Mary Orsak ’22 hid in a Pierson College seminar room on November 20, shielding herself from the festivities of a Yale-Harvard game while spotting applicants who had been awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for this course.
Orsak and three other Yalies – Liam Elkind ’22, Kate Pundyk ’22 and Shreeya Singh ’22 – have been awarded the Rhodes Prize, which funds one to three years of study at Oxford University in England. Elkind, Orsak and Singh are three of the 32 Americans selected for the Rhodes Scholarship, while Bondick, a former SciTech news editor, will join 10 other Canadians at Oxford in October 2022.
The majority of each Rhodes Scholarship group are female this year. There are 22 American and seven Canadian women preparing to move to England next fall, compared to ten American men and four Canadian men.
“Scholarships recognize a set of timeless virtues – intellectual excellence, strength of character, energy for pursuit, commitment to service, and leadership instinct,” said Richard Ban, Canadian Secretary of the Rhodes Trust and President of Rhodes Scholarships in Canada. . “We are proud of the opportunities that scholarships provide to the most talented, motivated and attractive university graduates.”
Last year, three Yales University students won Rhodes Scholarships. For the second year in a row in its century-long history – the application process has been completely online. However, Elliot F. Gerson, the US secretary of the Rhodes Trust, said he hopes to return to personal selection next year.
Although he described the online process as “weird,” Elkind said he found it less difficult to participate in virtual panel interviews.
Elkind took a vacation last year and founded a nonprofit organization called Invisible Hands, which has provided essentials like food and groceries to those who are most vulnerable during the pandemic. He said that the invisible hands had grown exponentially. At one point, a New York City hotline referred hungry residents to Invisible Hands, who then used Elkind’s personal phone number.
“It seems unacceptable that we as a society depend on patchwork mutual aid groups,” Elkind said. “Even New York City’s food system relied on a 20-year-old answering his phone. Why isn’t government taking on these roles? Why can’t government help people in meaningful and effective ways?”
At Oxford, Elkind looks forward to a comparative study of government between the US and the UK – specifically reform, campaign finance and voting rights – before returning to the US and strengthening America’s democratic infrastructure.
For Orsak, the Rhodes Scholarship is about service.
“Everyone who is involved in this – on some level – wants to see change in the world,” she said.
Orsak, who teaches Russian at Yale University, will pursue a master’s degree at Oxford to learn from prominent professors in Eastern European Studies. She said that she aspires to teach Russian and Czech languages at university level in the future.
Orsack said, in one of her interviews with Rhodes, that a panelist asked her why she would “only become a professor.” Orsak responded that as an academic, she would make an impact by educating the next generation and adding scholarship to a smaller field.
Similar to Orsak, Pundyk shares the value of an education and credits Yale and Wellesley College – completing her first two years of college before taking time off to work for the Alberta Premier and then moving to New Haven – to prepare her for a scholarship. However, she confirmed that she is excited about a “new adventure”.
Pundyk, who has wanted to attend Oxford University since she was 11, studies the role of technology in crimes against humanity. She said she wanted to join Canada’s “robust” group of researchers and technology policy activists in order to “amplify Canada’s role in discussing how technology is changing humanitarian conflicts and crises.”
Bondick said the Rhodes Scholarship requires applicants to examine the values underpinning their achievements.
Singh has been involved in the application process for several of the most prestigious programs this year, receiving finalist positions on both the Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships, although she won only in the latter.
“[The Rhodes] It is one of those impossible dreams. “Throughout the whole process, I never really understood it as a real possibility.”
Singh, who was born in India before immigrating to the United States as a child, studies Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim politics in her home country. She said she was excited to pursue her postgraduate studies, to meet the international cohort of Rhodes Scholars in her class and to begin paying the “kindness, love and wisdom” she received while applying.
Singh said anyone can win a Rhodes Scholarship.
“It’s one of those things that people look at like you have to be perfect or like there’s a certain kind of person who wins in Rhodes,” Singh explained. “They are athletic, they have excellent grades, and they have it all together. It’s not true. A lot of it is luck, hard work and the people around you. There isn’t a single type of seeker in Rhodes. If you think about it, I encourage you to throw your hat in the ring” .
Rebecca Westphal, associate dean at Yale College and director of fellowships and finance, called this year’s class “amazing and inspiring,” though she emphasized that all of the students who received the Yale nomination were “extremely excellent in terms of their academic success and achievement.”
Westphal, whom Singh describes as a “wizard,” meets every Yale student interested in pursuing Rhodes.
“I think a lot of people don’t apply because they think it’s too difficult, but the application process is very helpful in and of itself,” Westphal said. “Candidates always learn a lot about themselves, they strengthen their networks and get some good practice in interviewing and support which comes in handy for many other things.”
The Rhodes Scholarship was first awarded in 1902.