By Melissa Fares
On Sunday, November 24, 2013, Meredith Lukens Wheeler of Fort Collins, Colorado, a senior at Stanford University in California, was awarded a Rhodes scholarship for her exemplary work involving the Middle East. She became a member of Phi Beta Kappa at Stanford in her junior year.
Every year, on the Saturday preceding Thanksgiving, thirty-two young Americans are chosen as recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship—one of the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world—through a careful selection process covering the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Wheeler is one of fourteen women granted the scholarship this year.
The award is considered one of academia’s greatest honors. Such distinction isn’t earned simply by performance in the classroom, as Rhodes Scholars are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but for their character, for their commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead. The Rhodes Foundation’s website further illuminates the exceptional significance of the prize and the remarkable merits of its recipients, including Wheeler.
Distinction as a Rhodes Scholar is not easily earned. This year about 1,750 students solicited endorsement from their schools to apply for the program, of which fewer than 900 earned the approval of over 300 colleges and universities. From there, 208 applicants from 91 schools reached the final stage of the competition. District-based interviews round out the process by which the Scholars are formally selected.
Wheeler is currently majoring in history and political science. Much of her research has dealt with comparative democratization, post-coup repression and Islamic party politics in Egypt, as well as Islamic political organizations in Morocco. One aspect of a Rhodes Scholarship is financial support for studies at Oxford University, and Wheeler plans to continue her studies of the Middle East while earning a Master of Philosophy degree at the University beginning next fall.
It is clear that Wheeler is dedicated to democratic change. The Scholar has also demonstrated her passion for democracy through a variety of associations with important figures in the world of politics, including work as a research assistant for ΦBK member and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Hoover Institution. She has also interned in the office of Colorado Sen. Mark Udall.
Additionally, Wheeler is also a very active member of the Stanford University community. She is chair of the Stanford in Government student organization, serves on Stanford’s Board of Trustees, works on the editorial board of Stanford’s undergraduate history journal, and has served as a member of the editorial board of The Stanford Daily.
There is a clear, strong correlation between ΦBK membership and receipt of Rhodes Scholarships, and a number of people have earned both distinctions on their way to meaningful careers in a number of different fields. Wheeler’s impressive accomplishments are a tribute to both organizations.
Wheeler says she is “thrilled to have been selected and is looking forward to the academic opportunities at Oxford.”
Melissa Fares is a senior at Smith College majoring in psychology and minoring in art history. She is the associate editor for Smith’s newspaper, The Sophian, and has her own blog titled Womankind. Her writing has also appeared in Newsweek, The Daily Beast, FinerMinds, India Times, The Dallas News, and more. Smith College is home to the Zeta of Massachusetts Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.