Three outstanding young women at West Virginia University have been named finalists for the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the oldest and most celebrated international awards in the world. This may be the first time that WVU has advanced this many finalists for this award.
“I am thrilled by the unprecedented good news that WVU has three finalists for the highly competitive Rhodes Scholarship,” said Katherine Aaslestad professor of history and faculty adviser for the Rhodes Scholarship. “All three are exceptional young women in their own way, study in three different colleges at the university, and reveal the many different paths to success at WVU. It is a pleasure to work with these remarkable young women and the ASPIRE Office”
Emma Harrison and Andrea Pettit, both from Morgantown and Virginia “Ginny” Thrasher of Springfield, Virginia, will interview with the Rhodes District XI Committee of Selection in Chicago Nov.16-17. The Rhodes Scholarship provides all expenses for two to four years of study at the University of Oxford in England. All three women are students in the WVU Honors College.
Emma Harrison was named WVU’s 23rd Truman Scholar and a Newman Civic Fellow earlier this year for her advocacy for prison education and reform. She has been dedicated to this cause since her freshman year, independently seeking out professors to learn more about challenges associated with incarceration. In her sophomore year, she enrolled in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which provides students with the opportunity to take college courses alongside imprisoned men. In her junior year, she became a teaching assistant for the class, and now she has embarked on research with the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Diversion and Transition to study the impact of educational and vocational programs on the rate of recidivism. If she is awarded the scholarship, her goal is to earn a doctorate of philosophy in criminology. At WVU, she is majoring in political science and multidisciplinary studies (Africana, leadership and women and gender studies) in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.
“This opportunity is incredible and I am so excited for the chance to continue my advocacy work with incarcerated people,” Harrison said. “The experiences and opportunities available at Oxford in the area of prison research are unparalleled, and I would be honored to continue my work there.”
Andrea Pettit’s passion for the field of rural medicine stems from her concern for the lack of access to medical care in West Virginia. To prepare for a future career as a physician, she has volunteered hundreds of hours in a local hospital as a family liaison for the Intensive Care and Post-Anesthesia Care units and as a neonatal “cuddler,” holding babies who are withdrawing from substance addiction. She created a program called “Giving Back” to fill backpacks for the siblings of sick children with donations of toys, books and games from local community partners. She has also made her mark in the field of immunology as a research assistant on a project that that will help medical professionals know more about how men and women react differently to various treatments for autoimmune disorders. She’s also a member of the cross country and track and field teams. At WVU she is majoring in immunology and medical microbiology in the School of Medicine. If she is awarded the scholarship, she plans to earn two master’s degrees in integrated immunology and primary healthcare. She also wants to learn more about the U.K.’s National Health Service to see how the U.S. can make structural improvements to improve access to care especially in rural areas.
“Being selected as a Rhodes finalist is a testament to years of dedication to academics, athletics, research, and volunteer work, but, even more importantly, I see it as an opportunity to have a positive impact on health care delivery in West Virginia,” Pettit said. “The years of education I have ahead of me are not for personal gain, but will aid me in confronting health disparities in Appalachia. I am thankful that the Rhodes Committee recognizes the importance of this undertaking and has given me the opportunity to further explain my motivations behind my previous sacrifices and future endeavors.”
Virginia “Ginny” Thrasher has achieved the highest success an athlete in her field can achieve. She was the first American to win a gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in the women’s 10-meter air rifle. She attributes much of her success to a “growth mindset,” a belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. She wants to explore the idea that what helped her become the top athlete in her sport can help others. Her goal is to be able to spread growth mindset to more people by researching a new way to facilitate the learning process. One potential application might include addiction. She has volunteered at the WVU Recovery Center, which supports students with substance abuse problems. Her Olympic success has made her a celebrity and she has used that platform to advocate for education. She travels the state encouraging young women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering or math. She is majoring in biomedical engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. If she is selected for the Rhodes Scholarship, she will study cognitive and evolutionary anthropology and psychological research.
“Being selected as a Rhodes finalist is quite an honor for me, and I am so excited for the opportunity to interview,” Thrasher said. “I will spend much of the next few weeks preparing through mock interviews and subject matter experts with the help of the ASPIRE office. I feel so lucky to be able to continue representing WVU in athletics and academics”
Rhodes Scholars are chosen on criteria set forth in the 1902 will of Cecil Rhodes, a British entrepreneur and politician. In addition to academic excellence, the candidates are evaluated on their personal energy to use their talents in full commitment to duty and public service, and ability to work with and lead others to achieve their goals.
The ASPIRE office prepares students like these three for highly competitive scholarships. Students who are interested in these scholarships can email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment.