By Cassidy Pekarek
Each year, thirty-two students from universities and colleges across the United States are selected to receive one of the most prestigious international postgraduate awards available: the Rhodes Scholarship. Established in 1902 by Cecil John Rhodes, this award provides students the necessary funding to travel to the United Kingdom and study at the University of Oxford for two to three years. Rhodes Scholars are evaluated on their academic excellence, aspiring leadership abilities, admirable character, and commitment to social impact and service.
The Rhodes Scholars for 2023 include five students from Yale. Among them is Sophie Huttner (ΦBK, Yale College), a current student pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in global affairs. When Huttner was examining different post-graduate opportunities, she realized that a Rhodes Scholarship would allow her to further explore her interests in language learning, politics, and migration and refugee studies.
“Onerous applications like the Rhodes . . . really force you to consider what is most important to you. For me, this process clarified the fact that it’s important to me that I can be an advocate for immigrants and continue to work in refugee and asylum law,” said Huttner. “I think that working as an advocate in both a legal sense and in a policy sense is where I’m hoping to go in my career. Oxford will help me reach those places.”
Now a senior preparing to graduate from Yale, Huttner has kept an active schedule in her undergraduate career. She enjoys teaching languages like Spanish and Hebrew in her free time, as well as volunteering as an English as a Second Language teacher through Yale University’s Bridges ESL program. In addition, she works as a Spanish and Portuguese interpreter, primarily assisting women who seek to escape gender-based violence.
Huttner’s work in interpretation services does not stop there — she is currently serving as the president of the Yale Interpretation Network (YIN). She has worked closely with the organization since its founding in 2018. Now, YIN is considered the largest undergraduate student-run translation and interpretation service in the country. In their pursuit to improve social service accessibility and language access for Limited English Proficient community members in Connecticut, YIN screens and trains volunteers who are multilingual Yale affiliates in trauma-informed interpretation services, helping to connect them with individuals and organizations seeking their assistance.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Huttner. As president, she helps manage relationships with the program’s community partners, as well as an expansive network of over 450 volunteers. “This year alone, we’ve been able to do over 150 interpretations for our community; that work can be really the difference between someone getting the services they need, and not.”
Since receiving the Rhodes Scholarship, Huttner has been closely considering a variety of different programs at Oxford that focus on international relations and refugee and asylum policy. She remarked that she is most likely going to pursue her M.Sc. in refugee and forced migration studies during her time at Oxford. Her work as an interpreter and president of the Yale Interpretation Network was a central motivator in this decision.
“I’ve seen a lot of the ways in which our immigration policy, particularly our asylum policy, sort of fails to protect many of the people that are most vulnerable; and I’ve also seen it at its best,” Huttner remarked. “Working in asylum law, I could see the ways our restrictions . . . affected people who really needed protection — particularly women who were escaping gender-based violence. That experience motivated me to pursue scholarship in that area . . . so I can help protect people like my clients, who are deserving of our protection and of just laws that recognize what they’ve been through.”
Huttner believes that pursuing her master’s degree at Oxford will open doors for her, both academically and professionally. Her time at Yale has helped her to realize that education can happen anywhere, in and out of the classroom, from designated instructors to her clients as an interpreter. As a result, she explained, “What I’m most hoping to get out of the Rhodes Scholarship is . . . to meet a whole bunch of people at Oxford who will teach me about the world in ways that I don’t expect. I have a lot to learn. I think that being able to meet people — amazing classmates, professors, and community members of Oxford and the UK — will allow me to learn a lot about myself, about the world, and about the subjects I’m interested in.”
The Rhodes Scholarship will support Huttner as she continues pursuing her interests in lifelong learning and social service to others. Huttner views her junior year induction into Phi Beta Kappa as further affirmation of her academic and service involvement. She explained, “More than anything, being inducted proved that the hard work that I put into making the most out of my undergraduate career was recognized.”
“Joining Phi Beta Kappa was also an opportunity for me to connect with other people who similarly value their education, who are really excited about having the opportunity to go to college and put their all into it,” said Huttner. She fondly remembers her induction ceremony, where she had the opportunity to meet Yale University President Peter Salovey. “I was really excited to join . . . It will be one of my very fond memories from my time at Yale College.”
Cassidy Pekarek is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree with university honors and highest distinction in English & creative writing and art history. She was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa there in April 2022. The University of Iowa is home to the Alpha of Iowa chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.