Triple Crown - Truman, Fulbright, Rhodes

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March 2, 2016

By Mike Killeen for the College of Saint Benedict Winter 2016 Magazine

Rachel Mullin was sweating bullets.
During her interview to determine if she would earn a 2016 Rhodes Scholarship, the 2014 College of Saint Benedict graduate was "intimidated" to find out that Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia and a Rhodes Scholar, was on the panel.

Worse, he was asking her questions. Really tough questions.

"He (McFaul) pushed me throughout the interview about my experiences in Bosnia and on what U.S. policy to Syria should be," says Rachel.

"I was originally very intimidated when I found out he was the (former) ambassador," she continues. "But as the questions went on, I found myself greatly enjoying the exchange and learning some new insights from it." Mullin says.

Rachel MullinIn the long run, it worked out just fine. Rachel was named a 2016 Rhodes Scholar on Saturday, Nov. 21. She was one of two students selected at the District 13 competition representing seven states in Salt Lake City, and was the only 2016 Rhodes Scholar selected from a Minnesota college or university. She also was the only person selected from her home state of South Dakota.

Each year, 32 Americans are among more than 80 Rhodes Scholars worldwide who take up degree courses at Oxford University. The first American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904, and scholars typically receive a two-year scholarship.

Rachel is the second CSB graduate to receive the award. Laura McGrane, a 1991 graduate of CSB, earned a Rhodes Scholarship in 1992.

This was the third major academic honor Rachel has received. She earned a Truman Scholarship as a junior, and a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award as a senior. (She taught in Malaysia.)

Rachel says initially she really didn't consider trying to earn the Rhodes Scholarship. But she changed her mind after realizing the Rhodes Scholarship would help her accomplish her dreams of working with refugees from around the world.

"It (the award) means that I can pursue the studies that I think are really important to the world today," Rachel says. "There are two master's degrees that I'll pursue. My first master's will be in refugees and forced migration studies, and that's a one-year master's. Then, the second year, I will do international diplomacy and global governance, and that's also a one-year master's."

Her focus on understanding and combating the causes of genocide and forced migration has carried her around the world. She spent a summer in Bosnia-Herzegovina interviewing Bosnians, Serbs and Croats to support two undergraduate theses on the 1990s genocide in Bosnia.

Working with Extending the Link, a CSB/SJU student group that produces documentaries, she visited India in 2013 for the making of "Khulla," which explored comparisons between how mental illness is treated in the U.S. and India. In 2014, she traveled to Thailand to understand the migrant experience of the Karen population.

"I was very impressed with Rachel's focus over the years," says Phil Kronebusch, professor of political science and coordinator of competitive scholarships at CSB and SJU, who helped Rachel earn the Truman, Fulbright and Rhodes awards. "The common thread for many of her activities is her interest in international affairs. She took an International Relations course her first semester here, and was taking a 300-level course in Chinese history by her second semester.

"The Rhodes Scholarship interview is famous for the level at which finalists are challenged," Kronebusch says. "I think Rachel did so well because of the increasing level of confidence she developed through her experiences in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Thailand and writing and defending two senior thesis projects, then teaching English through the Fulbright program in Malaysia.

"After all of that, Rachel could handle any interview," Kronebusch says.

This year, approximately 2,000 students sought their institutions' endorsement, the first step in the application process. A total of 890 were endorsed by 316 different colleges and universities. On Nov. 20-21, 208 applicants representing 93 different colleges and universities gathered for the final stage of the process.

With the selections on Nov. 21, 3,388 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 318 colleges and universities.