DENVER (AP) – A Colorado woman who studies Middle Eastern politics is “still in shock” after being named one of the newest Rhodes Scholars.
Meredith Lukens Wheeler of Fort Collins is a senior at Stanford University in California, majoring in history and political science. She is one of 32 American students awarded the prestigious scholarships announced Sunday that provide all expenses for two or three years of study at Oxford University in England.
Wheeler said in an interview Sunday that she “couldn’t believe it was my name that I was hearing. It was a really surreal moment.”
She plans to pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in modern Middle Eastern studies at Oxford, which she calls “a global hub” for study of the region and where she says she can gain a broader perspective.
She lived in Egypt for 10 months between 2009 and 2010, before the 2011 Arab Spring. She studied comparative democratization, post-coup repression and Islamic party politics after leaving Egypt. She also interviewed activists and leaders in Morocco for three months last year, focusing on Islamic political organizations running on anti-corruption platforms.
Wheeler said she wants to expand her studies beyond North Africa by delving into issues like Turkish politics, the Syrian conflict and Iran.
She’s proficient in Arabic and said the language component of the degree will help her develop research proficiency in Turkish or Farsi.
Wheeler wants to work in academia, doing policy research that informs on democratization and rights issues in the Middle East.
She became interested in the region after hearing “family legends” about her grandfather’s travel experiences and looking at his black-and-white photographs. She said he was a civil engineer for an oil company in Saudi Arabia in 1938 and was stationed as a naval officer in Yemen and Egypt during World War II.
Wheeler was a research assistant at the Hoover Institution and interned in the office of Colorado Sen. Mark Udall.
This year’s Rhodes Scholars were selected from 857 applicants endorsed by 327 colleges and universities.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, the Associated Press reported erroneously the timeline of Wheeler’s studies on Egypt. She conducted her research after she left Egypt, not while she was in the country.
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