Stanford's newly minted Rhodes Scholars shaped by their own personal narratives

Stanford students who will begin their studies in England next fall include a master's candidate who hopes to become a writer focused on social issues, and a senior who hopes to better understand attitudes toward mental illness and human vulnerability.

At her Rhodes Scholarship interview last weekend, Rachel Kolb, '12, let a sign interpreter's hands help her speak about her commitment to exploring issues of access, equality and difference, and the nature of communication itself.

For Margaret C. Hayden, a Stanford senior, the interview was a chance to talk about her quest to better understand mental illness.

Kolb, who is currently pursuing a master's degree in English at Stanford, and Hayden, a member of the undergraduate class of 2013, will pursue their passions at the University of Oxford next fall.

They are among the 32 newly minted Rhodes Scholars from the United States who will receive full financial support to pursue degrees in England.

The Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world. Scholars are chosen for their outstanding scholarly achievements as well as their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and potential for leadership in whatever careers they choose.

International Rhodes scholars are expected to be announced later this month.

Rachel Kolb portrait

Rachel Kolb

Kolb, 22, of Los Ranchos, N.M., earned a bachelor's degree in English with honors and a minor in human biology in 2012 from Stanford. Currently, she is studying for a master's degree in English at Stanford.

At Oxford, Kolb plans to pursue a master's degree in contemporary literature and a master's degree in comparative social policy.

Kolb, who was elected as a junior to Phi Beta Kappa, wrote an honors thesis titled, "Grains of Truth in the Wildest Fable: Literary Illustrations, Pictorial Representation, and the Project of Fantasy in Jane Eyre."

In her Rhodes Scholarship application, Kolb, who was born with a profound bilateral hearing loss, wrote: "As someone who understands the different forms communication can take, from spoken to sign language, I understand the value of flexibility in transmitting ideas.

"I see well-rounded, effective communication as essential to ideas, creativity and progress. I want to be a writer committed to exploring issues of access, equality and difference, and the nature of communication itself. Our world often does not know how to talk about these things, just as it does not know how to talk about disability, about differing abilities and strengths, distinct personal styles and challenges."

Kolb, who was active with Christian ministries, wrote a weekly opinion column for The Stanford Daily in 2011. She is the managing editor of Leland Quarterly, a campus literary magazine.

She is a member of the on-campus student advocacy group, Power to ACT: Abilities Coming Together, and was one of several students featured in a new video that welcomes students with disabilities to Stanford. The university's Office of Accessible Education released the video last month.

Kolb won several prizes for her writing at Stanford, including the Marie Louise Rosenberg Award for her honors thesis and the 2011 Creative Nonfiction Prize for her essay, "Seeing at the Speed of Sound."

Kolb is co-president of Stanford's equestrian team and represented the university at the 2010 and 2011 Intercollegiate Horse Show Association National Finals.

Margaret Hayden

Margaret Hayden

Hayden, 21, of Brunswick, Maine, is a senior majoring in human biology and is writing an honors thesis in the Program in Ethics in Society, with an emphasis on the art and ethics of patient care. She plans to pursue a master's degree in medical anthropology at Oxford.

Her honors thesis, "The Ethical Implications of Biological Conceptions of Mental Illness and Personhood," explores the consequences of viewing mental illness as solely a matter of the brain.

In her Rhodes Scholarship application, Hayden said that approach to mental illness may alleviate responsibility from patients, but it also introduces troubling implications: What kind of person do you become when your brain is "broken?"

"It is here I envision my intellectual future – working at the interface of medicine, anthropology and ethics," she wrote.

"Anthropology grounds my ethical investigations, because I believe that without the context of the everyday moral experiences of individuals, without attention to emotional, social and political setting, the practice of ethics risks becoming an abstract academic exercise with little relevance to the day-to-day struggles of real people trying to craft lives in this tenuous, unpredictable world. It is these people and their struggles that motivate my own intellectual ambitions."

Hayden is a co-author of "Parents' Perceptions of Benefit of Children's Mental Health Treatment and Continued Use of Services," published Aug. 1, 2012 in Psychiatric Services.

She has conducted research at Stanford's Center for Health Policy. In one study, she analyzed Latina women's perceptions of post-partum depression. In another, she assessed the success of a program to improve outcomes of low-birth-weight infants by analyzing the mothers' use of and attitudes toward a web-based information portal and social network.

Hayden, whose older sister committed suicide after a sudden and severe depression, wrote in her essay that she "could not begin to craft a meaningful life without acknowledging and trying to understand her [sister's] experience." In spring quarter of her freshman year, she enrolled in a class on the anthropology of mental illness. Later, she began pursuing research related to mental Illness.

Since the fall of 2010, Hayden has served as a patient advocate at the Mayview Community Health Center in Palo Alto, Calif. At the clinic, she conducted a research project on available mental health resources for clients. Since the fall of 2011, she has been a clinic coordinator at the center, serving as a liaison among student volunteers, Stanford program staff and clinic staff.

Hayden was a member of Stanford's varsity squash team and its varsity sailing team.

Contact: John Pearson, Bechtel International Center, (650) 725-0889

Kathleen J. Sullivan, Stanford News Service: (650) 724-5708,