Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

UA boasts two Rhodes finalists

Having a Rhodes scholar finalist who also happens to be the starting quarterback of the football team is certainly newsworthy, but the fact that the University has two Rhodes scholar finalists is an outstanding achievement in itself.

In addition to Greg McElroy, Ynhi Thai, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, is also a Rhodes scholar finalist.

The Rhodes scholarship is an international scholarship, and it provides an opportunity for U.S. citizens to study abroad at Oxford University. Out of about 80 national finalists, thirty-two are selected. Students are given the option to either compete in their hometown’s district, or their college’s district, according to the Rhodes Scholar website,

While McElroy is competing in the Alabama, Florida and Tennessee district, Thai, who hails from Mississippi, is competing in the district that includes Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and South Carolina.

The Rhodes Scholarship Trust was established in 1902, and since then there have been fifteen Rhodes Scholars from the University, the last one being Brad Tuggle in 2001.

“The academic experience at Oxford includes two very important elements: faculty of the highest caliber who take a personal interest in their students, and very bright students from all over the world,” Tuggle said. “For these reasons, an Oxford education broadens one’s perspectives, develops one’s mind and prepares one for real world challenges in a unique and highly effective way.”

Despite Thai’s track record of achievements – she is a Goldwater Scholar and a member of the USA Today All-USA College Academic Second Team – she remains disarmingly humble. Thai attributes her motivation for applying for the scholarship to her professors, who convinced her she would make a good candidate.

“I thought it was a great opportunity,” Thai said. “I wanted to give it a try, but I thought it was a long shot. I never imagined I’d be a finalist. That’s what’s great about UA. A lot of wonderful professors who see a lot of potential in the students.”

The Process

John Burke, who is the UA representative for the Rhodes Scholarship, said going through the application process is like taking another full course, and that this process alone weeds out a lot of hopefuls, leaving only those who can balance their regular schedules with a phase of applications, essays and interviews.

“It really is a credit to the University that we have two top-notch people competing for the Rhodes,” Burke said. “I am very pleased for the University.”

The University endorsed four total applicants this year: McElroy, Thai, Connor Johnson and Ryne Saxe.

Applying for the Rhodes scholarship is a multi-step process, including a lot of paperwork and interviews. Applicants must first apply to and receive an endorsement from their university. Then they must send in a two-page resume, essay and eight letters of recommendation to Oxford.

On Nov. 20, Rhodes panels in Birmingham and St. Louis, respectively, will interview McElroy and Thai. The interviews will consist of current affairs questions pertaining to each applicant’s area of study, including how these current events will affect the students’ future endeavors.

Future Goals

Thai’s goal is to become a doctor. She is particularly interested in the culture of medicine.

A Vietnamese native whose family immigrated to the United States in 1991, Thai asserts that she has a background that puts her in a position to understand and respect how different cultures have varying perceptions of health.

She is a founding member of Engineers Without Borders, and organized a trip to Cambodia for two drinking water projects, as she is interested in water-borne diseases. She has also done extensive research in such topics as E. coli detection, cancer therapy and sleep disorders.

If given the opportunity to study at Oxford, Thai plans to get a Masters of Sciences in Global Health Science and Medical Anthropology.

Mentors and Advisors

“She not only takes advantage of opportunities presented to her, but creates them,” said Guy Caldwell, advisor for the Journal of Science and Health at the University. Thai was editor-in-chief of the publication. “One cannot help but be impressed by Ynhi’s drive and determination for excellence; she has high expectations, but those start with herself – and that is a most admirable characteristic worthy of any Rhodes Scholar.”

Gary Sloan, Coordinator of Prestige Scholarships and Awards, said having two Rhodes finalists reflects well on the University. He helped Thai when she was applying for the Goldwater and Hollings scholarships and called her record of accomplishments “awe-inspiring.”

“She is a joy to work with and is one of the most hard-working and talented students I have had the pleasure to know in my 36 years at the University,” Sloan said. “She is very deserving of all of the recognition that has come her way.”

Advice for Others

Thai said anyone can be a Rhodes scholar, as long as they have self-motivation.

“The great thing about the Rhodes is that you can be anyone and become a Rhodes scholar, as long as you’re hard-working and you have the ideas and the willingness and the motivation to put those ideas into action,” she said. “Don’t ever not apply because you think you’re not good enough. Make the effort and try and see what happens.”

Ryne Saxe, who has been an applicant for the Rhodes scholarship two years, knows the ins and outs of the Rhodes application process. He respects Thai and has confidence in her.

“She has a lot of respect for the Rhodes scholarship and its significance,” Saxe said. “She has a lot of conviction to use that award and opportunity to help other people.”

Thai said that when her family immigrated to the United States in 1991, her mother had to sell her diamond ring for them to have enough money. Now she said she feels she is living the American Dream.

“Don’t ever think that you can’t do something, that one person can’t do enough to make an impact in the world, because one person can, as long as you believe in yourself and keep working towards your goals,” Thai said. “You have to be open and take whatever opportunities come your way and make the most of them”

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