Two at Washington U. are Rhodes Scholars

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the News section on Monday, November 24, 2003.)

By Shane Graber of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Like everyone else stuck on an airport tarmac in Minnesota Sunday morning, Bethany Ehlmann couldn’t wait to take off.

Most of the other passengers, though, weren’t sitting on the same news Ehlmann was.

Ehlmann and Allison Gilmore, two Washington University seniors, were among the 32 American college students selected as Rhodes Scholars for 2004, the scholarship trust announced Sunday.

“First of all, it’s a great honor,” Ehlmann, 21, said in a telephone interview from a winter storm-stalled airport in Minneapolis-St. Paul as she waited to return to St. Louis. The final Rhodes Scholar interviews were conducted in Minnesota. “I was really surprised because there are so many qualified people.”

Ehlmann, who grew up in Tallahassee, Fla., is a double major in earth and planetary sciences and environmental studies. In 2000, her family moved to Edwardsville, where her father, Bryon Ehlmann, teaches computer science at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

In January, she will work as a collaborating scientist on the NASA Mars exploration mission, and travel to the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. She will pursue a masters in geography at Oxford.

“This will be an incredible opportunity,” Ehlmann said. “This opens up a lot of doors, and it’s a great opportunity to experience another culture.”

Ehlmann and Gilmore will enter England’s University of Oxford in October, 100 years after the first class of American Rhodes Scholars did in 1904. The scholars were selected from 963 applicants endorsed by 366 colleges and universities. The scholarships provide two or three years of study at Oxford.

The two soon-to-be graduates became the fifth and sixth Washington University students in the last five years to be named Rhodes scholars.

For Gilmore, a 22-year-old math major, two years in England will offer her a unique perspective as a masters degree candidate in sociology, she said.

“Bottom line, I get to spend two years at Oxford,” Gilmore, a native of Eagan, Minn., said in a telephone interview. “It’s important because I’ve been involved in activism – the anti-war movement last spring and drug reform – and this will be important to me to be outside the U.S.”

Gilmore is president of Washington University’s students for a sensible drug policy.

Michael Cannon, Washington University’s executive vice chancellor and general counsel, assisted Ehlmann and Gilmore in the Rhodes Scholarship application. Cannon himself was a Rhodes scholar from 1973 to 1975.

“Bethany and Alli are wonderfully accomplished in their extremely demanding principal fields,” said Cannon, who chairs a postgraduate committee on scholarships and fellowships. “They’re extensively engaged in a wide variety of organizational pursuits. They’re also warm, open and good-humored young women.”

The university endorsed six candidates for the Rhodes Scholarship, all of whom made it to the state finals, Cannon said.

“This will end up broadening their outlook intellectually, politically and otherwise,” he said.

Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.

The American students will join an international group of scholars selected from 18 other nations around the world. About 95 scholars are selected annually.

With the elections announced Sunday, 3,014 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 306 colleges and universities.

“I will make this observation: The (Washington University) faculty guide and inspire these students year in and year out,” Cannon said. “Then high-octane students like Bethany and Alli do the rest.”