2 Rhodes winners from Illinois - FOX 32 News Chicago

2 Rhodes winners hail from Oak Lawn, Winnetka

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Two winners of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship are from Illinois.

Thirty-two American students were named Sunday in the newest group. They'll be awarded scholarships to study at Oxford University.

The Illinois winners are Rhiana Gunn-Wright of Oak Lawn and Benjamin Wilcox from Winnetka.

Gunn-Wright graduated from Yale University with majors in African American studies and women's gender and sexuality studies. She works at the Institute for Women's Policy Research and plans to study comparative social policy at Oxford.

Wilcox is a senior at Harvard University majoring in history. His senior thesis relates to race and Brazilian history. He plans to pursue Latin American studies at Oxford.

Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes and have a value of about $50,000 per year.

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- They've studied in countries from Ghana to China, speak languages from Zulu to Mandarin, and count everything from West African drumming to firefighting among their talents.

The 32 Rhodes Scholars announced Sunday represent a diverse cross-section of U.S. students, hailing from New England to the Deep South, from Ivy League universities to small liberal arts colleges. However, the scholars, who will study at Oxford University in England beginning next October, are selected based on a core set of criteria: academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor.

Recipients reached by The Associated Press all described similar reactions: They were excited, humbled and at times in disbelief.

"I keep sort of checking my phone to see if this actually happened," said David Carel, a Yale University senior and one of seven recipients from the school. "It's so hard to believe I just sort of assume I dreamed the whole thing."

Carel said he hopes to use his scholarship to study how health, education and economics intersect.

A trip to explore the South African roots of his family led to work in the KwaZulu-Natal region of western South Africa, where he joined Peace Corps volunteers and later a nonprofit working with at-risk youths who aren't in school and don't have jobs, trying to prevent widespread alcoholism, depression and other problems.

He is fluent in both Zulu and Hebrew, is a lead drummer in a West African dance troupe and teaches a form of Israeli dance.

Rhiana Gunn-Wright's ambitions stem from her childhood in the impoverished Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side.

"I've seen the way that poverty robs people of their opportunity to explore their capabilities," she said. The Yale graduate currently researches poverty's effects on people's access to a college education and hopes to one day help reform social welfare policy.

Christian Heller, a 21-year-old United States Naval Academy student, has a deep interest in Middle Eastern affairs and the effects of the oil industry. But his interest grew when he started seeing the connections between how the industry developed overseas and how the energy sector is developing in his home state of North Dakota, which is experiencing massive growth amid the oil boom there.

"That's pretty much where I'm from and it was having a big impact on the people I know," said Heller, who grew up about an hour southeast of the heart of the boom.

Others also described deeply personal reasons for their studies. Chris Dobyns of Highland, Md., said his grandfather -- a Methodist minister -- would preach at different churches, including an African-American church every Ash Wednesday. That exposed him to a variety of cultures during his upbringing in suburban Washington, D.C., and ultimately inspired him to pursue African studies at Cornell University.

"There are a lot of people who promoted that in my life, but it really started and ended, I think, with my faith," said Dobyns, who also was a volunteer firefighter at Cornell.

For Rachel Myrick, a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill student, a trip with a nonprofit to Cambodia inspired her interest in studying the causes and consequences of ethnic conflict.

"I learned a lot about genocide reconstruction," she said. "It's been an intellectual and personal interest."

Rhodes Scholar Amanda Frickle, of Bozeman, Mont., plans to pursue dual masters programs -- one in women's studies and the other possibly in public policy. Frickle, 23, majored in history and political economy, and graduated summa cum laude from The College of Idaho. Much of her academic work has been in gender studies.

"I've always been interested in feminist theory," Frickle said, later adding, "I see feminist activism as a vehicle to achieve broader social justice."

Georgianna Whiteley, of Wayzata, Minnesota, wants to become a doctor dealing with global health issues.

Whiteley, 21, is a senior at Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa, where she is majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology. She said she has always wanted to be a doctor, but her path toward becoming a Rhodes Scholar started in her sophomore year when she spent her January term in Tanzania, studying the Maasai, one of the indigenous cultures in the east African country.

"I came back from Tanzania with the idea that I no longer just wanted to be a physician, but a physician that is not only culturally sensitive but deals with more global health issues and global health inequities," Whiteley said.

Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes and have a value of about $50,000 per year.

The American students will join an international group of scholars selected from 14 other jurisdictions around the world. About 80 scholars are selected each year.

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Associated Press writers Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Michelle Janaye Nealy in Chicago; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C.; Kristi Eaton in Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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Online: www.rhodesscholar.org

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