Chelsea Hodgkins has done it all as an undergraduate at West Virginia University.
Boren Scholar? Check.
Fulbright Scholar? Check.
Graduating summa cum laude and with an Order of Augusta? Double check.
Now the Sudlersville, Md. native has her eye on the next logical step – the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the oldest, most celebrated fellowships in the world.
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She could become WVU’s first Rhodes Scholar in nearly 20 years. Hodgkins has been invited to interview for the scholarship in late November. Then, 32 students across the country will be chosen to the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2014.
Hodgkins learned the news from afar – in Ghana.
As part of her Fulbright Scholarship, Hodgkins is researching how existing water policy initiatives have improved water access to citizens of peri-urban communities of Kumasi, a city of two million in Ghana.
It’s not her first trip to Ghana, as she’s traveled there quite a few times throughout her college career to conduct research on water security and accessibility.
“I applied for the Rhodes because I want to focus my future career on creating policies and implementing projects that create a more water secure world,” Hodgkins said.
Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. In some instances, funding is provided for four years. The scholarship was created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer.
“Oxford has a fantastic program in Water Policy, Science and Management, which is well aligned with what I want to do,” Hodgkins said.
“I think that my experiences abroad to date, particularly the work I have done in Ghana, strengthened my application. As we face challenges involving global climate change, population growth and resource management, water issues have become increasingly prioritized on agendas of governments and organizations around the world. I believe the Rhodes committee recognizes we need leaders who will make effective and practical policies that challenge the status quo and create a more water secure future for everyone, which is what I propose to do.”
If she makes the cut, Hodgkins hopes to pursue a master of philosophy in geography and the environment at Oxford.
“Chelsea’s focus on improving water quality and access for the people of Ghana speaks volumes about her intellect, character and work ethic,” said WVU President Jim Clements. “I’m so pleased that the Rhodes Selection Committee has recognized her academic achievements and incredible public service. It’s also a great reflection on the faculty and staff here at WVU who have mentored and encouraged Chelsea along her amazing path. I join the University community in congratulating Chelsea and wishing her the very best as she competes for this prestigious scholarship.”
For Hodgkins’ mentors at WVU, her selection as a Rhodes finalist comes as no surprise.
“Chelsea Hodgkins is one of the most driven young women I have ever met, and her commitment to changing our world through research and work in the field of water accessibility is incredibly laudable,” said Amy Cyphert, director of the ASPIRE Office.
“She is already so highly decorated: Fulbright Scholar, Boren Scholar, summa cum laude graduate, and Order of Augusta. But even these accolades do not fully capture how intelligent she is or the depth of her character.”
“Chelsea is a very smart and hardworking student, but she deserves this great honor based on her passion to investigate and resolve problems of clean water availability and security,” Aaslestad said. “She has demonstrated commitment and leadership to this global problem particularly in her fundraising efforts and practical work in rural Ghana.”
Hodgkins’ accomplishments aren’t just beneficial for her; they elevate the image of WVU, say her mentors.
“For WVU, having a Rhodes finalist means national recognition for an institution that deserves it, recognition for hard working students and the faculty that support them,” Aaslestad added. “Our students who focus on academic success can compete with students from any other institution and Chelsea is a role model to be emulated.”
The last Rhodes Scholar from WVU was Carolyn Conner Seepersad, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1996.She is now a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Other Rhodes Scholars from WVU include former President David C. Hardesty Jr., West Virginia State Sen. John Unger and the first woman from the University to be selected for the honor, Barbara Schamberger, an attorney in Clay and former West Virginia secretary of education and the arts.
Last year, about 1,700 students nationwide sought their institution’s endorsement for the Rhodes Scholarship; 838 were endorsed by 302 different colleges and universities. Only 32 are selected annually.
Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process: Candidates must first be endorsed by their college or university. Then, selection committees in 16 U.S. districts invite the strongest applicants to an interview. Applicants are then chosen on criteria such as academic achievement, character and leadership.
According to those who know her, Hodgkins exemplifies these qualities at the highest level.
For the Boren Scholarship, she was abroad in Ghana, where she studied Twi, one of the local languages, and traveled to seven of the 10 regions of the country while completing her undergraduate thesis on household water security.
Also in her travels, Hodgkins helped install a water filtration system for a village of about 500 people. The water treatment center uses alum, a coagulant, to help filter out particles. A main component of installing the treatment center included teaching two women in the village how to treat the water and educating the entire village about the importance of drinking clean water.
And whether or not she’s ultimately selected as a Rhodes Scholar, Hodgkins has big plans.
“In terms of my career goals, I have just three: Use the skills and knowledge that I have acquired and will acquire to create water policies that improve the lives of others, learn from others and to be happy.”
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