Two Rhodes Scholars chosen from Stanford

Nov. 26, 2012, 8:00 a.m.

Margaret Hayden ’13 and Rachel Kolb ’12 M.A. ’13 were named Rhodes Scholars-elect this year. The prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, established in 1902, funds up to three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. The Rhodes Trust announced the 32 U.S. Rhodes Scholars-elect on Nov. 17. The 2013 Scholars-elect will begin studies at Oxford in the fall of 2013.

Two Rhodes Scholars chosen from Stanford
(Courtesy of Rachel Kolb)

According to The Rhodes Trust, 1700 U.S. students began the application process this year and 838 were endorsed by their universities to advance to the interview round with their districts’ selection committees. This year, 29 Stanford students applied for endorsement. The University does not release the number of endorsed applicants.

Both Stanford scholars-elect highlighted their high school teachers’ role in their success and advised future applicants to apply even if they don’t believe they have a chance.


’I almost fell out of my chair’

“It all started over the summer. That’s when I decided to apply,” Hayden said. “I didn’t go into this expecting to win or anything. Really, I thought, at the very least, it might be good practice for doing interviews and writing personal statements.”

But after a lengthy interview process during the weekend before Thanksgiving, Hayden was named one of the two Rhodes Scholars from District 1.

“I didn’t know what to do. I had my congratulatory smile for someone else all ready, I almost fell out of my chair”, she said, describing the moment she found out she had won the scholarship. “I got up and walked to the door, and waited for the other winner to walk out of the room.”

The interviews, held in the office of a New York law firm, were the culmination of months of effort.

“The interviews were really intense — one of [the interviewers] would ask me a question, then someone else would interrupt and ask their own. [There were] seven interviewers in a panel, all facing you from at a round table,” Hayden said.

Hayden was one of 12 finalists from her district, which includes Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. On Friday evening, the finalists attended a cocktail party. The next day, interviews took place from the morning until around 4:30 p.m, but each interview was only about 25 minutes long. All the finalists sat in a common room waiting for their first interview. Only five, including Hayden, were called back for a second interview.

“In the end, after all the interviews were over, all of the interviewers came into the room together — when we saw them we knew it was done,” she said.

But when she heard her own name, Hayden was shocked.

“As we [Hayden and Phillip Yao, the other district Scholar-elect] walked into the hallway, he looked at me and said that he didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Hayden emphasized her high school teachers’ role in her success.

Two Rhodes Scholars chosen from Stanford
(Courtesy of Margaret Hayden)

“I’m from a small town and I went to a public high school,” she said. “I had great teachers in high school…there are so many teachers I’d like to thank, I don’t know where to begin.”

Hayden also credited the University’s help throughout the Rhodes process.

A human biology major, Hayden’s honors thesis in the Program in Ethics and Society deals with the “ethical implications of biological conceptions of mental illness and personhood.” Hayden is a member of the varsity squash team and the varsity sailing team. She plans on pursuing a master’s degree in medical anthropology at Oxford.

As for advice for future Stanford applicants, Hayden encouraged students to apply, even with low expectations.

“Don’t count yourselves out! I went into this not expecting to win anything, but in the end I did. I am still very much shocked by this whole thing.”


‘Don’t rule anything out’

Rachel Kolb, a co-terminal master’s degree student in English and an avid writer and equestrian, was equally shocked when she was named a Rhodes Scholar. She plans to study contemporary literature, English literature from 1900 to the present, at Oxford.

As an undergraduate, she participated in the Bing Overseas Study Program study-abroad program at Oxford, and part of the reason she applied for the Rhodes was to return. It will be, for her, a way to go back to an education system “much more centered on individually-driven work.”

“As an English major and student of English literature, couldn’t ask for a better place to study literature than Oxford,” she said.

She praised the University’s help in interview preparation.

“Stanford was really supportive,” she said. “John Pearson [director of the Bechtel International Center] was so instrumental throughout the whole process. [Bechtel] gives you many resources along the way, from hosting speakers to having Q&A sessions and practice interviews before the real thing.”

The Rhodes Trust allowed Kolb to use a sign interpreter during her interview, as she has profound hearing loss. She was one of the two finalists accepted from District 13, which includes Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. Her interview took place in Colorado Springs.

As an undergraduate, Kolb minored in human biology, was co-president of the Stanford Equestrian Team and a Daily columnist. She serves as a managing editor of The Leland Quarterly, a literary magazine. One of the more interesting interview questions, she thought, was one which asked her to connect two of her very diverse interests — writing and riding. Her answer was simple.

“Being on the equestrian team at Stanford since my freshman year has given me many opportunities to ride and learn more about horses, including going to the National Finals twice,” Kolb said. “However, it has also allowed me to experience leadership and to learn about people and interpersonal dynamics in a way I never expected before Stanford.”

At Stanford, Rachel is involved with church groups and Christian ministries. Her work started with the Cornerstone group, which was sponsored by the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.

“I met many of my close friends in that group, which disbanded after my sophomore year, and have continued to participate in Bible study, fellowship and community service events to the present time,” she said.

While acknowledging the value of her Stanford education, she also acknowledged the important role that her pre-university education played in her success.

“More than Stanford, the high school teachers that I had shaped my initial desire to write and study English,” she said. “I arrived at Stanford already knowing that literature was what I loved.”

While her current interests are moving toward creative non-fiction, Rachel used to write fiction in high school.

“I started to take up creative nonfiction at the end of high school and continued throughout college, though I still have plans to return to fiction someday — I’d love to write a novel,” she said.

Her advice for Stanford students echoed Hayden’s.

“Don’t rule anything out — keep believing that you can achieve what you want to,” she said. “Think outside the box and take advantage of the opportunities at Stanford, and also the people.”

Miles Unterreiner ’12 M.A. ’12, whose conflict between competing in the NCAA Cross Country Championship in Louisville, Ky., and attending his Rhodes Scholarship interview in Seattle, Wash., made national news, was not named as one of his district’s Rhode Scholars. Unterreiner was able to make it successfully to both events with the help of a private plane.

Last year, five Rhodes Scholars came from Stanford, the highest number of recipients from any university that year and a record high for Stanford. This year, however, that number was surpassed by both Yale and Harvard, which claimed seven and six Rhodes Scholars, respectively.

This article was updated to remove a sentence indicating Kolb is deciding between a master’s and doctoral program. In fact, Kolb will pursue a master’s degree at Oxford and may pursue a doctoral degree in the undetermined future. 

Nitish Kulkarni '16 is a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He writes about technology and breaking news, and runs online content sections. Email him at nitishk2 'at'

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