Nina Yancy lives in Quincy House at Harvard University, a few blocks up from the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge.
Aidan Daly lives down the hall from her. Ben Wilcox and Julian Gewirtz too.
And next fall, they will all be heading to the University of Oxford in England as Rhodes Scholars. Yancy, Daly, Wilcox, and Gewirtz learned this weekend that they were among just 32 students from the United States to receive the scholarship, which covers the cost of two to three years of schooling at Oxford.
“Maybe it’s something in the water in Quincy,” Yancy said of her and her housemates’ achievement.
Two other Harvard students, Allan Hsiao and Phil Yao, were also selected.
Judges select Rhodes Scholars based on a number of rigorous criteria that Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and colonial businessman in Africa, outlined in his will in 1902. The standards include academic achievement, integrity of character, and potential for leadership.
Of the small group of students selected as 2013 Rhodes Scholars, nearly half have connections to New England. Seven study at Yale University. Margaret C. Hayden is a Stanford University senior from Brunswick, Maine, and Clayton P. Aldern is a senior at Brown University from Cedar, Minn.
The scholars cover a wide range of academic concentrations and will enroll in several different master’s programs in England. Yancy, of DeSoto, Texas, said she will probably study comparative social policy, perhaps with a second program or focus in global health science. At Harvard, she is pursuing a major in social studies and has worked at the British House of Commons and at CNN.
Daly, a computer science major who is also pursuing a minor in molecular and cellular biology, said he plans to continue studying computer science and its applications to the natural sciences while in England. He has worked at the American Museum of Natural History in his home city of New York, and is developing an iPhone app for scientists to upload data and findings from the field.
Yao, a Harvard physics major from New Jersey, said he is going to study education in learning and technology at Oxford. Yao has a specific interest in the integration of technology and education, and he founded a virtual library for more than a million students in Mumbai this summer.
Yao said he hopes his time at Oxford can provide him with the skills and connections needed to influence global education reform.
“That’s ultimately my dream; I want to be a world leader in education,” he said.
All award recipients learned of their selection this weekend after interviews with Rhodes judges. Two winners were selected in 16 different districts across the United States. About 12 to 15 finalists made it to the last round of interviews in each district, and they sat together in waiting rooms at the end of the day while judges deliberated.
Several scholar-elects on Sunday recounted how judges’ opened their speeches with praise for the finalists’ talents and accomplishments. Then, after hours of build-up, the judges finally announced the winners’ names.
Hsiao, a Harvard senior who won a spot in District 9, which covers Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, said he cannot recall much of the moment when he found out he won.
“I remember him saying my name and saying, ‘Oh my God, I think I just won it,’ and then after that I can’t really remember quite clearly,” said Hsiao, of Louisville, Ky.
A senior studying economics and East Asian studies at Harvard, Hsiao said he plans to focus on modern Chinese studies and migration studies at Oxford. His parents emigrated from Taiwan to the United States, and Hsiao said his interest in migration stems from his family’s experience.
In addition to Hsiao, Yao, Daly, and Yancy, the 2013 Rhodes Scholars from Harvard include Wilcox, of Winnetka, Ill., and Gewirtz, of Hamden, Conn. Wilcox intends to pursue a Latin American studies degree at Oxford, and Gewirtz will probably enroll in modern Chinese studies.
As their collective disbelief began to wane Sunday, the Harvard scholar-elects expressed respect for the Rhodes program and an appreciation for the opportunities it affords.
Yancy said the financial backing and academic programs will certainly be helpful, but the community of current Rhodes Scholars and alumni will also be an invaluable resource. Asked what she expects from her time in England, she said, “I expect it to be life-changing, and I just don’t see how it couldn’t be.”