Two students named Rhodes Scholars

Shanika Gunaratna

For Weinberg senior Anya Yermakova, the attention she received for winning the Rhodes Scholarship on Sunday does not feel entirely deserved.

“I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything yet,” Yermakova said. “I won something so that I can accomplish other things later.”

Yermakova, a fifth-year senior, is one of two Northwestern students awarded the prestigious scholarship, which was given to 32 American students this year. The scholarship funds two to three years of study at Oxford University.

Yermakova, a dual-degree student majoring in piano performance, biochemistry, and history and philosophy of science and logic, plans to study mathematical biology at Oxford. She said the scholarship appeals to her intellectual sensibilities in that it asks students to go beyond a one-track academic mindset.

“What the Rhodes Trust was looking for was not necessarily tunnel vision, not necessarily a linear path in life, but the ability to integrate various disciplines,” Yermakova said. “To think outside the box, to introduce novel ideas to a field – this made it easier for me. I am someone who has a very difficult time following a linear path.”

Yermakova has completed research in chemical engineering, nanotechnology, neuroscience and biomedical engineering. She is interested in the connection between biology and mathematics.

“There is a greater underlying structure to many phenomena we see in the world,” she said.

Weinberg senior Mallory Dwinal, the other recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship, is a triple major in Spanish, economics and international studies with a business institutions minor. She plans to study comparative and international education at Oxford and ultimately pursue education reform. In the United States, Dwinal said, there are many students with special needs who are not adequately served by public education – specifically, non-native English speakers. Dwinal is interested in finding alternatives – from non-profits to community organizations to government grants – to better serve marginalized students.

Dwinal founded the Student Enterprise for Language Foundation, a program through which NU students tutor students in schools with high immigrant populations. Dwinal said working with Chicago schools significantly shaped her intellectual trajectory.

“If I had been in a community that hadn’t faced questions of bilingual, multilingual communities and immigrant populations, I wouldn’t have had the chance to develop my interest at all,” she said.

For Dwinal, the Rhodes award fits into a long-term plan. Dwinal is already accepted into Teach For America and Harvard Business School. Dwinal is deferring both TFA and Harvard until she completes her stay at Oxford.

However, Dwinal said she is open to allowing her experience at Oxford to shift her plans for the future.

“Until you’re there and experiencing it, you have no idea what to expect,” she said. “Right now, I have my little plan in place, but it’s very likely that it will change.”

Dwinal said winning the Rhodes Scholarship makes a huge difference financially, enabling her to be more ambitious in her post-graduate studies after spending thousands on a NU education.

“Without this, I would not be doing education research or getting a master’s,” she said. “It makes all the difference in the world.”

Dwinal, who had been working on her Rhodes application since May of her junior year, said she received enormous support from the Office of Fellowships and from NU as a whole.

Sara Anson Vaux, director of the Office of Fellowships, said she developed deeply personal relationships with both Yermakova and Dwinal while helping them apply. Vaux has now known Yermakova for three years and during this time has seen her perform on the piano, read her research grants, spoken to professors about her and worked with her closely to piece together her application. Yermakova called Vaux immediately after her Rhodes interview to tell her how it went, Vaux said.

Vaux said the Office of Fellowships takes a personal approach to working with students. This year NU had five finalists for the Rhodes Scholarship, she said.

“We have a lot of conversations with students,” Vaux said. “We don’t work on these applications the same way other universities do. We’re interested in the students’ ideas, how they’re unfolding and in helping them find a program that will let their minds blossom.”

The Rhodes Scholars are just two of a series of NU scholarship winners announced this week. Weinberg senior Sam Kleiner was announced as the winner of a Marshall Scholarship on Monday. Vaux said this “big wave of wins” may precede even more fellowship announcements later in the year.

“We’re not even through yet,” she said.

Stephen Hill, associate director of the Office of Fellowships, said the office sees heightened student interest whenever NU racks up fellowships. NU is ranked fourth among research universities “against schools bigger in both reputation and size,” Hill said.

“The word is out that we have: a) fantastically smart kids, and b) it is good for a student to investigate a program or opportunity overseas,” Vaux said.

[email protected]