Sean Reilly, a 2016 Santa Clara University environmental science and biology major, has been named one of 32 American Rhodes Scholars for 2018.
Reilly joins a long list of successful leaders to win the prize. He is third Santa Clara University grad to win the award in the past eight years and the fourth in SCU history. And he joins luminaries such as former President Bill Clinton and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
A Rhodes Scholarship, one of the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world, provides all expenses for two years of study at England's University of Oxford. Rhodes Scholars are chosen for their scholarly achievements, character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their leadership potential.
"This award is a great honor and a fantastic opportunity," said Reilly, who is currently a Fulbright Scholar working in Australia. "I am excited to continue the work I began at Santa Clara at Oxford and to become a leader in worldwide environmental change grounded in sound scientific fact."
Students from Harvard University, Stanford University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are also among this year's winners, which were announced Nov. 18.
"The Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious honor with worldwide recognition, and we are very proud of our accomplished alumnus Sean," said SCU President Father Michael E. Engh, SJ. "His commitment to sustainability, leadership, and social justice is a true testament to the Jesuit ideals we hold dear."
Reilly's academic career at Santa Clara's College of arts and Sciences was an illustrious one. He received a Fulbright Resaerch grant in 2016 to develop a management plan for the invasive pond apple of Australia, which is simultaneously a food and timber resource as well as a formidable bioinvader wiping out native ecosystems.
A member of the University Honors Program who worked with the Center for Sustainability, Reilly won three SCU Sustainability Champion Awards (one individual and two collaborative); was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior; won the SCU Environmental Science Research Award; and won the Distinguished Researcher Award from the School for Field Studies in 2015.
Reilly also won the Orella Prize in the College of Arts and Sciences for the graduating senior with the top GPA in upper-division 5-unit math, science, or computer science courses.
He also won a Johnson Scholars Research Fellowiship in 2015, supporting a summer research project studying stable isotopes in California rainwater samples. He chaired the Green Club and was the student body representative and a panel moderator during the 2015 University-wide conference on Pope Francis' letter on the environment, Laudato Si.
"Sean's capacity to excel lies not only in his capacity to grasp challenging concepts from the classroom and research literature, but also in his ability to apply those ideas to the world around him," said Hari Mix, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences with whom Reilly conducted research on interactions between atmospheric moisture, dust, and mountains to produce extreme precipitation in California.
Expanding the Impact
At Oxford University, Reilly plans to complete a master's degree in mathematical modelling and scientific computing and in environmental change and governance.
"My ultimate goal is to combine my diverse experiences to help communities address anthropogenic impacts on their ecological surroundings," said Reilly. "My research will require sophisticated modelling to explore questions projecting into the future and on spatial scales too large or complicated to physically sample."
"Sean's self-motivated learning and analytical reasoning abilities are matched by a sincere commitment to inclusive civic action, and a strikingly sophisticated ability to engage social science approaches for addressing pressing problems," said Chris Bacon, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences.
Other Santa Clara University graduates who have won the Rhodes award are Aven Satre-Meloy '13, Noelle Lopez '09, and former FDA head Arthur Hayes '55.
In applying for the Rhodes Scholarship, Reilly was assisted by Santa Clara University's Honors Program and Office of Student Fellowships. The program supports undergraduates and alumni through the highly competitive application process for national scholarships and fellowships.
"Sean embodies the 'three C's' at the core of SCU's mission-competence, conscience, and compassion," said Leilani Miller, director of the University's Honors Program and Office of Student Fellowships. "He has the intellect and research skills to understand problems and find solutions no one else has found, compassion for the animals and people who suffer now and will suffer from climate change, and a conscience that is pushing him to do something about it."
(From Santa Clara University)