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Five NCAA student-athletes among Rhodes winners

Five NCAA student-athletes are among the 32 Rhodes Scholars selected from the United States for 2013.

The five winners who have participated in NCAA championship sports are Kiley Hunkler, Army women’s lacrosse; Dakota McCoy, Yale women’s track and field; Rachel Woodlee, Wofford women’s volleyball; Katie Whitcomb, Navy women’s track and field; and Geogianna “Annie” Whiteley, Luther women’s tennis.

The Rhodes Scholarships provide awardees with a fully funded opportunity to study at the University of Oxford in England. The awards, among the most prestigious in academia, have a value of about $50,000 per year. The American students will join an international group of scholars selected from 14 other jurisdictions around the world. About 80 scholars are selected each year.

Hunkler, an Army lacrosse captain and battalion commander, will graduate with the highest academic average in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership and is one of a small number of seniors endorsed to attend medical school upon graduation. She will defer medical school to study global health science at Oxford. Hunkler worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center while a student and also worked at several regional hospitals while studying abroad in Ghana.

Yale hurdler and javelin thrower McCoy is an ecology and evolutionary biology major, performing research in ecology, primate cognition and evolutionary biology. A Goldwater Scholar and member of Phi Beta Kappa, McCoy also won Yale’s Frances Gordon Brown Prize for intellectual leadership and service. In her spare time, McCoy volunteers for the Special Olympics and sings in an a capella group. She plans to perform research in zoology while at Oxford.

Woodlee lived with a family in Tibet and studied in Peru and several regions of China – and is fluent in Mandarin. At Wofford, Woodlee is captain of the volleyball team and majors in business economics and Chinese. She is a junior member of Phi Beta Kappa and plans to study modern Chinese at Oxford.

Whitcomb, brigade character development officer and a Navy track and field standout, will continue her study of China while at Oxford. The Chinese major will graduate in the top 2 percent of her class. Whitcomb co-founded a chapter of Operation Wounded Warrior at Navy and volunteered in the Philippines to assist girls victimized by human trafficking.

Whiteley is a chemistry major and biology minor at Luther, where she plays tennis. Her undergraduate work includes research on Maasai traditional medicine and the distillation of plant oils for that community’s economic development. She also has undertaken research at the Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Iowa. Whiteley is a youth mentor and participates in Habitat for Humanity. She plans to study medical anthropology at Oxford.

Rhodes Scholars are selected in a two-step process that includes nomination by their universities and a detailed finalist interview. In determining the award, the committee considers criteria set out in the will of Cecil Rhodes, including high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor. 

The “physical vigor” component of the award applies to student-athletes who are able to balance the academic demands of the classroom and the physical demands of intercollegiate sport. Among previous NCAA student-athlete Rhodes recipients are Princeton graduate and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, former Florida State football safety Myron Rolle, Southern California graduate and Athletics Director Pat Haden and former associate justice of the Supreme Court Byron White. White won football’s Heisman Trophy at Colorado and also was a recipient of the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award.