Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru, a senior majoring in environmental studies with minors in global studies and urban and community studies, is among 32 people in America elected to the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2020 to continue postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford in England.
Wanjiku becomes University of Connecticut’s first Rhodes Scholar. At Uconn, she serves as the vice president of the undergraduate student government.
The highly prestigious Rhodes Scholarship program counts presidents, ambassadors, business leaders, and tens of prominent Americans among its alumni, and is among the world’s most selective and highly sought academic programs.
According to Uconn Today, Wanjiku’s academic and service endeavors had been widely recognized before the Rhodes Scholar announcement. She was a 2019 Truman Scholar and a 2019 Udall Scholar, the first student in UConn’s history to win those illustrious honors in the same year. She has also received several other prominent plaudits during her time as a UConn student, including the McCullough Leadership award, the University’s highest student leadership award.
Wanjiku co-founded the UConn Access for Food Effort, which is helping to create Connecticut’s first food security assessment of a public college or university. The organization’s research has been referenced in the creation of both state and federal laws, according to UConn.
At Oxford, Wanjiku plans to pursue dual master’s degrees in Nature, Society, and Environmental Governance and Evidence-based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation. While there, she wants to research overlooked barriers that prevent people of color from participating in the environmental field.
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Wanjiku is the daughter of two Kenyan immigrants and grew up in Pomfret before spending a year in Thailand as a Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Scholar of the U.S. State Department. The experience she gained there before entering UConn, anchored her commitment to culturally competent conservation.
The Rhodes Trust pays all college and university fees, provides a stipend to cover necessary expenses while in residence in Oxford as well as during vacations, and transportation to and from England, according to the Trust’s announcement. The total value of the Scholarship averages approximately $70,000 per year in U.S. dollars, and up to as much as approximately $250,000 for Scholars who remain at Oxford for four years in certain departments.
On her Facebook Page, a delighted Wanjiku shared the following message:
“Who would have thought – a 5’2, Black as hell, Kenyan-American would be a RHODES scholar.
That said, it is important for me to say that this accomplishment is so much more than me. I am the product of love, sacrifice, and generational prayer. So many people have invested time and energy into me and my crazy dream to make this broken world a more just and equitable place. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey. My family, friends, professors, and mentors who have seen me at my lowest lows and highest highs. The full picture of how today has come about.
That’s all I have at the moment. Your girl is going to Oxford!!!”
Last year, Kenya’s Fridah Mokaya became the first black female to attain PhD in Nuclear Physics from the University of Connecticut