Born and raised in the Englewood section of Chicago’s South Side, Rhiana Gunn-Wright graduated at the top of her class at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, and graduated magna cum laude from Yale University.

And yet, she was still unsure of her qualifications when she applied for a Rhodes Scholarship earlier this year.

But those doubts were put to rest on Sunday, when she was named one of only 32 Americans chosen to become Rhodes Scholars.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

“I had serious doubts about even applying because I didn’t see people who reflected my experience, the places I had come from, the things that I am interested in pursuing,” said Gunn-Wright, who grew up in Englewood.

“My mom wasn’t a lawyer or a doctor. My parents aren’t professional. My great-grandmother was a laundress in Mississippi. I actually struggled to apply because I was like, people like me don’t win awards like this,” she said.

Though from humble beginnings, Gunn-Wright insists that she came from a loving community, and was blessed with a mother who always urged her to “know the world was much bigger than what I saw around my house.”

Her research will center around welfare policies both here and abroad.

““I want to help make the policy more humane. People aren’t just poor because they are lazy or shiftless,” she said. “How do we structure programs that respect that poverty is something you can get into for any number of reasons, and most of those reasons aren’t under your control?”


Congratulations, Rhiana! Best of luck at Oxford.

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