On Saturday, November 23, Nina Acharya ’19 was finishing up a Secret Santa gift exchange with her sister and childhood friends when she got a phone call. She had interviewed for the Rhodes Scholarship earlier that day, and was told to expect a call that evening.
That call came with good news: she had just been accepted into the scholarship, becoming one of only 11 Canadian students to claim the prestigious award — whose previous winners have ranged from former President Bill Clinton to current candidate Pete Buttigieg.
Widely considered one of the most prestigious honors a student can earn, the Rhodes Scholarship is a postgraduate scholarship that provides students the ability to study at the University of Oxford without paying tuition fees and receive an annual stipend of £13,000. The Scholarship bears the name of British businessman and politician Cecil John Rhodes, who founded the award over a hundred years ago in the hopes of bringing English-speaking nations closer together.
Now one of 95 newly minted Rhodes Scholars worldwide, Acharya, currently a first-year medical student McMaster University’s medical school, plans on attending Oxford next fall.
“One thing about the Rhodes that excites me is the idea that the scholars are supposed to learn from each other as much as they learn from their degrees,” Acharya said. “I am looking forward to meeting the other scholars and participate in this sort of exchange of ideas and knowledge.”
While abroad, she aims to study children’s nutrition, researching how the varying development of international countries affects health among vulnerable communities. That goal marks a continuation of Acharya’s time at Cornell, where her undergraduate honor’s thesis focused on how the lack of vitamin D affects the sun-deprived Inuit people.
“She is just simply an excellent student. She is sweet she laughs easily, you can see her kind heart clearly,” said Prof. Pilar Parra, nutritional sciences, Acharya’s faculty advisor. “She was assigned to me due to her HBHS major. The first thing you notice is that she is very organized and she can manage her stress easily.”
The Rhodes selection process stresses “instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one’s fellow beings” just as much as scholastic achievement, and Acharya has had a key role in a wide variety of organizations.
While a student at Cornell, Acharya co-founded the Canadian Science Fair Journey, which attempts to introduce up and coming college students to scientific journals. She also served as performance director and co-president of the Sitara Bollywood Fusion Dance Team.
“A big passion of mine is dance, and it has always been a significant part of my life,” Acharya said. “It took up a lot of time, but is one of the things I was most proud of during university.”
She was also involved in Best Buddies International and Dance Ability Movement, which support people with disabilities.
After graduating from Cornell, Acharya received the inspiration to pursue the Rhodes Scholarship after working at the Canadian government on formulating international nutrition assistance policy.
“I genuinely thought I had no chance, but, similar to when I was applying to Cornell, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try,” Acharya said.
Pressing future students who might be interested in the Scholarship not to harbor self-doubt, Acharya said, “if when the time comes you are still interested, talk to the fellowships office and put in an application. You will never know if you don’t try!”