Everyone was friendly and supportive, but it’s safe to say the process was pretty tense.
Over the past month, 10 Harvard seniors learned they had won Rhodes Scholarships for 2024. All will begin graduate studies at the University of Oxford next fall, pursuing interests as varied as reproductive legislation, university leadership, and neuroscience.
Each of the winners returned to their home regions for interviews and the big reveal with fellow finalists. “They keep you in a room all day with the other candidates, and then they come out at the end to announce the winners,” recalled Suhaas Bhat, a native of Marshfield, Wisconsin, who plans to pursue master’s degrees in mathematical modeling and tropical health and international medicine.
Bhat founded Harvard Undergrad Group Peer Therapy following the COVID pandemic to treat depression, anxiety, and isolation. The 22-year-old is penning his senior thesis on the way that AI changes how people think about psychotherapy. Ultimately, he hopes to work in the medical field.
Lyndsey Mugford and Mira-Rose Kingsbury Lee have worked together at Hasty Pudding Theatricals and were standing next to each other in the waiting room when the winners were announced. “It is just a tremendous honor. It was really wonderful to win the scholarship along with Lyndsey,” Lee said.
Mugford said she was still processing Lee’s win when they called her name. “I got very lightheaded because it was just so surreal,” she recalled. “Now that I’ve regained my footing a little bit, I’m just so grateful to have the opportunity to be able to continue my studies at Oxford and continue working on projects and causes that I really care about.”
The two Cambridge residents both hope to continue theatrical pursuits at Oxford, but will follow different academic paths. Lee will pursue interdisciplinary bioscience, with a particular interest in microbial approaches to climate change. Mugford, a human developmental and regenerative biology concentrator, hopes to study clinical and therapeutic neuroscience. She is interested in researching regenerative therapies for peripheral neuropathy, within the context of chronic pain and age-related pain.
For much of her time at Harvard, Lucy Tu, a double concentrator in sociology and history of science, studied obesity and inequities around correctional healthcare. But her work as a freelance science writer eventually sparked new interest in the changed landscape around reproductive healthcare services after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion. The Winthrop House resident and native of Omaha, Nebraska, recalled hearing “a lot of very alarming things about misinformation” being passed along in clinical settings.
That turned her focus to studying how cultural, scientific, and legal knowledge intersect to shape healthcare decisions and outcomes. Her senior thesis explores how providers from across the ideological spectrum invoke scientific evidence while counseling patients on abortion. At Oxford, Tu plans to build on this research, perhaps turning it into a book, while pursuing a master’s in socio-legal research and another in comparative social policy.
Devoted to both science and engineering, Benjamin Chang has pursued concentrations in chemical and physical biology and computer science. The Irvine, California, native worked on gene circuits for mammalian adaptation in a lab run by MIT Professor Jim Collins (a former Rhodes Scholar himself, Chang noted). The ultimate goal, he wrote in an email, was using machine learning “to better engineer and understand biology.”
At Oxford, the Adams House resident plans to pursue research in engineering science. “I aspire to use synthetic biology to unlock the power and abundance of nature,” he said.
Aishani Aatresh grew up in Silicon Valley and worked at a biotech startup in high school. That experience opened her eyes to the limitations of venture capital in incentivizing work on infectious diseases. By the time she landed at Harvard, Aatresh knew she wanted how knowledge and action are deployed in times of crisis. “But nothing at Harvard in existing departments and concentrations was going to allow me to probe these kinds of questions about innovation and governance and contemporary societies,” explained the Leverett House resident.
Aatresh went on to design her own concentration in complex biological systems, making the Kennedy School’s program on Science, Technology and Society her “intellectual home.” At Oxford, she will build on that public health foundation by pursuing a master’s in nature, society, and environmental governance. “What I’d like to do is understand and help address some of these barriers to global cooperation by conducting comparative research on climate and pandemics,” she said, noting the urgency of this problem. “A lot of research is saying that climate change is going to accelerate the rate at which pandemics occur.”
Xavier Morales, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, is looking forward to taking his love of science fiction to Oxford, where he plans to study philosophy. Morales believes sci-fi can provide “a real, tangible way of understanding deep philosophical problems.”
Morales pursued an interdisciplinary approach to philosophy as an undergraduate, taking classes in physics, psychology, and music. “All of those fields are incredibly important to address some of the most pressing issues that society has, but I also think it’s really important that we have a clear vision about the values that we care about as a society and in order to organize people around that common goal,” he said. “I see philosophy as being able to serve as our compass as we address some of these huge issues.”
Eleanor Wikstrom, a social studies concentrator with a secondary in mind, brain, behavior from Oakland, California, also hopes to answer and contextualize important questions. Wikstrom’s thesis research focuses on the English-only system of education implemented under U.S. colonial rule in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.
She hopes to continue her study of colonial history by looking at parallel histories, particularly that of British colonialism in India and Malaysia. Wikstrom will also pursue a second master’s in U.S. history to look into how U.S. expansion to the Philippines was informed by earlier projects of settler colonialism on the North American continent.
Asmer Asrar Safi, a native of Lahore, Pakistan, spent his time at Harvard delving into the historic interactions between Islamic and Marxist political thought in South Asia. “I’m interested in learning more about how progressive political messaging can intersect with local and religious epistemologies, particularly in the Global South,” said the social studies concentrator (with a secondary in ethnicity, migration, rights). “A lot of that comes from my own experience organizing with progressive political parties in Pakistan.”
The Leverett House resident relished the opportunity to approach the topic across disciplines, while applying a more academic lens to the social theory texts he grew up reading. He intends to pursue a master’s in intellectual history, focusing on a comparative approach to studying other progressive movements in his home region, both historic and contemporary.
English concentrator Isabella B. Cho, a poet and journalist, spent her time at Harvard grappling with what she views as society’s dismissive attitude toward the humanities, despite the pervasive influence of language, music, and culture on all facets of American life. “This scholarship is special to me because it was a gesture of faith in my capacity to enact change,” she shared. “But far more broadly than that, it’s a statement that the humanities matter.”
Along the way, the Pforzheimer House resident set out to unlock the “interpretive complexities” of language with her own writing, crafting a creative thesis she hopes to turn into her first published volume of poetry. Over the long term, the Wilmette, Illinois, native plans to pursue a degree in world literatures at Oxford.
But first, she plans to make a bit of a pivot, pursuing a master’s degree in education next fall with an emphasis in higher education. Cho, a Crimson journalist, said she has witnessed first-hand how universities have become “punching bags for people on both the left and the right.” She hopes to one day bring all of her skills to bear on the task of being a consequential university administrator, someone who leads from a position of moral clarity.
The Daily Gazette
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