College senior Leah Michalove has been named a 2016 Rhodes Scholar, the 19th in Emory’s history and first in nine years, out of over 850 applicants.
“It’s very surreal, terribly overwhelming,” Michalove said. “I kept expecting them to call me and say, ‘Sorry, we read the wrong name. We didn’t mean to give it to you.’”
The Rhodes Scholarship, among the oldest and most prestigious international fellowship awards, is granted to 32 American students every year.
In addition to a full scholarship, winners are given an expense and travel stipend to pursue graduate studies for two to three years at the University of Oxford in England.
This year, colleges and universities endorsed 869 out of about 2000 students who were seeking the scholarship, according to a Rhodes press release.
Michalove was informed that she had been named a Rhodes Scholar on Nov. 21.
“The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the most competitive in the world,” Director of the National Scholarships and Fellowships Program at Emory Megan Friddle wrote in an email to the Wheel. She added that successful Rhodes applicants exhibit an exceptional combination of academic achievement, public service and civic engagement.
Michalove began the application process in the spring after meeting with the office for Emory’s National Scholarships & Fellowships Program about her eligibility for various scholarships. She then spent the summer working on her Rhodes application, which included a personal statement, curriculum vitae (CV), seven letters of recommendation, a photo and a transcript.
Her hard work paid off, and she was invited to interview with Rhodes alumni. She said her interview went well, but her favorite part of the experience was getting to know her fellow finalists from District Six of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
At 6 p.m., three hours after Michalove’s time slot, the interviewers gathered the 12 finalists into the lobby to announce the two winners of the prestigious award.
“I stopped processing for like 30 seconds,” Michalove said. “My brain stopped. I thought I was going to pass out. I couldn’t believe it.”
Friddle, however, wasn’t surprised that the selection committee saw promise in Michalove.
“I’m delighted that the Rhodes committee saw in Leah the same extraordinary qualities that we’ve seen during her time at Emory,” she wrote.
Friddle noted that Michalove’s writing ability might have distinguished her application from the rest.
“The theme that tied her Emory experience together was storytelling … She was able to show the connections between her campus leadership and her academic experiences in a compelling way,” she wrote.
Looking forward, Michalove said she feels most excited to meet her community of Rhodes Scholars and to explore the various opportunities that Oxford offers. “The ethos of Oxford is so incredibly impressive,” she said.
When she arrives at Oxford, Michalove hopes to further the passion she cultivated at
Emory for Middle Eastern studies and anthropology. Although she originally planned to be an anthropology major at Emory, she became addicted to studying Middle Eastern culture as though it was a “drug” after taking several classes in the department.
She said that her interests in Middle Eastern Studies and anthropology are intertwined, because much of her research has focused on the cultural anthropology of the Middle East. After spending a semester in Rabat, Morocco, she was inspired to research fashion and political identity in Morocco.
Specifically, Michalove plans to pursue either a two-year master’s in anthropology or a one-year master’s in anthropology in conjunction with a one-year master’s in refugee and forced migration studies.
Afterwards, she hopes to return to the U.S. and work towards a PhD in anthropology. “I’ve been in school forever.” Michalove said. “I love school. I love college.” She said she plans to eventually work for a think tank in Washington D.C. or at a non-governmental organization (NGO), become a college professor or all three.
“Either way, I’m going to be attempting to [positively affect] the world,” she said.
Only three Emory students applied to be Rhodes scholars and all of them received endorsements from the University, according to Friddle, and there is no limit on the number that the school can nominate. “We would love to see more students apply in future cycles,” she wrote.
Ultimately, Michalove feels incredibly grateful for the opportunity awarded to her, and she urges students considering scholarships not to feel daunted by the prestige of Rhodes.
“No one thinks they’re going to win the Rhodes Scholarship,” she said. “It just sort of happened [to me]. And it’s inexplicable and wonderful and serendipitous, and it shows that you never know what’s going to happen.”