Six Harvard students are among the 32 American men and women chosen as Rhodes Scholars. They include (top row, from left) Aidan C. de B. Daly, Julian B. Gewirtz, Allan J. Hsiao, (second row, from left) Benjamin B.H. Wilcox, Nina M. Yancy, and and Phillip Z. Yao, all members of the Class of 2013.

Photos by (top row, from left) Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer, Hana Bajramovic, Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer, (bottom row, from left) courtesy of Benjamin Wilcox, Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Six from Harvard win Rhodes

9 min read

Through awards, they will head to Oxford for graduate studies

The six Harvard seniors study widely diverse fields, including computer science, Chinese studies, human migration, economic development, global health science, and math and science education. What they have in common is that they’re all incoming Rhodes Scholars.

They were named Sunday as recipients of the prestigious academic awards, among only 32 scholars selected nationally. Aidan C. de B. Daly, Julian B. Gewirtz, Allan J. Hsiao, Benjamin B.H. Wilcox, Nina M. Yancy, and Phillip Z. Yao, all members of the Class of 2013, will receive scholarships that cover the cost of two or three years’ study at the University of Oxford.

True local bragging rights, however, may belong to Harvard’s Quincy House, and more specifically to its sixth floor. Four of the six — Daly, Gewirtz, Wilcox, and Yancy — reside on that floor. Wilcox and Gewirtz are even roommates.

Here are short profiles of the scholars.

Aidan C. de B. Daly

For Daly, a concentrator in computer science with a secondary concentration in molecular and cellular biology, becoming a Rhodes Scholar opens a world of opportunities at the crossroads of his fields.

“I’m interested in applying computational techniques to problems in the natural sciences,” said Daly, who plans to pursue Oxford’s two-year master’s through research program to explore new areas involving his disciplines. “The U.K. is a particularly auspicious location to study biological problems, being the site of the two largest revolutions in biology: the Darwinian, and the DNA. I believe computational biology is the next revolution. Oxford’s partnership with Microsoft for their 2020 Science Program, among other things, reveals a similar belief and makes it a particularly attractive place to study.”

Daly said his time at Harvard, particularly in the computer science department, deepened his interest in research and helped him to define a love of interdisciplinary science. A member of Harvard’s crew and kendo martial arts teams since his freshman year, Daly is now the team captain of the Harvard-Radcliffe Kendo Club.

“Not only have I had the chance to take wonderful and eye-opening classes, but I have had the chance to take part in a large-scale research project in clean energy these past two years spanning the chemistry and computer science departments,” Daly said. “I also discovered kendo my first year at Harvard, and my participation and eventual leadership of that club has been a wonderful experience, improving me physically and mentally.”

Julian B. Gewirtz

Gewirtz is a concentrator in history with a secondary field in English. Fluent in Mandarin, Gewirtz wrote his senior thesis on the influence of Western economists on Chinese reform. He writes for the Huffington Post on China-related topics and was the publisher of the Harvard Advocate last year.

“Oxford has extraordinary faculty and resources for the study of China, and China is so important for the future,” Gewirtz said. “Its re-emergence and modernization is really a world-historic event. I want to learn more and be writing about this, and I also hope eventually to become a participant in the development of U.S.-China relations.”

Gewirtz plans to use the scholarship to continue his studies on China at Oxford, reading for the master of studies in global and imperial history during the first year, and for the interdisciplinary master of science in modern Chinese studies in his second year.

“It’s been an incredibly exciting 24 hours,” Gewirtz said. “The Rhodes has such an amazing tradition, and I am incredibly grateful to the mentors and friends who supported me through this process, and during my whole time at Harvard. My teachers here have made a tremendous difference to my growth and development.”

Allan J. Hsiao

An Adams House resident and economics concentrator, Hsiao plans to use the scholarship to continue his studies of human migration in the context of the developing world. He will pursue two one-year degrees at Oxford: a master of Chinese studies, followed by a master of science in migration studies.

“Oxford is at the forefront of research on human migration and poverty,” said Hsiao. “Having access to those scholars will certainly shape how I think about the field. My senior thesis is an economic analysis of issues related to the migrant labor population in China, a population made up of over 200 million people. I’ve also conducted fieldwork consisting of interviews with migrant laborers in southern China. And hearing their stories of both struggle and success in the cities has helped me to better understand the situation beyond the data.”

Intrigued by what motivates people to migrate, and what they leave behind, Hsiao has studied Chinese, French, Korean, Arabic, and Haitian Creole, spending one summer studying abroad in Korea and another in China.

“While I find the languages themselves to be fascinating, I’m also driven by the possibilities they open up,” Hsiao said, “particularly for speaking to people about their lives and their stories.”

Benjamin B.H. Wilcox

Wilcox, a concentrator in history, plans to use his scholarship to continue to study political theory and development economics at Oxford.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity to try and answer the same questions I’ve been wrestling with at Harvard, exploring how democracy and development go hand in hand,” Wilcox said. “My work centers on the idea that those two things can, and must, go together.”

A passionate cyclist, Wilcox biked across the United States during the summer of 2009, and followed up with a trip from Norway to Italy the next summer.

“One thing that unifies everything I do is that I try to see the world from different perspectives,” he said. “There are many, many valid outlooks, and there is not one development solution. When we go to other parts of the world and try to help, it’s important to first find out what is needed, and what is wanted, from the people in those regions.”

Wilcox said the scholarship was the result of a strong team effort. “Being a Rhodes Scholar never would have been possible without a huge team of supportive faculty and advisers here at Harvard,” he said. “I have benefited from many, many professors who have gone out of their way to help me through this process, and over the past four years at Harvard.”

Nina M. Yancy

Social studies concentrator Yancy, a member of the Harvard Ballet Company and choreographer for the Harvard Expressions Dance Company, said being named a Rhodes Scholar had expanded her goals exponentially.

“I feel like the trajectory of my life has drastically changed in just one weekend,” Yancy said. “This will be a broadening experience in every sense. … Being a Rhodes Scholar puts you in touch with people from all over the world of incredibly high caliber, and I hope to look at my research on a global scale, which will give me a new and wider perspective.”

Yancy, who has interned in the British House of Commons, for CNN, and for the Center of American Political Studies, plans to use her scholarship to complete a master of science in global health science at Oxford, followed by a master of science in comparative social policy.

“Being at Harvard has been both instrumental and transformational,” she said. “When I came to Harvard, I had no idea how it would shape me: what kind of person I was going to be, or how it was going to change me. I think it will be the same with Oxford. It’s going to be a wild and wonderful ride. I have no idea where it’s going to lead, but I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Phillip Z. Yao

Winthrop House resident Phillip Yao, a concentrator in physics with a secondary concentration in philosophy, is passionate about the intersection of education and technology. He plans to use the Rhodes scholarship to complete a master of science in education in learning and technology.

“I’m fascinated by how we can integrate new technology meaningfully into the classroom in math and science education,” Yao said. “Working with the learning and new technologies research group will not only expand my idea of what’s possible in the classroom, but sharpen my approach to educational analysis. And being part of the community of Rhodes Scholars will also give me direct contact with extraordinary people who have really committed themselves to addressing some of the important issues of our time.”

Previously chair of education policy of the Harvard Undergraduate Council and teacher for New York City’s Prep for Prep program, Yao founded a virtual library for more than a million students in India with Pratham, the largest educational NGO in the world, under a summer fellowship.

“Coming into Harvard, you worry a lot about academic and social life,” said Yao. “But over the years, through conversations in classrooms and common rooms, my focus has shifted more and more to the problems in the world around us. Leaving Harvard, I sense my own dedication to improving education much more strongly than I did when I entered Harvard. It’s been home to me for a lot of great memories in the past few years, and I’ll definitely miss it when I’m in Oxford next year.”

Arguably the most famous academic award available to American college students and graduates, Rhodes Scholarships every year attract hundreds of top students. The 2013 American Rhodes Scholars faced competition from 838 students nominated by 302 colleges and universities nationwide. This year’s awards bring the ranks of Harvard’s Rhodes Scholars to 342.

The scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential, and physical vigor, among other attributes.