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CMC student earns 2022 Rhodes Scholarship-podcast

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Across the United States last week, thousands of stories were shared at the Thanksgiving table. And Claremont McKenna College senior, Sarah Chen was the talk of her family’s Thanksgiving as her mother, father and younger brother told guests about how the Alaskan native earned the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, one of, if not the most competitive scholarships in the world.

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For those able to obtain one, the Rhodes Scholarship provides “all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford,” in England, according to the Rhodes Trust.

Though Chen was not at her Anchorage, Alaska home last Thursday to deliver the news herself, she recalled that special weekend while on the CMC campus. Chen, who is a dual major in philosophy, politics, and economics and international relations, applied for the Rhodes Scholarship back in the summer when the application opened, competing with over 2,300 students from colleges and universities across the globe.

While news from the Rhodes Trust broke worldwide on Sunday, November 21, about the 32 Americans selected to receive this year’s award, Chen said she and others officially became Rhodes Scholars during a very important Zoom session on Saturday, November 20.

“So, we interviewed [with Rhodes officials] Friday and Saturday. And then on Saturday they bring us all back into the Zoom room and we literally just sit there and hang out with each other as the judges deliberate[d],” Chen said. “Then after a couple of hours, the judges come back and they announce it to the Zoom room and that’s when it’s real.”

She remembers taking the hours-long Zoom call inside her CMC dorm room that weekend. Whether it was being away from her family, the geography or her audio quality, for some reason she said the news did not register immediately when her name was read aloud by the Rhodes Trustees.

Her first call was to Brian Davidson, who serves as director of fellowship advising for the college and helped Chen during the application process.

“When we ended the Zoom call, I called Brian [Davidson] right away. I was like, ‘Brian, I think they called my name but I am not entirely sure,’” she recounted. “And it wasn’t until people started texting me congratulations I was like, ‘oh no! I actually got this!’

“I called my parents right after that because I wanted to make sure it was real first … They were shocked because it was just such a long shot but overall [they’re] really happy, just texting me also when their friends text them about it,” she continued.

Davidson, who is a 2008 CMC alumnus, spoke last Wednesday about Chen’s accomplishment and said he couldn’t imagine himself going through the same intense application process. He also said Chen’s selection as a Rhodes Scholar “is incredibly important” for CMC.

“I mean it solidifies, I think, how far CMC has come in the last quarter century,” he said. “The Rhodes Scholarships tend to be dominated by Ivy League schools and so for a small liberal arts college to get one is always kind of a big deal. It puts us on the map even more than we already were.”

Chen is the first CMC student to become a Rhodes Scholar since Ryan Iwasaka won in 1994 and just the third since Paul Schulz in earned one in 1985. She is also the only student from a Southern California college or university to be named for the award this year, and is the 18th person from Alaska to earn a Rhodes Scholarship, the most recent being Wilfred Zibell in 2020.

But what Chen said she’s most proud of is becoming the first woman from CMC to earn the scholarship. “I’m really proud of [that] and I hope that a lot more people will get in after me,” she said. “Obviously I can’t say I did it all by myself, I’m definitely a product of CMC.”

She not only thanked CMC and her family for pushing her to this point all these years, but also gave a special thanks to one of her first-year professors, Jennifer Taw.

Chen’s resume features numerous titles and extracurricular activities including her current internship at the U.S. Army Cyber Command, having served as president of CMC’s International Relations Society, co-led the Asian Pacific American Student Association, and beginning the Women in Wargaming network.

Chen is modest about her achievements and said becoming a Rhodes Scholar was not actually the hardest thing she’s ever had to do. Although it took some coaxing, Chen eventually laughed and admitted she has been strong academically since her time at West Anchorage High School.

“[The application process] is rigorous obviously, but I think it’s more just — the [last] four [years] and if you count my high school, you know eight years of work that it took to get to that point. It was actually really rewarding to see the culmination of all my efforts.”

While the Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious award and addition to Chen’s CV, she never envisioned herself going after such a title, and she’s not sure how the award will affect her employment options later on. However, she is certain about two things: her excitement about going to Oxford University in England next fall, and that more bonds she’ll build between past and future Rhodes Scholars.

“I’m just really excited to get to know the people at the Oxford Internet Institute,” she said.

In Oxford next year — where hopefully the news fully sinks in for her by then she said —Chen plans to continue studying the emerging field of strategic wargaming.

Chen explained she found strategic wargaming to be a ‘viable career-path’ when she was working through the Virtual Student Federal Service for the office of the director of U.S. National Intelligence during her sophomore year at CMC. With her graduate education at Oxford, Chen hopes to not only come up with solutions to big world problems, but also destigmatize the connotations around wargaming.

“I think wargaming itself is very, very complicated, no one actually agrees on what it is in general. It’s simulations of conflict, but sometimes you also build simulations of peace which I think is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about it,” she said.

 

 

 

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