Sewanee's Rhodes Scholars

Sewanee and the Rhodes Scholar Tradition

With an undergraduate enrollment of 1,500 students, the University of the South is among the nation’s top institutions in the overall production of Rhodes Scholars. Since 1907, 25 of Sewanee’s graduates have earned the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. That places it among the top 20 schools in terms of total Rhodes Scholar production, and even higher than that when considered on a per capita basis. And it is one of the few schools of its kind with more than 20 Rhodes Scholars – ranking ahead of such elite institutions as Amherst (Mass.) College, Emory (Ga.) University, and Haverford (Pa.) College.

Katharine Wilkinson is the most recent example of this Sewanee tradition. This 2005 graduate of the University was named Sewanee’s 25th Rhodes Scholar. Wilkinson, a religion major from Atlanta, graduated from Sewanee summa cum laude and was valedictorian of her class. She was Sewanee's second student to be named a Rhodes Scholar since 2000. In 2003, Robin Rotman, C'04, of Chicago, who majored in geology with minors in environmental studies and mathematics, was also awarded the prestigious scholarship.

"They say they're investing in people rather than a program," Wilkinson said. "They're looking for candidates who will have an impact throughout the world. It's so flattering."

At the time of her selection, Wilkinson was the fourth Sewanee Rhodes Scholar residing on the campus. She joined Professor of History Brown Patterson, Chaplain Thomas Ward Jr., and Associate Professor of English Jennifer Michael. That presence has helped sustain the school’s Rhodes Scholar success.

“I think it (having three former Rhodes Scholars on campus) does make a difference. Success breeds success,” says Michael, who graduated in 1989 and attended the University of Oxford from 1989-91. “I was previously on the other side of the Rhodes selection process on the state committee. One thing we noticed was that every year, it was harder for students from non-Rhodes colleges to get advice and get a sense of what they needed to do to prepare for that competition. So, in practical terms, it’s good to have people around here who know how to prepare.

“But the fact that we’re Sewanee graduates also helps. This is a place where a number of alumni come back to teach and work in different capacities. If we’re careful about that, it’s a valuable thing because we have an institutional memory and awareness of history. Students value that, and they see themselves as a part of this phrase we use – ‘the never-failing succession.’”

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, candidates must be endorsed by their college or university, and as a representative of one of the states or the District of Columbia. Committees of Selection in each of 16 districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for interview. Applicants are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the Will of Cecil Rhodes.

These criteria are high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor. These basic characteristics are directed at fulfilling Mr. Rhodes’s hopes that the Rhodes Scholars would make an effective and positive contribution throughout the world. As he wrote, Rhodes Scholars should “esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim.”

“Sewanee’s strongest asset is how involved faculty get in the academic lives of the students – both inside and outside of campus,” says Dr. Joel Cunningham, vice chancellor and president at Sewanee. “They’re (the faculty) demanding, supportive, and yet intense mentors. It’s that special nurturing that I believe produces the kind of graduates who are attractive to the Rhodes Scholarship organization.”

Find out more about Rhodes Scholarships here.
Here is a list of Sewanee’s Rhodes Scholars:
Henry Markley Gass
Frank Hoyt Gailor
Carleton Goldstone Bowden
George Malcolm Fooshee
Edgar Elliott Beaty
Clayton Lee Burwell
George Baucum Fulkerson
Thaddeus Goode Holt, Jr.
William Brown Patterson
William Webb White
John Vincent Fleming
Benjamin Bernard Dunlap, Jr.
Joseph Daryl Canfill
Joseph Levering Price
Douglas Duane Paschall
James Robert Sheller
Thomas Reid Ward
Jefferson Allen McMahan
David Michael Lodge
Ramona Loret Doyle
Edward Wrenn Wooten
Jennifer Paine Davis
Anne Katherine Jones
Robin Rotman
Katharine Wilkinson