IMSA graduate named Rhodes scholar, plans to study poverty
By Jenette Sturges firstname.lastname@example.org November 19, 2012 12:18PM
Updated: March 22, 2013 4:18PM
AURORA — Another graduate of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora has been bestowed the prestigious Rhodes scholarship to pursue her studies at Oxford University in England.
Rhiana Gunn-Wright grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side and has focused her studies on some of the issues that plague that community.
“I just saw how poverty can ravage peoples’ lives,” the 23-year-old said Monday. “That is what motivates me now to do the work I want to do.”
The 2007 IMSA graduate plans to study welfare policy, specifically comparing the policies in place in England and the United States.
Gunn-Wright, whose family now lives in Oak Lawn, is one of 32 people chosen for the latest class of American Rhodes Scholars. The highly competitive scholarship earns the winners two to three years of tuition at Oxford plus a living stipend and travel expenses.
She is the fourth graduate of the Illinois Math and Science Academy to earn a Rhodes scholarship. One 1991 graduate and two members of the school’s inaugural 1989 class earned the scholarship — although one turned it down in favor of the highly coveted Marshall Scholarship, according to IMSA spokesman Brenda Buschbacher.
“The IMSA community is thrilled beyond words and so proud that Rhiana will be joining the ranks of other IMSA alumni who have received this prestigious honor in the past,” said IMSA President Glenn McGee. “Rhianna is an exemplary role model for IMSA students and others who are using their talents and gifts to, in the words of our mission statement, ‘advance the human condition.’”
Gunn-Wright said her experiences in high school influenced her later research. While she was at IMSA, she was a member of Bellas, a group for female minority students; and she participated in Project School Visit, a recruitment program that brings IMSA students to Chicago Public Schools.
“It was really formative and got me interested in working hands-on in trying to overcome the limits that many CPS (Chicago Public School) students felt they faced,” she said.
Gunn-Wright graduated from Yale University in 2011 with magna cum laude honors. She majored in African-American studies and women’s studies.
Currently, Gunn-Wright works at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Her interests focus on the complex causes of inequality, poverty and disadvantage. She researches poverty’s effects on people’s access to a college education and hopes to one day help reform social welfare policy.
Another Chicago-area resident in the new class of Rhodes Scholars is Benjamin B.H. Wilcox of Winnetka, a senior at Harvard University majoring in history with a minor in economics. He’s logged 10,000 miles on cycling trips across North America and Europe.
Gunn-Wright will head to Oxford next fall.
Sun-Times Media writers Jon Seidel and Becky Schlikerman contributed to this story.