Wanjiku Gatheru, a Kenyan-American student has made history as the University of Connecticut’s first Rhodes Scholar.
Ms. Gatheru, 20 years old, is among 32 people from across the US who were elected to the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2020 to continue their master's studies at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, according to Uconn Today.
Gatheru, alias Wawa, is a senior majoring in environmental studies with minors in global studies and urban and community studies.
“As I reflect on my journey, it is extremely clear to me that my accomplishments – my story – is not my own,” Gatheru said Sunday.
“I stand on the sturdy shoulders of the many people that have supported me along the way. My family, my mentors, and friends. The Rhodes application is particularly strenuous, with a total of eight letters of recommendation required. So I quite literally would have not been in this position if I didn’t have professors and mentors who believed in me. And I am so thankful for them.”
The Rhodes Scholar program, which is among the world’s most selective academic programs, boasts presidents, ambassadors, business leaders, and many other prominent Americans among its alumni.
Gatheru was a 2019 Truman Scholar and a 2019 Udall Scholar, the first student in the history of the University of Connecticut to win the two famous honors in the same year. During her time as a UConn student, she received several other plaudits including the McCullough Leadership award, the University’s highest student leadership award.
“Wawa is a rare talent who in her three years at UConn has built a legacy that will endure long after she has graduated,” UConn President Thomas C. Katsouleas said.
“She has demonstrated not only a superior intellect but a depth of character and unbridled energy that compels her to take action. In addition to being academically gifted, she has played a leading role on critical issues, including environmental sustainability, the inclusiveness of our environment, and food insecurity on our campuses and in our state.
“We are incredibly happy for her and so proud that she is a Husky!”
At Oxford, Gatheru plans to pursue dual postgraduate degrees in Nature, Society, and Environmental Governance and Evidence-based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation.
Gatheru and her group were selected from a pool of 963 applicants nominated by their colleges and universities. Rhodes applicants are selected based on academic excellence and ambition to make a strong difference in the world, among others.
Gatheru, who is also a singer, is the daughter of two Kenyan immigrants and grew up in Pomfret, Connecticut.