CINCINNATI (AP) — When Ohio's two new Rhodes scholars heard their names called during a live announcement of winners, they looked at each other in disbelief. One of them thought she was hallucinating, the other had to ask: "They called my name, right?"
Courtney Wittekind, of Mason in southwestern Ohio, and Adam Mastroianni, of Monroeville in northern Ohio, are among 32 college students nationwide to win the prestigious scholarships, announced Sunday, and will enter England's Oxford University next October.
"We actually had the same reaction, which was, 'Is this actually happening?'" Wittekind said in an interview from her family's home in Mason.
She, Mastroianni and a handful of other hopefuls learned Saturday whether they'd won or lost after final interviews were held in Indianapolis — a process that Wittekind described as slightly awkward for those who didn't win and surreal for the ones who did.
"The first thing that went through my head was, 'Did I make that up?' Maybe I'm hallucinating or dreaming,'" she said.
Mastroianni said he had to double-check that he had just heard his name.
"They had us sweating in this conference room, all 12 participants together for two and a half hours," he said. "Then the committee walks through the door ... and the chair said my name and Courtney's name, and the air came out of the room."
Wittekind, 23, graduated last year with an anthropology degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She has been working full-time as an intern at the Brookings Institution in Washington on a project involving natural disasters, conflict and the conflict-induced displacement of people.
Wittekind wants to study anthropology at Oxford, focusing on conflict resolution, political transition and how that plays into displacement in Myanmar.
Wittekind said she was inspired to get into the field after living in Thailand in 2009 with a Burmese refugee family who helped incoming refugees navigate their new lives. She said her goal is to give a voice to those refugees.
"There are a lot of people in these communities who are dispossessed or poverty-stricken, but people in these communities have their own solutions and their own ideas about how their suffering can be best relieved, and I think quite often their voices don't get heard," she said.
Wittekind graduated from Mason High School. Her mother is a school nurse and her father owns his own business selling large cutting tools.
Mastroianni, 22, is a senior studying social psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey and said he wants to use his time at Oxford to study evidence-base social intervention, analyzing whether certain well-intended efforts actually have a positive change.
In particular, Mastroianni wants to increase high school students' college preparation — a goal he said was inspired in part by the limited opportunities in his small hometown.
Mastroianni graduated from Monroeville High School. His mother is a school superintendent, and his father is a rural mail carrier.
"I slept worse last night than I did the night before my interview because now I've got to figure out all these logistics," he said with a laugh. "It's all the little details. Where do I get my sheets?"
Mastroianni and Wittekind were selected from 857 applicants endorsed by 327 colleges and universities.
Rhodes scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at Oxford. The value of the scholarships averages about $50,000 a year.
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