Every year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when everyone in the country is preparing for food and football, the new, highly anticipated and esteemed American Rhodes Scholar class is selected. This year one of Villanova’s own students, senior Jessica Wamala, was elected as the third Villanova student ever to become an American Rhodes Scholar.
The American Rhodes Scholarships are notably one of the oldest and most honored fellowship awards in the world. Each year, only 32 young Americans are selected for the new class through a process representative of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Rhodes Trust provides scholars with full financial support to pursue any degree of choice at the University of Oxford.
“When my name was called first, I wanted to scream,” said Wamala. “But I held it in until I left the room. It is such an honor to be listed among the ranks of change agents like National Security Advisor Susan Rice and President Bill Clinton.”
Rhodes Scholars are not only chosen for their exceptional academic achievements and success, but also for their outstanding character, their commitment to those around them and to the common good and their potentiality as successful leaders in their future career paths. Wamala excels in all of these categories.
Wamala graduated magna cum laude from Villanova’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in May 2013, majoring in political science, Arab and Islamic studies and global interdisciplinary studies. She is currently pursuing a M.A. in political science at the University.
Over the past few years, Wamala has earned multiple awards for her incredible academic and leadership performances, including the Harry S. Truman award and the Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellowship both in 2012.
She was also nominated as a Rangel Scholar and served as a political intern at the United States Embassy Belgrade in Serbia and the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
Beyond the classroom, Wamala is a member of Phi Beta Kappa—the National Honors Fraternity for Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences—and she plays on Villanova’s Division 1 Women’s Basketball team.
Originally a walk-on, Wamala soon earned a scholarship and is now a co-captain of the 2013-2014 women’s team. She has been named to the Big East Conference Academic All-star Team three years in a row for her exemplary work both on the court and in the classroom.
Jane Morris, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowships, says of Wamala, “From the very moment she came here, she has immersed herself in so many things, and she has made an impact wherever she has gone.”
Wamala is going to study Modern Middle Eastern studies at Oxford so as to pursue a career in Foreign Service as a political officer.
“I plan to join the international dialogue between Washington and foreign governments initially as a Foreign Service Officer, advancing in a career that will require difficult decision-making and allow me to work innovatively within a system to produce policy with sustainable effects,” she said.
Her ultimate goal is to one day join the White House as a top Middle East advisor and eventually Secretary of State.
In addition to Wamala’s Rhodes Scholarship, another exceptional University student recently received a similarly distinguished award: Marshall Scholarship recipient, senior Joana Petrescu.
Like the Rhodes Scholarship, the Marshall Scholarship selects up to 40 scholars every year of superior academic excellence and service leadership to study at the graduate level at a United Kingdom institution, particularly in fields of mathematics, sciences and engineering.
Petrescu is triple majoring in biochemistry, French and francophone studies, and Honors. She has committed to many research projects throughout her time at Villanova, including her current position as a research intern in the cancer pathobiology department of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Petrescu also participates in the Presidential Scholarship program as Interview Program co-chair, and she helped conduct a panel discussion at a Healthcare Policy Symposium held at the University last year.
She tutors University students in Villanova’s Learning Support Center and children in an elementary school in Philadelphia, while also being a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta Premedical Honor Society.
Her hard work in her fields of study, her leadership abilities and her service in scientific research and promotion of health and human-wellbeing make her a phenomenal and well-deserved candidate for the Marshall Scholarship.
Petrescu will continue her studies at the University of Cambridge in pursuit of a career as a physician-scientist. She hopes to improve existing cancer treatment options and change how scientists and doctors address the disease.
“Joana is a brilliant researcher,” Morris said. “Both of them are extraordinarily able women. These are leadership scholarships, and they are both leaders. It would be great for the school to have just one of these, but this year we have both. Other schools that have both this year? Berkley, Harvard, Yale.”