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ISSUE 121 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/30/2007

Rhodes honors seniors' success

By Lauren Melcher
Staff Writer

Friday, November 30, 2007

St. Olaf seniors Nicole Novak and Ishanaa Rambachan learned on Saturday, Nov. 17 that they had been chosen as two of 32 undergraduate students in the nation to receive scholarships from the Rhodes Trust, making them St. Olaf's eighth and ninth Rhodes Scholars since the foundation of the program in 1904.

Novak and Rambachan will start graduate studies at Oxford University next October, with tuition, living and travel expenses paid by the Trust. Although the Rhodes scholarship guarantees the winners a spot at Oxford, the Scholars still have to apply to their individual masters program of choice at the university.

Novak hopes to join a one-year Masters of Science program in global health science, possibly followed by a second Master of Science in medical anthropology. Rambachan, current SGA Vice-President, is applying for a Masters of Philosophy program in Development Studies, which lasts for two years and combines economics, political science and history.

These programs represent the women's respective passions for global service and development studies, which each have pursued in different ways already during their years at St. Olaf.

Novak is a triple-major in Spanish, environmental studies, and Hispanic studies, with a concentration in statistics. She spent last spring studying development issues in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Recently, she organized a benefit dinner through Felland House, an honor house devoted to environmental and social justice. The dinner featured an authentic Guatemalan dinner and talks by fellow program participants about their experience in Latin America. The dinner also raised $550, which will go toward repairing a greenhouse in Guatemala that houses an important community reforestation project. The greenhouse was destroyed in 2003 by Hurricane Mitch.

Novak also spent last summer as an interpreter with a traveling health clinic in southern Iowa, combining her skills in Spanish with her interest in community health initiatives. Her passion for fieldwork and hands-on research is one reason she applied for the Rhodes Scholarship, after researching other opportunities like the Fulbright Scholarship. "The program at Oxford gives more support to field research," she explained.

Rambachan was attracted to the Oxford program for its holistic approach to studying international development issues and its richly diverse student body. She said that another draw was the program's "focus on knowledge of social anthropology of regions I want to study, which are Southeast Asia and the Middle East." A double-major in economics and political science with a concentration in Middle Eastern studies, she has recently interned with the Hindu-American Foundation.

Rambachan also lives in an honor house this year, the Civics Honor House in Lincoln Inn, which aims to inform students and Northfield residents about nonpartisan issues of concern to American citizens. Partnering with Americans for Informed Democracy and the League of Voters, they host events, panel discussions and documentary screenings in the Northfield area.

Rambachan also organized the first Ole Spring Relief trip to Louisiana in 2005 and has been instrumental in SGA and Student Senate all of her four years here. She spent last fall on Term in the Middle East, and has also volunteered in India, utilizing her interests in Southeast Asian studies and applied economics to help women start small businesses.

Novak and Rambachan started the Rhodes Scholarship application process earlier this fall, along with 764 undergraduates nationwide whose applications were sponsored by 294 colleges and universities. Most Rhodes Scholarship applicants come from large research universities like Stanford, Columbia and Harvard. In the past 10 years, St. Olaf has produced three other Rhodes Scholars: Beth Truesdale '97, Katherine Larson '00 and Decker Walker '04

President David Anderson '74 called the women's achievement "an independent validation of the quality of St. Olaf students and the quality of the experience they have at St. Olaf."

Professor Gary DeKrey, academic advisor for the Rhodes Scholarship, also told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Novak "has an extraordinary compassion for people in difficult circumstances, and she has shown that in action in Central America."

Selection of Rhodes Scholars involves evaluation of "excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead" said the Rhodes Scholarship website.

After a rigorous first-round selection process based on academic performance and project proposals, finalists in 16 districts nationwide are invited to a weekend event in November. The cocktail reception and day-long interview process are a large part of the selection process, because the scholarships are considered "investments in individuals rather than in project proposals."

"Although you can't really 'make it' in based on the cocktail reception and interview, people do say you can 'break it' there," Novak said. Rambachan, originally from Apple Valley, Minn., was one of two Scholars nominated by the 12th District, while Novak grew up in Iowa City, Iowa and was chosen by District 14.

In this year's selection of Rhodes Scholars, Stanford had three recipients, while Princeton, Columbia and St. Olaf each had two Scholars.

Novak and Rambachan will also join Scholars from the University of Chicago, UC-Berkeley, the U.S. Naval Academy and 16 other institutions. Like Novak and Rambachan, more than half of this year's class of scholarship recipients plans to study in fields relating to international development.

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