Four Indian Americans from US awarded Rhodes Scholarships

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Garima Desai graduated in May 2020 from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a double major in Environmental Studies and Economics. Photo: courtesy Rhodes Trust

Four Indian Americans are among the 32 Americans chosen as Rhodes Scholars representing the United States. Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, announced the names of the scholars on Nov. 21, 2020 in a first of a kind, completely online ceremony, according to a press release from Rhodes Trust.

The Indian Americans among the diverse students chosen include Swathi R. Srinivasan from Beachwood, OH, Vijayasundaram Ramasamy from Overland Park, KS, Savarni Sanka from Cary, NC and Garima P. Desai from Fremont, CA.

Vijaysundaram Ramasamy graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2018 with a major in Public Health Studies. Photo: courtesy Rhodes Trust

These young Americans will go to University of Oxford in England next October to study in fields broadly across the social, biological and physical sciences, the humanities, and public policy.

Gerson, as quoted saying in the release, “This year’s American Rhodes Scholars—independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously—reflect the remarkable diversity that characterizes and strengthens the United States.”

Twenty-two of the 32 are students of color; ten are Black, equal to the greatest number ever elected in one year in the United States. Nine are first-generation Americans or immigrants; and one is a Dreamer with active DACA status. Seventeen of the winners are women, 14 are men, and one is non-binary.

According to the winners’ bios on Rhodes Trust’s website:

Savarni Sanka is a senior at Wake Forest University where she majors in Politics and International Affairs and in Spanish, with a minor in Middle East and South Asia Studies. Photo: courtesy Rhodes Trust

Srinivasan is a senior at Harvard College with double concentrations in Social Studies and History of Science, with a focus on public health inequality. She was an intern at the U.N. Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS in Geneva, has done extensive research and activism on the opioid epidemic, and chaired the Policy Program at the Kennedy School Institute of Politics. Swathi is also a Ghungroo choreographer. At Oxford, Srinivasan intends to do the M.Sc. in International Health and Tropical Medicine and the M.Sc. in Comparative Social Policy.

Swathi Srinivasan is a senior at Harvard College with double concentrations in Social Studies and History of Science, with a focus on public health inequality.
Photo: courtesy Rhodes Trust

Ramasamy graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2018 with a major in Public Health Studies. He is currently a Policy and Budget Advisor in the Office of Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, with responsibilities for the State’s COVID-19 re-opening plan. While at Johns Hopkins he was co-President of the University Hindu Students Council, worked as a research and teaching assistant in public health, and has been very active in political campaigns. At Oxford, Ramasamy intends to do the M.Sc. in Comparative Social Policy and the Master of Public Policy.

Sanka is a senior at Wake Forest University where she majors in Politics and International Affairs and in Spanish, with a minor in Middle East and South Asia Studies. She is a leader of the Hindu Students Association and the Student Association for the Advancement of Refugees. She is passionate about improving the welfare of migrants and marginalized people everywhere. At Oxford, Sanka plans to do the M.Sc. in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies and the Master of Public Policy.

Desai graduated in May 2020 from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a double major in Environmental Studies and Economics. She currently works as a transportation planner in Oakland, CA. She is passionate about using economics as a tool to solve pressing climate issues. At Oxford, Desai plans to pursue an M.Sc. in Economics for Development and an M.Sc. in Environmental Change and Management.

Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England and may allow funding in some instances for four years.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, applicants must be endorsed by their college or university. This year more than 2,300 students began the application process; 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities. Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them virtually for interview.

Gerson said, “A Rhodes Scholar should show great promise of leadership. In short, we seek outstanding young people of intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service.”

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