Sewanee’s Rhodes Scholars

With an undergraduate enrollment of 1,500 students, the University of the South is among the nation’s top institutions in the overall production of Rhodes Scholars. Since 1907, 26 of Sewanee’s graduates have earned the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. And it is one of the very few small liberal arts colleges with more than 20 Rhodes Scholars—ranking ahead of such elite institutions as Amherst College (Mass.), Emory University (Ga.), Haverford College (Pa.), and Middlebury College (Vt.).

Carrie Ryan is the most recent example of this Sewanee tradition. A member of the class of 2012, Ryan was named Sewanee’s 26th Rhodes Scholar.

What is the Rhodes Scholarship?

The awards are made to 32 U.S. scholars each year, and provide all expenses for two or three years of study at Oxford University in England. The 2012 winners were selected from 830 applicants endorsed by 299 different colleges and universities.

Elliot F. Gerson, American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, called the Rhodes Scholarships, "the oldest and best known award for international study, and arguably the most famous academic award available to American college graduates." Applicants are chosen on the criteria of high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor. These basic characteristics are directed at fulfilling Mr. Rhodes’s hopes that the Rhodes Scholars would make an effective and positive contribution throughout the world.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, candidates must be endorsed by their college or university, and as a representative of one of the states or the District of Columbia. Committees of Selection in each of 16 districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for interview.

The value of a Rhodes Scholarship averages about $50,000 per year (as of 2011), though the value varies depending on the academic field and the degree (B.A., master’s, doctoral) chosen.

Sewanee and the Rhodes Scholar Tradition

Carrie Ryan, Sewanee’s newest Rhodes Scholar, is a cultural anthropology major. The president of the student body and a student trustee, she also co-founded the campus diversity coalition and won the 2011 Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award for all public and private universities in Tennessee. Ryan also founded an organization fostering relationships between public school students and residents of retirement communities. Her interest in serving the elderly and extensive academic work in gerontology led her to two research opportunities—one at the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California and the other in Visakhapatnam, India. Ryan plans to pursue an M.Phil. in evidence-based social intervention at Oxford.

"This scholarship is as much a testament to Sewanee as it is to me," Ryan said. "My love of learning and commitment to social justice have been fueled by great mentors here - faculty, administrators, and students alike - and have been nurtured by the community ethos of this wonderful University."

The University of the South had 25 Rhodes Scholars prior to Ryan's award—a number that puts Sewanee in the top rank nationally among American liberal arts colleges.

“It is wonderful that a Sewanee student has again prevailed in Rhodes competition,” said Sewanee Vice-Chancellor John McCardell. “We all congratulate Carrie on this remarkable achievement, which is all the more impressive when one looks at the list of all 32 recipients and sees how few liberal arts colleges are on the list.”

Ryan is the third Rhodes Scholar from Sewanee since 2000. Katharine Wilkinson, a 2005 graduate, was named a 2006 Rhodes Scholar. Wilkinson, a religion major from Atlanta, graduated from Sewanee summa cum laude and was valedictorian of her class. Robin Rotman, C'04, of Chicago, who majored in geology with minors in environmental studies and mathematics, was also awarded the prestigious scholarship.

"They say they're investing in people rather than a program," Wilkinson said. "They're looking for candidates who will have an impact throughout the world. It's so flattering."

At the time of her selection, Ryan was the third Sewanee Rhodes Scholar residing on campus, joining Professor of History emeritus Brown Patterson and Professor of English Jennifer Michael. Five of Sewanee’s 25 previous Rhodes Scholars returned to teach at the University. That presence has helped sustain the school’s Rhodes Scholar success.

“I think it (having former Rhodes Scholars on campus) does make a difference. Success breeds success,” says Michael, who graduated in 1989 and attended the University of Oxford from 1989-91. “I was previously on the other side of the Rhodes selection process on the state committee. One thing we noticed was that every year, it was harder for students from non-Rhodes colleges to get advice and get a sense of what they needed to do to prepare for that competition. So, in practical terms, it’s good to have people around here who know how to prepare.

“But the fact that we’re Sewanee graduates also helps. This is a place where a number of alumni come back to teach and work in different capacities. If we’re careful about that, it’s a valuable thing because we have an institutional memory and awareness of history. Students value that.”

“Sewanee’s strongest asset is how involved faculty get in the academic lives of the students, both on and off campus,” says Joel Cunningham, former vice-chancellor at Sewanee. “They [the faculty] are demanding, supportive, and yet intense mentors. It’s that special nurturing that I believe produces the kind of graduates who are attractive to the Rhodes Scholarship organization.”

Find out more about Rhodes Scholarships here.

The following alumni are Sewanee’s Rhodes Scholars:

Henry Markley Gass 1907
Frank Hoyt Gailor    ’13
Carleton Goldstone Bowden    ’14
George Malcolm Fooshee    ’22
Edgar Elliott Beaty     ’26
Clayton Lee Burwell    ’32
George Baucum Fulkerson    ’39
Thaddeus Goode Holt, Jr.    ’52
William Brown Patterson    ’53
William Webb White    '54
John Vincent Fleming    '58
Benjamin Bernard Dunlap, Jr.    '59
Joseph Daryl Canfill     '59
Joseph Levering Price    ’63
Douglas Duane Paschall    ’66
James Robert Sheller    ’67
Thomas Reid Ward     ’67
Jefferson Allen McMahan    ’76
David Michael Lodge    ’79
Ramona Loret Doyle     ’81
Edward Wrenn Wooten    ’86
Jennifer Paine Davis    ’89
Anne Katherine Jones    ‘98
Robin Rotman 2004
Katharine Wilkinson    ‘06
Carrie Ryan    ‘12