Nashville, Tenn.: When Rachel Woodlee, a senior at United Methodist-affiliated Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., heard she was selected as one of 32 Rhodes Scholars in November, she called her parents to share the news.
"My mom was crying, which made me cry. They were tears of joy, of course," she laughed.
Woodlee competed against nearly 200 finalists from a pool of 838 applicants from 302 American colleges and universities for the oldest international fellowship in the world.
The distinction provides her with a two-year scholarship to the University of Oxford in England, where she will have the opportunity to earn two Master's degrees.
The prestigious title is one that places Woodlee's name in history alongside a list of recipients that includes senators, Supreme Court justices, diplomats, journalists, Olympians, Nobel Prize recipients, a U.S. President (Bill Clinton) and more.
The Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer. Rhodes Scholars are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but for their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential leadership in their chosen career fields.
Dr. Ron Robinson, chaplain at Wofford College, said, "Rachel's story is one that all United Methodist colleges can celebrate. When you look at the 32 names this year, many are from Ivy League schools. A dozen or so are from Harvard and Yale. Wofford has had three finalists in the past two years. That speaks to our academic reputation."
In just the past decade, United Methodist-affiliated colleges have produced 17 Rhodes Scholars.
As a high school student, Woodlee's academic and athletic achievements could have easily led her down an Ivy-covered path. Instead, she says Wofford was her first choice, and ultimately, the only school to which she formally applied.
"Wofford has such a family atmosphere," said the business economics and Chinese major who is also a member of the college's volleyball team. "Academic and athletic goals are important, but the college process is so much about the environment and the people you meet. It's important to pick the one that fulfills every facet of your life."
For Woodlee, a United Methodist, faith is one of those facets. She credits it as an influential part of her academic career.
"My home church, Advent United Methodist Church, has really shaped me as a person," she said. "My faith just gives me confidence because I know I was created to be able to learn and to communicate with people."
Fluent in Mandarin, Woodlee plans to work on improving relations between the U.S. and China when she graduates.
"I'm not a megalomaniac," she says with a laugh. "I don't think I can change everything on my own, but I'm hoping through work in international law or business or even policymaking, I can help create a better understanding between the countries for the benefit of everyone."
Woodlee is the sixth Rhodes Scholar to graduate from Wofford College.