RENO — A Smith College senior from Southern Nevada says she feels “overwhelmed” after becoming the first Rhodes Scholar from the United States in the 143-year history of the prestigious women’s school in Northampton, Mass.
Clarke Knight, a 2010 graduate of Green Valley High School in Henderson, was one of 32 Americans named early Sunday as 2014 Rhodes Scholars who will enter Oxford University next October.
The winners were selected from 857 applicants endorsed by 327 colleges and universities. The scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the prestigious university in England.
Knight, a 21-year-old chemistry major, said she wants to deal with climate change as a scientist after attending Oxford. She would like to see “evidence-based” policy on climate change and the U.S. take the lead on addressing the issue, she said.
“I really hope I can continue as a hard scientist who’s committed to policy, and I really hope we can rectify climate change and the problems we’ve caused with the environment,” she said.
“I really want to be a bridge between the two cultures of science and policymakers. They need a translator, and I want to be that person,” she added.
Knight praised her college and high school mentors as well as her parents, Kenneth and Teri Knight, both of whom have Ph.D.s. Her father owns a Las Vegas environmental firm, and her mother is a resource specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I’m just so grateful. I’m stupefied and overwhelmed,” Knight said. “I’m thinking about all the people who helped me get here. … Smith College has changed my life. I had a fabulous public education in Nevada. My parents have always been the No. 1 people behind me.”
After graduating from Smith in May, Knight is seeking to undergo a two-year program at Oxford. She plans to pursue a master of philosophy degree in geography and environment at Oxford.
During one recent summer, she worked with a plant pathologist in Australia to investigate two diseases that were having a significant impact on the global potato crop. The team discovered and marketed a new chemical that neutralized the disease, resulting in an estimated worldwide increase of 1 billion potatoes annually.
She was awarded a fellowship the following summer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the stability of biological samples from people exposed to mercury. The study resulted in a change of collection and storage procedures at the CDC.
At Smith, Knight is a member of the varsity crew and cross-country teams. She also has written a book on women’s contributions to architecture.
“She’s the kind of kid who’s going to make a difference for the world someday,” Kenneth Knight said. “She’s not in it for the money. She’s in it because she loves science and wants to do good work.”
Rhodes 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.
The value of the scholarships averages 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 annually.