University of Wisconsin–Madison senior Alexis Brown is one of an elite group of American students to be awarded a 2012 Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most coveted honors in the world of higher education.
Brown is an English and history double major from Algonquin, Ill. She applied for a Rhodes Scholarship to complete a master of studies in English language and literature. Her work, in the classroom and the community, demonstrates how narrative “helps us to think about the social, the ethical, and the existential,” according to her application materials.
The honor was announced late Saturday by American Rhodes Secretary Elliot Gerson, after Brown completed regional interviews in Chicago. UW–Madison has not had a winner since 2000.
“We congratulate Alexis on winning the most prestigious of all higher education honors,” says Interim Chancellor David Ward. “In her, we see the makings of a gifted scholar who will be an effective voice for the humanities within academia and beyond.”
Brown will be invited to spend two to three years of study at Oxford University in England. The scholarship, valued at approximately $50,000 per year on average, was founded there in 1902 by British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes, and is the oldest international study program in the world.
Brown competed among hundreds of elite applicants from dozens of colleges and universities. Candidates are judged on a proven record of intellectual and academic achievement, integrity of character, interest in and respect for others, leadership ability, and the energy to fully utilize their talents.
Brown hopes to study English literature with professor Laura Marcus, the preeminent scholar on Dorothy Richardson and cinematic modernism.
She was highly recommended in the process. UW–Madison English professor Richard Begam ranks Alexis as the “most promising and talented undergraduate” he’s taught. History professor Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen notes her intellectual range, and ability to move “with ease between a number of interpretive registers: sociological, philosophical, historical, and literary.”
In summer 2011, she served as a teaching assistant with the AmeriCorps Schools of Hope program, helping children from low-income families build their reading and math skills. Since 2009, she’s volunteered at the Bayview International Community Center, where she pioneered a successful creative writing workshop for kids.
She works as a writing fellow (peer tutor), providing feedback on students’ draft papers in writing-intensive courses. She brings her creativity and leadership to two undergraduate journals. She’s served as a poetry reviewer, copy editor and associate editor for The Madison Review, an independent literary arts journal and she is the founder and editor-in-chief for The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism, the first national undergraduate journal of its kind.
UW–Madison had two finalists among 11 interviewing for the scholarship in a district that included Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. There are 16 districts nationally, each of which can name two scholars for a total of 32 per year.
The other UW–Madison finalist was Evan Mast, a senior from Menominee Falls, Wis., majoring in economics and mathematics. The focus of his study is the economic framework of analyzing issues related to urban poverty and the efficacy of anti-poverty policies.
The last UW–Madison student to win was Robert Yablon in 2000, with other recent awardees including former Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce Aaron Olver, a 1996 graduate in economics. In 1994, rural Green Bay native James Wall received the honor. William Cronon, UW–Madison’s Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas Research Professor of History, Geography, and Environmental Studies, also received the scholarship in 1976.
Well-known past Rhodes honorees include President Bill Clinton and UW–Madison graduate and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.