Four Yale seniors — three from the United States and one from Canada — have been selected as Rhodes Scholars, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious academic awards for graduate study. The scholarships provide all expenses for two to three years of study at Oxford University.
Liam Elkind of Jonathan Edwards College, Mary Orsak of Pierson College, and Shreeya Singh of Timothy Dwight College are among the 32 Americans chosen as Rhodes Scholars, and Kate Pundyk of Benjamin Franklin College is among the 11 Canadian recipients. The 43 American and Canadian recipients will join an international group of scholars chosen from more than 60 countries. Over 100 scholars will be selected worldwide.
Of the 32 Americans chosen as Rhodes scholars, 22 are female.
Rhodes Scholars are chosen for academic excellence, a commitment to making a positive difference in the world, their concern for the welfare of others, a consciousness of inequities, and for their promise of leadership. For the second year in a row, this year’s scholars were chosen in an entirely virtual process due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 2,300 students — each of whom was endorsed by their colleges or universities — applied for the highly competitive scholarships.
“They are inspiring young leaders already, and we are confident that their contributions to public welfare nationally and globally will expand exponentially over the course of their careers in varied sectors and disciplines,” Elliot F. Gerson, the American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, said of the 32 American winners.
This year’s class of Canadian scholars “reflects the incredible diversity, prodigious talent, and deep humanity that Canada has to offer,” said Richard Pan, the Rhodes Trust’s Canadian secretary.
Biographies of the Rhodes Scholars follow.
Liam Elkind of New York City is majoring in ethics, politics, and economics, as well as global affairs, at Yale. In his senior thesis, he is exploring models of campaign finance reform. He will continue to build on that work at Oxford, where he intends to earn a Master of Philosophy degree in politics (comparative government). At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Elkind co-founded Invisible Hands, a national nonprofit with more than 15,000 volunteers that delivers groceries and prescriptions to at-risk community members. Elkind, who now serves as the organization’s CEO, has received many awards and much national recognition for this work. He is also completing a novel and has been an actor and singer in many Yale theatrical and musical productions.
Mary E. Orsak
Mary Orsak, of Dallas, is majoring in Russian, and will pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in Russian and East European studies at Oxford. At Yale, her senior thesis focuses on Czech and Soviet performance artists in the 1960s and 1970s. She has also completed research on Soviet control of Orthodox icons, Russian hackers, and Václav Havel’s plays. She was the former director of Walden Peer Counseling, which provides anonymous peer guidance to Yale undergraduates, and served on the Yale Police Department’s Advisory Committee on Community Policing. In her hometown of Dallas, Orsak founded and served as president of Story Power, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of young girls through the donation of books written about and by inspiring women. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a Yale junior.
Kate Pundyk, who is from Crowsnest Pass in Alberta, Canada, is pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in political science and technology at Yale. She completed her first two years of undergraduate study at Wellesley College. She studies the role technology plays in international human rights abuses. Pundyk has held numerous research positions, including at the Mass Atrocities in the Digital Era initiative of the Yale Genocide Studies Program; Yale Law School; and the Berkeley Human Rights Center. She has also worked in the MIT Little Devices Lab and the Ryerson Leadership Lab at the Ryerson University in Toronto. Previously, Pundyk worked in the Office of the Premier in Alberta, and she has been active in progressive campaigns across the province. At Yale, she has been editor of the science and technology desk of the Yale Daily News. At Oxford, she will continue working at the intersection of law and technology, pursuing a Master of Science degree in social data science and a Master of Philosophy degree in socio-legal research.
Shreeya Singh, of Pembroke Pines, Florida, is majoring in history at Yale. She is the founder and president of Students Against Hindutva, an inter-university, inter-faith, student coalition focused on changing behaviors in the South Asian diaspora, for which she organized nationwide protests against anti-Muslim policies in India, where she was born. She is the political chair of the South Asian Society and managing editor of the society’s International Relations magazine. Singh is also an accomplished debater, nationally and globally, and has worked in U.S. congressional offices and on a U.S. presidential campaign. Devoted to the causes of political justice and human rights, she will work toward a Master of Philosophy degree in South Asian studies at Oxford.
The Rhodes scholarship was established in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes. To date, 3,578 Americans and more than 1,000 Canadians have won the coveted award.
“I am delighted with the Rhodes news this year and for Shreeya, Liam, Mary, and Kate,” said Rebekah Westphal, director of fellowship programs and assistant dean of Yale College. “All of our finalists were outstanding candidates, and this is the first Canadian Rhodes winner we have had since 2015.
“I also want to recognize the huge amount of support that all candidates receive from faculty, residential college staff, advisers, former scholars, and many others.”