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13 New England students named Rhodes Scholars

Brookline and Newton natives among recipients

Noam Angrist traveled the 20 hours from Botswana to Cambridge a few days ago, stayed long enough to go through rigorous interviews for the Rhodes Scholarship and catch up with his mentors at MIT, was selected for the prestigious postgraduate award, and began the long trip back.

Angrist is one of at least 13 Rhodes Scholars of 2015 who have New England ties, the Rhodes Trust announced Saturday.

The scholarship, established in the 1902 will of Cecil Rhodes , is considered the oldest and best-known award for graduate international study.

Thirty-two Rhodes Scholars selected from the United States this year include two from Harvard University, three from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, four from Yale University, three from Brown University, and one from Dartmouth College.


Brown University senior Kate Nussenbaum, 21, sat with other applicants in a Philadelphia interview room. They waited for six hours, in and out of interviews, for the committee to deliberate.

When the Newton native found out about her selection, she “sat there in disbelief, and then just started texting everyone.”

Rhodes Scholarships fund two to four years of study at the University of Oxford in England and are awarded to students who demonstrate outstanding intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service, according to the Rhodes Trust.

MIT senior Anisha Gururaj, 21, of Chesterfield, Mo., works on developing medical devices. She and three other students designed a low-cost blood warmer that can be used in the military to prevent soldiers from dying of hypothermia.

She said she is particularly interested in devices that are user-friendly and often implemented in low-income and low-resource areas.

“The challenges that come from low-resource contexts are just incredible, but there are also incredible social challenges,” Gururaj said in a phone interview Sunday.

Gururaj said she is eager to work in a Oxford’s collaborative setting to learn about other factors in global health, like public policy, economics, and cultural differences.


The scholars’ areas of study are numerous and varied.

Benjamin Sprung-Keyser, 21, a senior economics major at Harvard, said his academic focuses were forming in his later high school and early college years, as the Great Recession was being felt across the country.

Sprung-Keyser, of Los Angeles, said he is interested in labor economics, specifically regarding unemployment.

“It’s impossible not to look around and see the problems around you — how they affect you, your family, and people you’ve never met,” he said.

Rhodes Scholars are selected after two phases. The students apply and are first endorsed by their colleges and universities, then interviewed by selection committees. This year, schools endorsed 877 American students.

In a January notice, Rhodes Trust officials said many students were receiving too much outside help on their essays, and mandated that applicants for the 2015 Rhodes Scholarship be fully responsible for their own essays.

While this posed a challenge, Nussenbaum, who is majoring in cognitive neuroscience with a second concentration in science and society, said it was also a relief.

“I was getting so much advice from everyone on everything else,” she said.

The American scholars will join an international group of students chosen from 14 other global jurisdictions, according to the Rhodes Trust.

Including this year’s recipients, 3,356 Americans from 316 colleges and universities have won Rhodes Scholarships.

Other New England scholars include Harvard senior Ruth C. Fong of Somerset, N.J.; MIT senior Elliot H. Akama-Garren of Palo Alto, Calif.; Yale seniors Matthew J. Townsend of Chappaqua, N.Y., Jordan R. Konell of Philadelphia, and Jane Darby Menton of Tallahassee, Fla.; Yale graduate Gabriel M. Zucker of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Brown senior Abishek K. Kulshreshtha of Grapevine, Texas; Brown graduate David R.K. Adler of Encino, Calif.; and Dartmouth senior Ridwan Y. Hassen of Marietta, Ga.


Fong, a 21-year-old computer science major, said she is interested in how neurobiological studies can be applied to help machines learn like humans do.

Speaking by telephone from her family’s New Jersey home, Fong said she never would have applied for the scholarship if not for her mother talking about how much she liked George Stephanopoulos, who was a Rhodes Scholar.

Recipients credited support from teachers, family, friends, and faith communities in their success.

“It’s a cliche, but this kind of thing doesn’t happen without a lot of luck and a lot of help,” Sprung-Keyser said.

Angrist was in London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday afternoon, waiting for his next flight. The 23-year-old MIT graduate grew up in Brookline, and did economic research for the World Bank, the White House, and on the Affordable Care Act while at MIT.

As a Fulbright Scholar in Botswana, Angrist leverages his economics and mathematics degrees to fight global poverty by providing education on factors like HIV.

The Rhodes Scholarship, he said, is a stamp of confidence, through which students are given “an opportunity at such a young age to have so much invested in you.”


Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@globe.com