BOSTON – A student who was shot four times while promoting democracy in Iraq and a senior who is writing her thesis on vampires and blood contagion in 19th-century literature were among 32 Americans selected Sunday as Rhodes Scholars for 2006.
The scholars, chosen from 903 applicants, will enter Oxford University in England next October. The scholarships fund two or three years of study. About 85 scholars from at least 14 nations are selected each year.
One winner was Scott R. Erwin, a 2005 graduate of the University of Richmond, who founded Ambassadors of Democracy, a civic education initiative at Mustanseriya University in Baghdad. He underwent eight hours of surgery in June 2004 after the car he was riding in was ambushed. Two of his Iraqi friends, both teachers, were killed in the attack.
An investigation found that insurgents targeted his car in an attempt to stop the classes, he said.
"I'm proud to say the attacks did not stop the program from continuing," said Erwin, a 23-year-old native of Weatherby Lake, Mo. "Iraqi students continue to promote democratic ideals to their peers."
Erwin received the Medal for the Defense of Freedom, the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart. He was wounded in both arms and in his stomach but has recovered. He plans to study international relations at Oxford.
Others selected include Alexander K. Dewar, a Wheaton College senior who built a preschool for children of Ugandan farmers, and Rahul Satija, a Duke University senior who studies the smallpox virus while also teaching violin to inner-city children.
The U.S. Naval Academy had the most students selected with four — the most in one year in that school's history, said a spokesman, Cmdr. Rod Gibbons. Duke, Yale University and the University of Chicago each had three winners.
One of the Naval Academy selections is Paul J. Angelo, 21, who has held two of the highest leadership positions at the military school. A native of Columbia Station, Ohio, Angelo started a program in Annapolis, Md., that pairs midshipmen with Spanish-speaking elementary students for after-school tutoring.
Angelo said he was speechless when he learned he had won.
"It didn't even sink in for probably 10 to 20 seconds," he said.
Garrett W. Johnson, a graduate student at Florida State University and aide to Gov. Jeb Bush, plans to pursue a master's in development studies at Oxford to further his career in poverty relief. He has volunteered for the Haiti Hope Foundation distributing food and medical supplies, overcame life-treatening blood clots and holds the university's records in the shot put.
Samsher Gill, 22, graduated from the University of Chicago this year. The Edina, Minn., native works at Media Matters in Washington, D.C., where his research job involves fact-checking FOX News' "The O'Reilly Factor."
Gill said he feels a sense of responsibility as a Rhodes Scholar.
"It's an award for prior accomplishments, but it's really a beginning," he said. "Thinking about what it will mean to create a better world, that's part of what being at Oxford is about."
Lakshmi Krishnan, of Sugar Land, Texas, attends Wake Forest University and is writing her senior thesis on vampires and blood contagion in 19th-century literature. She plans to major in English at Oxford.
Her career goals don't involve vampires: "I would love to work as a physician studying medical issues in the developing world," she said.
Xuan Trang Thi Ho is Nebraska Wesleyan University's first winner since 1913. Gettysburg College has its first winner, Luke P. Norris, since 1917, according to the Rhodes Trust.
The Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist and diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.
Past Rhodes Scholars include President Bill Clinton, U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, singer Kris Kristofferson, former presidential candidates Bill Bradley and Wesley Clark, and James William Fulbright, creator of the Fulbright Scholarships.