a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, who moved to America as a child; her current home is Creve Coeur, Mo. She has interned at the Brookings Institution and Human Rights Watch, and is a Student Marshall. Nadathur is a mathematics major from Roseville, Minn., who also studies linguistics and philosophy, writes poetry and fiction, played violin in the University chamber orchestra, and has pursued classical Indian dance. While a student she co-founded a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. Scotti, a biological chemistry major from San Diego, plays jazz piano, is passionate about Latin and Roman history, and loves to surf.

“These three students are tremendously talented and are poised to make truly significant contributions to their respective fields,” said Amanda Norton, Lead Adviser for Scholarships and Fellowships in the Office of the Dean of Students in the College. “They have worked very hard over the last six months and we are extremely pleased that they will continue their studies at Oxford next fall.”

Inspiration fuels students’ varied interests

Alekseyeva, 21, said her grandmother inspired her passion for refugee and migrant issues. “She always stressed the importance of understanding your past,” Alekseyeva said. One of her main academic interests is how migration affects development in the home countries of migrants.

“There’s a lot of focus on how migration is caused by underdevelopment, but migration can also contribute to development,” she said, noting that many migrants send money home and later return to work in their home countries again.

Alekseyeva hopes to use what she learns in a program on development to someday work on human rights law or to focus on the rule of law in state reconstruction.

Nadathur’s link to the Rhodes is strong.  Her mother, Ameeta Kelekar, was a finalist in India in 1977, the first year women were allowed to apply for the scholarship.

“It feels great,” Kelekar said of her daughter’s award.

Nadathur, 22, attended high school in St. Paul, Minn. She is currently at the University of Minnesota, working as a teaching assistant in Mathematics. 

Scotti, 21, a biochemistry major and jazz pianist, said synthetic chemistry bears similarities to jazz improvisation. Both pursuits allow him to experiment using a foundation of knowledge he has gained over many years. “Like jazz solos, the best syntheses are those that take universal chemical principles and apply them in a clever, unforeseen way to a specific molecule,” he wrote in his application.

Scotti said he aspires to become a professor at a research university so he can pursue work to develop human therapeutic agents. He described his final Rhodes interview as wide-ranging.

“I launched into a spiel about the state of science education and literacy in the United States and what we can do to improve it,” he said. “I basically talked about doing chemistry-outreach to middle school and how we need to divert from incentive-based learning to inquiry-based learning. … You are trying to make them excited about the experiment itself and not just the results of the experiment.”