Palo Alto, Stanford students named Rhodes scholars

Gunn and Castilleja grads granted two to three years of free study at Oxford

Four college students with ties to Palo Alto – two from here and two studying here – were named winners of this year's Rhodes scholarships, which each year grant a small group of college students two to three years of free study at the University of Oxford in England.

Gunn High School graduate Elliot Akama-Garren, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology senior studying biology, and Castilleja School graduate Rachel Skokowski, a Princeton University senior majoring in French, are in the select group of 32 American men and women who will enter Oxford next October.

Stanford University seniors Maya Krishnan, a philosophy major, and Emily Witt, a human biology major, also won the prestigious scholarship.

The Rhodes Trust will foot all college and university fees for these students, as well as provide a stipend to cover necessary expenses while in residence in Oxford, during vacations and transportation to and from England.

Akama-Garren, who graduated from Gunn in 2011, has conducted research at MIT, Harvard, Stanford and elsewhere that focuses on novel ways to manipulate the immune system to treat human diseases, especially cancer, according to a Rhodes press release. He is also editor-in-chief of the MIT Undergraduate Research Journal, has designed and taught several courses for middle and high school students and volunteers in the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. He plans to pursue a master's degree in integrated immunology at Oxford.

Skokowski "has a deep commitment to making the arts more relevant and accessible in the modern world," the Rhodes press release reads. She works to expose underprivileged children to the world of art, and has curated or interned at the Morgan Library and Museum, the Princeton Art Museum and for the Santa Fe Arts Commission.

She plans to participate in Oxford's European Enlightenment Programme, which is within the master's in philosophy in modern languages.

The Weekly recognized Skokowski's talents years ago, awarding her third place in the young adult section for our 24th annual short story contest. Her compelling story, "Around the Bend," was written from the perspective of a driver's ed teacher. Read it here.

Stanford senior Krishnan, who is also minoring in computer science and in classics, plans to earn a one-year master's degree in theology and a one-year master's degree in Internet studies at Oxford. She also plays the obo, and has worked as a technology scientist for a nonprofit serving children in some of Washington's most at-risk neighborhoods, according to the Rhodes press release.

At Stanford, Krishnan was the lead technical developer for the POLIS project, a website that allows scholars and students of classical Greek – and to some extent Roman – history to visualize data about ancient places and people from two large data sets, and to generate maps and simple statistical information from them, according to the university.

"I am very grateful to Stanford and the faculty who have been my mentors," Krishnan stated in a Stanford press release. She is currently working on an honors thesis on the relationship between mathematics, meaning and history in Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason."

Witt, who is concentrating her major on neuropathology and also minoring in psychology, plans to pursue a master's degree in neuroscience, followed by another in research in experimental psychology at Oxford.

"I am honored and humbled to be a part of the Rhodes tradition at Stanford and deeply appreciative of all the exceptional opportunities I have had here," said Witt, who is writing an honors thesis on the immunomodulatory mechanisms of vitamin D in multiple sclerosis. "I cannot thank my friends, mentors and professors enough for their wonderful support and guidance."

At Stanford, Witt works in the Steinman Laboratory in the School of Medicine, which is dedicated to understanding the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, and at the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research. She is also the president of Stanford's Amnesty International chapter and has done research in Guatemala on the social determinants of chronic nutrition.

Witt and Krishnan bring the number of Stanford Rhodes scholars to 114.

Those interested in becoming Rhodes scholars must first be endorsed by their college or university. This year, approximately 1,600 students sought their institution's endorsement; 877 were endorsed by 305 different colleges and universities, according to a Rhodes press release.

Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for an interview. Each district committee made a final selection of two Rhodes scholars from the candidates of the state or states within the district, according to the Rhodes Trust. (Akama-Garren and Skokowski were the two Northern California district selections; Witt is from Colorado and Krishnan from Maryland.)

Applicants are chosen based on academic achievement as well as great "personal energy, ambition for impact, and an ability to work with others and to achieve one's goals," the press release reads. "In addition, a Rhodes Scholar should be committed to make a strong difference for good in the world, be concerned for the welfare of others, and be conscious of inequities. And finally, a Rhodes Scholar should show great promise of leadership. In short, we seek outstanding young men and women of intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service."

These values and attributes pay tribute to Will of Cecil Rhodes, the British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer who created the scholarship in 1902.

This year's 32 American scholarship recipients will join an international group of scholars chosen from 14 other jurisdictions around the world. In addition to the American students, scholars are also selected from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, the nations of the Commonwealth Caribbean, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, Southern Africa (South Africa, plus Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland), Zambia and Zimbabwe. Approximately 80 scholars are selected worldwide each year, usually including several who have attended American colleges and universities but who are not U.S. citizens and who have applied through their home country.

View a full list of the 2015 winners here.

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3 people like this
Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 24, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Kris Kristofferson, Bill Clinton, Robert Reich and Rachel Maddow were all Rhodes Scholars. Good company!

Like this comment
Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Frankly I think Rhodes Scholar is not as prestigious as it used to be. Oxford has been in precipitous decline in international standing for decades. Spending a year or two in Oxford may not be as worthy as studying in some other excellent institutions, where you will get better academic experiences and/or career connections.

2 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 25, 2014 at 10:59 am

Congratulations to all these students!

3 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2014 at 12:59 pm

"Spending a year or two in Oxford may not be as worthy as studying in some other excellent institutions..."

Sour grapes. An experience is what one makes of it.

Congratulations, gang. You worked hard and you earned it.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Nov 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I agree, m2grs: Oxford Schmoxford. Then again, Oxford could be their "safe school" in case they aren't accepted to Old Dominion University.

1 person likes this
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 25, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Congratulations to the students on this most prestigious honor.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm

I hope Ms. Skokowski will consider, simultanous to her Oxford study, being a Palo Alto arts commissioner. Heck, run for Council!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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