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Visiting Oxford And Discovering The Rhodes

Written by Katherine Aaslestad, Professor of History

Last June I was fortunate to attend a conference in London. Since I had recently been appointed WVU’s new Rhodes Scholarship Faculty Advisor, I extended my stay in England to visit Oxford, home of the Rhodes Scholarship. I spent two and half days learning about the university and the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. I already knew well that we have outstanding candidates among our students in West Virginia University who could be competitive candidates for the Rhodes, but I needed to learn more about Oxford, its programs, and the scholarship itself.

Thanks to the hospitality of Registrar Mary Eaton at the Rhodes House, I learned about the Rhodes Scholarship and the opportunities available to Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. Each year 32 US citizens become Rhodes Scholars. Rhodes Scholars are expected to excel in four areas: academics, energy to use one’s talents to the full (often related to physical fitness), humanitarian concerns for the weak, and moral force of character to lead and engage with society. Rhodes Scholars study in Oxford and have the opportunity to meet and network with an intellectually dynamic community of approximately an additional 50 Rhodes Scholars from Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, Jamaica, Canada, Germany, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Southern Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The Rhodes House in Oxford provides a home base to the visiting Scholars who also have the opportunity to meet with students and professors at other British Universities at such workshops at the Global Scholars Symposium. In sum, Oxford offers amazing post-graduate programs, an academically vibrant environment, and incomparable networking opportunities.

As faculty advisor, it is crucial to help demystify the Rhodes Scholarship for faculty and students on our campus. Part of thy myth surrounding Rhodes is that is primarily intended for students on the public service track (think President Clinton). But, meeting with university admissions administrators helped me gain an understanding of the broad post-graduate programs offered at Oxford. One can pursue degrees in such fields as Biochemistry, International Development, Imperial History, Conservation and Management, Comparative Government, and so many more. Students interested in public service traditionally pursue the MPP, the Master of Public Policy, but there are programs that appeal to all disciplines and academic interests.

I also wanted to understand the application process so that I can help our students put their best foot forward in this incredibly competitive scholarship. The work involved in completing a Rhodes application is substantial, but the process will also prepare students to compete for additional international and national awards. Students must compose a reflective statement of purpose outlining their area of interest at Oxford, collect 5-8 letters of recommendation, and provide a list of honors and activities. Candidates will also be interviewed by an academic committee at WVU to gain institutional support. Students here are fortunate to have the support of the ASPIRE Office to help guide them through their Rhodes application as well as numerous other high profile national and international scholarship applications.

The best part about my work as Rhodes Faculty Advisor is developing relationships with our outstanding candidates and collaborating with my colleagues in the ASPIRE Office to help our students produce the best applications possible. Last year, we had the privilege to work with truly outstanding students, among them Chelsea Hodges, who became the first Rhodes Finalist from WVU in 18 years. She paved the way for future students from WVU to apply for a Rhodes with confidence. Read her blog about her Rhodes application experience!

The process is intense, but students have the support of the faculty advisor and the ASPIRE Office. If you can see yourself reflected in the four areas outlined above and would like to learn more about the opportunities at Oxford, do not hesitate to contact me and/or the ASPIRE Office. All disciplines including Engineering, Science, the Humanities, Mathematics, the Medical and Social Sciences, Law, Economics, Business and Theology, offer post-graduate programs at Oxford University. The Rhodes Scholarship is significant mark of distinction, but don’t let that intimidate you, let it inspire you. If you are curious about the Rhodes check out