Q&A: UM college student wins Rhodes

A United Methodist student from a United Methodist-affiliated college is among the 32 students in the U.S. selected for the Rhodes Scholar Class of 2013.

Rachel Woodlee, a Wofford College senior from Greer, S.C., learned in November that she had been selected. She and fellow Wofford student Brian Novak McCracken, a senior from Anderson, S.C., competed as two of the 12 finalists for the scholarship representing District 12 (South Carolina, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri). The entire pool of 830 applicants in the U.S. came from more than 300 American colleges and universities.

Ms. Woodlee is a senior majoring in business economics and Chinese, a volleyball player and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She will attend the University of Oxford in the U.K. She is the sixth Rhodes scholar from Wofford, which is located in Spartanburg, S.C., and one of 17 Rhodes scholars from United Methodist-affiliated colleges and universities in the past decade.

Ms. Woodlee spoke recently with staff writer Mary Jacobs; here are excerpts.

Rachel Woodlee feels her Chinese studies may have helped her stand out as a Rhodes Scholar candidate. PHOTOS COURTESY WOFFORD COLLEGE

What led you to apply for the Rhodes scholarship?

It’s been a goal of mine since high school, but it didn’t ever seem like an attainable reality until it started to get closer to the time [to apply]. A lot of people at Wofford really encouraged me and were amazing resources for me going through the process. So it was really a team effort.

Did the judges give you any feedback or any sense as to why you were chosen?

You know, I’m still not quite sure about that. (Laughs.) Everyone there was so impressive; everyone has the grades. But a couple of the judges said they were so excited to meet me, they enjoyed my personality, so I don’t know, maybe the fact that I have a really dry sense of humor helped me out? I’m not really sure.

I definitely think part of it was related to the projects I’m pursuing with Chinese. I think they thought that was relevant. With my Chinese major here, we have our Chinese language classes but we also take Chinese culture classes and we do different Chinese cultural outreach-type things. This year we’re starting a Chinese news hour where we do a sort of current events presentation on China. I spent one semester of my junior year in Beijing, where I did a Mandarin Chinese language immersion program and studied economics and Chinese literature.

Tell me a little about your Methodist upbringing.

I’m a member of Advent United Methodist Church in Simpsonville, S.C., near Greenville, but I grew up in New Hampshire, lived there until I was 12, where I attended Bow Mills UMC in Bow, N.H. I’ve been so lucky with my church experiences, especially at Advent. It’s a large church but it’s really a family. It shaped me so much and shaped my beliefs and how I look at the world. I can’t compare it with anyone else, really. It’s my big family.

Do you feel that the influence of the United Methodist Church somehow contributed to you getting where you are now?

Absolutely. I think any faith or any religion just helps people define who they are. Being Methodist, I’ve learned that I’m someone who has been so blessed that I have to use those blessings to help others. My church is very focused on missions and I really do carry that with me. I think that’s so important not just for me but for everyone. I have several mission programs through the youth group. Last year I did a Christmas trip where we help people fix up their houses during the winter, and there’s also been food drives, walks for the homeless, outreach activities, that I’ve been able to take part in.

Ms. Woodlee is a scholar-athlete, being a key player on Wofford’s women’s volleyball squad.

What led you to choose Wofford?

I didn’t apply anywhere else. I was looking for a place that was a great mix of academics and athletics, and the atmosphere is so great. It’s a family. We have a great volleyball program here. I’ve been able to play in a lot of great matches and great tournaments. I’ve been a four-year starter on our volleyball team, and I made the all-tournament team and academic all-Southern conference team. So volleyball was one of the things that attracted to me at Wofford and I’ve had a great experience here with the coaching staff.

The fact that it is United Methodist-affiliated is an added bonus, since I was raised in the church and believed in its doctrines. Also, the focus on study abroad was something that really appealed to me. Those were the things that first attracted me and now that I love most about Wofford.

What will you study at Oxford?

I have two years. My first year I know I’ll be doing a master’s degree in modern Chinese studies. I haven’t quite decided what my second masters will be. I’ll decide once I get over there.

mjacobs@umr.org

Mary Jacobs

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