By Nicole Greason | Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Barrett, The Honors College
Arizona State University senior Nathaniel Ross has been awarded the coveted Rhodes Scholarship to pursue postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford, the US Secretary of the Rhodes Trust recently announced.
Ross is one of only 32 American Rhodes recipients for the 2023 application cycle and one of only three students representing public universities. He is the first ASU student to receive an American Rhodes Scholarship in over 20 years.
“I’m incredibly grateful to have been selected,” Ross said. “The finalists in my district were all so incredibly nice and amazing in their own way. To be chosen among them was an absolute honour. I am really looking forward to being part of the Rhodes community and studying at Oxford next year.”
Rhodes Scholarships cover all costs for a two or three year postgraduate course at the University of Oxford. It is the oldest international graduate award in existence and many consider it one of the most prestigious. Created in 1902 by the will of mining magnate Cecil Rhodes, the grants are supported today by a cohort of philanthropists and benefactors.
At Oxford, Ross will study comparative social policy before going to law school, specializing in disability law. His long-term goal is to shape disability policy as a legal advisor to a national disability advocacy organization, federal agency, or global non-governmental organization.
“Arizona State University empowers elite scholars who want to make a meaningful social impact,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Nathaniel Ross is a uniquely gifted thinker, able to pull together ideas across diverse subjects and apply his knowledge to improve the lives of others. As such, Nathaniel embodies our highest standards as a National Service University.”
Ross acknowledges the role his time at ASU played in his success. “I don’t think there is a single Rhodes Scholar who has accomplished the feat without a supportive community, and I am no exception.”
Ross also recognizes the immense opportunity offered by the Rhodes Scholarship.
“As part of the Rhodes community, I know I can have an even greater impact on the issues I care about. The proportion of Rhodes Scholars who are disabled, attend a public school, or are first-generation university students is relatively small. After my selection, I hope to encourage other people from similar backgrounds to apply for nationally competitive scholarships,” he said.
The Rhodes Scholarship application process is arduous and the competition intense. In his will, Cecil Rhodes laid down several criteria for the selection of grantees, most of which are still used today.
“The first and most obvious criterion is ‘scholarly merit,'” said Kyle Mox, Associate Dean of National Scholarships and ASU Rhodes Scholarship Representative. “To be competitive, an applicant must have near-perfect grades while completing an exceptionally challenging curriculum.”
Ross definitely fits the bill. In 2019, he was selected as a Flinn Scholar and will graduate from ASU in December with honors from Barrett, The Honors College, with bachelor’s degrees in life sciences, political science, applied quantitative science, and history. In May 2023 he will receive a Master of Science in Biology and Society. To date, he has not received a grade lower than an A in any course.
But by Rhodes terms, Rhodes Scholars are not “mere bookworms”—they must also show dedication to making a lasting social impact and work to make a big difference for good in the world. “We often refer to this quality as ‘leading the world’s struggle,'” Mox said, adding that “Rhodes Scholars must demonstrate exceptional leadership potential.”
Ross’ achievements in civic engagement and as an activist have already been recognized. In 2021 he was selected as a Udall Fellow for his commitment to environmental and disability activism, and in Spring 2022 he was selected as a national finalist for the Truman Fellowship in recognition of his commitment to public service.
A committed disability rights activist, Ross founded EosFighter Connection, a nationwide support network for youth suffering from eosinophilic and other disorders.
He is also politically active, having done an internship at progressive lobbying firm Creosote Partners. He recently ran for a seat on the Mesa City Council, becoming the youngest candidate to ever vote. He lost just 200 votes to qualify for the general election.
READ: Mesa Council candidates explain why they’re running
Rhodes Scholars are selected in a two-stage process. First, applicants must be validated by their college or university. For the 2023 cycle, six ASU undergraduate and graduate applications were approved by a faculty committee based on their academic achievement, leadership and service activities, past awards and honors, and letters of recommendation.
Nationwide, more than 2,500 students started the application process. Of these, 840 were supported by 244 different colleges and universities. Selection committees in 16 districts then invite the strongest applicants to an interview. Each district will interview at least 14 finalists over the course of two days. The interviews were conducted virtually again this year. Upon completion of the interviews, each district immediately announces two recipients.
Ross said the announcement of his selection came as a shock. “I honestly wasn’t sure I heard my name right. I’ve always waited for the selection committee to say my name again to confirm that I really am a winner,” he said. “Even days later, I don’t think I can even begin to process what this means for my future. I could only think of the years of work that went into this moment. Although applications were not open until this summer, the process of becoming a Rhodes Scholar often begins in freshman year or even earlier.”
Originally only offered to male applicants from British Commonwealth countries, the program has grown far more inclusive over the years, admitting women for the first time in 1977. In recent years, the number of scholarships awarded worldwide has grown to over 100 and now spans over 20 different constituencies spanning 64 countries including Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Israel and Southern Africa. In recent years, two ASU candidates have received Rhodes Scholarships in the Zimbabwe constituency: Ngoni Mugwisi in 2017 and Shantel Marekera in 2019.
The largest single constituency is the United States, which is allocated 32 scholarships per year. Historically, the majority of Rhodes scholarships are awarded to highly selective private institutions: in the 2023 cycle, six Harvard and five Yale graduates received Rhodes scholarships, and 19 of the 32 scholarships were awarded by either Ivy League universities or US service academies .
The Rhodes Scholarship value varies by academic field and degree. The Rhodes Trust pays all college and university fees, provides a stipend to cover essential expenses during your stay in Oxford, holidays and transport to and from England. The total value of the scholarship averages about $75,000 per year.
Now that the process is complete, Ross will begin planning his trip to England and his studies at Oxford. “I have never been to the UK and will now study at the best university in the world for the next two to three years of my life. For the first time in my life, moving to another country is a reality for me. I’ve realized that this local East Valley boy needs to buy his first proper winter coat in order to survive the British winters!’
Since the Rhodes Scholarship was introduced in 1904, six ASU graduates have been awarded the American Rhodes, most recently in 2001 with a major in music education, Philip Mann. Mann went on to study and teach music at Oxford, winning the annual Oxford University Philharmonic Principal Conductor competition. In 2010 he was appointed music director and conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and joined the faculty of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in April 2022 as an assistant professor of music and conductor of the UMBC Symphony Orchestra.
The American Rhodes Scholarship is available to US citizens between the ages of 18 and 24. Current ASU students or alumni who wish to be nominated by ASU should contact the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advice.