By Sara Olkon
Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

This brilliant achievement is a measure of intellectual leadership, creativity, and extraordinary dedication on the part of our students in the College.”
—John W. Boyer
Dean of the College

Five University of Chicago students have been awarded Rhodes or Marshall Scholarships for study in the United Kingdom, advancing their studies in fields ranging from linguistics to public policy and biochemistry.

Anna Alekseyeva and John Scotti, both fourth-years in the College, and Prerna Nadathur, AB’10, were named Rhodes Scholars on Nov. 21. A day later, Matthew Jones, from the Class of 2011, and Ben Umans, from the class of 2010, were awarded Marshall Scholarships.

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.

A total of 48 UChicago students have received Rhodes Scholarships since 1904; the number includes 19 recipients in the last 12 years alone. Since 1987, a total of 19 UChicago students have been awarded a Marshall Scholarship.

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,” says 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 Matt, Ben, Prerna, Anna, and John, who have brought our community great pride.”

Alekseyeva, a history and public policy major, has interned at the Brookings Institution and Human Rights Watch, and is a Student Marshall. Nadathur, who majored in mathematics and studied linguistics and philosophy, also plays violin and piano. While she was an undergraduate at the University, she co-founded a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. Scotti, a biological chemistry major, plays jazz piano, is passionate about Latin and Roman history, and loves to surf.

Jones, a biological sciences and Germanic studies major, will use his Marshall award to study medical oncology at the University of Oxford. Umans, who graduated with the Class of 2010 with a degree in biological sciences and economics, plans to study statistics at Oxford and computational biology at Cambridge.

The College’s growing ranks of Rhodes and Marshall scholars come in part from the concerted efforts of the Scholarships and Fellowships Committee.

“We offer students interested in these opportunities guidance about all aspects of the fellowship application process, from seeking letters of recommendation to writing strong essays,” says Amanda Norton, Lead Adviser for Scholarships and Fellowships in the Office of the Dean of Students in the College. The latest award recipients “have worked very hard over the last six months, and we are extremely pleased that they will continue their studies in the United Kingdom next fall,” Norton says.

Inspiration Fuels Students’ Varied Interests

Alekseyeva, 21, says her grandmother inspired her passion for refugee and migrant issues. “She always stressed the importance of understanding your past,” Alekseyeva says. 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 says, noting that many migrants send money home and later return to work in their home countries again.

Alekseyeva hopes her experience as a Rhodes Scholar will aid her ambition to 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 says of her daughter’s award.

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

Scotti, 21, a biochemistry major and jazz pianist, says 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 says 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 says. “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.”

Jones, 21, refers to cancer as both a “disease and an intellectual puzzle.”

After completing his Marshall Scholarship, he plans to attend medical school and hopes to work as a physician scientist. He aspires to a career that combines research in oncology with treatment of patients with cancer.

The idea is to “not only use the lab to help the clinic, but to use the clinic to help the lab,” Jones says. “I think there can be a dialogue between the two.”

Umans, 22, recalls being thrilled by the opportunity to study at UChicago. “I was looking forward to participating in seemingly disparate areas of inquiry, without sacrificing seriousness or facing a contradiction of intellectual purpose,” he says.

A native of Hyde Park, Umans currently works as a research technologist in the lab of Jerrold Turner, Professor and Associate Chair of Pathology. After studying at Oxford and Cambridge, Umans intends to pursue a career as a biologist.

Originally published on November 24, 2010.