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Villanova University’s Jessica Wamala Wins Prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

The third Rhodes Scholar in Villanova history, Jessica Wamala will study at Oxford University beginning in fall 2014

Jessica Wamala

VILLANOVA, Pa., Nov. 25, 2013 – Elliot F. Gerson, American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, on Saturday announced the names of the 32 American men and women chosen as Rhodes Scholars representing the United States. Jessica Wamala (Milford, N.H.) became the third Villanova University student-athlete in the institution’s history to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Nnenna Lynch ’93 and Becky Spies ’95 – each a former Academic All-American and track and field/cross country standout at Villanova – earned Rhodes Scholarships in 1992 and 1994, respectively. 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.

Wamala graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in May 2013, with majors in political science, Arab and Islamic studies, and global interdisciplinary studies. She is now pursuing a M.A. in political science at Villanova.

Committed to addressing social issues, Wamala has learned first-hand about diplomacy as a Rangel Scholar and political intern at the US Embassy Belgrade in Serbia and at the State Department Office’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. She has received numerous awards for her scholarship and leadership including the 2012 Harry S. Truman Scholarship and the Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellowship, and she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa – the National Honors Fraternity for Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Wamala has also done extensive volunteer work with Philadelphia’s homeless. She plans to do the M.Phil. in modern middle eastern studies at Oxford, in preparation for a career in the Foreign Service as a political officer.

“The Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious honor recognized world-wide, and we are proud of all that Jessica [Wamala] has accomplished in becoming Villanova’s third Rhodes Scholar,” said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, Villanova University President. “Beyond her many academic accolades, Jessica possesses tremendous leadership and a commitment to creating positive social change in the world around her. She personifies the values of a Villanova education and we are excited to see what the future holds for her.”

Outside of the classroom, Wamala is a member of Villanova’s Division I Women’s Basketball program. A former walk-on player who earned a scholarship, she serves as co-captain of the 2013-14 Villanova team. Wamala has been named a Big East Conference Academic All-Star for three consecutive seasons.

“There is no one more deserving of this prestigious honor than Jessica Wamala,” said Villanova head women’s basketball coach Harry Perretta. “Jess is a student-athlete in every sense of the word. Her hard work and attention to detail with her studies is second to none. From a basketball standpoint, the leadership skills and intangibles that Jess brings to the team are invaluable. We are all very excited and truly happy for her.”  

The Rhodes Scholarship and other nationally competitive scholarship competitions are administered at Villanova University through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. The Center also administers the Presidential Scholarship Program and maintains an ever-growing list of scholarships, fellowships, research grants, and internship opportunities for students to investigate.

"Jessica Wamala has been a force of nature at Villanova from the moment she arrived on campus as a Presidential Scholar," said Jane Morris, Director of the University’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. "In all that she does, Jess invests herself fully. She leads with grace, intelligence, and fortitude as she actively pursues a just and peaceful world. She will be an amazing representative of Villanova and the US as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and I have no doubt that she will one day be the Secretary of State."

The Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the Will of Cecil Rhodes, British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer, and are provided in partnership with the Second Century Founder, John McCall MacBain and other generous benefactors. The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904; the newest recipients elected will enter Oxford in October 2014. Mr. Gerson called the Rhodes Scholarships, "the oldest and best known award for international study, and arguably the most famous academic award available to American college graduates."

The 32 Rhodes Scholars chosen from the U.S. will join an international group of Scholars chosen from 14 other jurisdictions around the world. In addition to the 32 Americans, Scholars are also selected from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, the nations of the Commonwealth Caribbean, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, Southern Africa (South Africa, plus Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland), Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Approximately 80 Scholars are selected worldwide each year, usually including several who have attended American colleges and universities but who are not U.S. citizens and who have applied through their home country.

With the most recent elections announced, 3,324 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 316 colleges and universities. Since 1976, women have been eligible to apply and 487 American women have now won the coveted scholarship. Over 1,900 American Rhodes Scholars are living in all parts of the U.S. and abroad. Click here for more information on the Rhodes Scholarships.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, applicants must be endorsed by their college or university. This year approximately 1750 students sought their institution’s endorsement; 857 were endorsed by 327 different colleges and universities. Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for interview.

"Applicants are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the Will of Cecil Rhodes,” Gerson said. “These criteria are high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor. These basic characteristics are directed at fulfilling Mr. Rhodes’s hopes that the Rhodes Scholars would make an important and positive contribution throughout the world. In Rhodes’ words, his Scholars should 'esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim.'"

Applicants in the United States may apply either through the state where they are legally resident or where they have attended college for at least two years. The district committees met separately, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23 in cities across the country. Each district committee made a final selection of two Rhodes Scholars from the candidates of the state or states within the district. Two-hundred eight applicants from 91 different colleges and universities reached the final stage of the competition. 

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others.  There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.