Every scholarship seems prestigious and out of reach, but if you can believe it, there is one scholarship that stands out from the rest: the Rhodes Scholarship.
The Rhodes Scholarship offers 32 students from the United States the opportunity to study at Oxford for several years. The competition is brutal, but the reward is high. In the history of Pennsylvania, only two students have been named Rhodes Scholars, but to even consider them is a great honor.
This year, student Laura Guay Selected as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, to confirm Penn State’s place on the map as a respected academic institution. We somehow managed to steal a little Guay’s time to ask about her research, scholarship application process, and more.
Onward State: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up, how did you end up in Pennsylvania, what is your major?
Laura Guay: I’m from State College (I’ve lived here since age 5), and eventually decided to study at Penn State because of my Biobehavioral Health major (which is my major). I was very interested in general health starting later in high school, which is really hard to find as a college student, so when I learned about BBH, I was thrilled! I also specialize in French and Francophone studies and have a minor in Global Health. I knew Penn State had a wide range of study abroad opportunities, which would really allow me to further my French studies, so this was definitely another reason to choose Penn State.
OS: How do you feel about some of your most notable accomplishments from your time in Pennsylvania?
LG: Being fourth in the Emory University Global Health Cases Competition was a truly rewarding experience for me, as it was an opportunity to network with medical students and other graduate students in the Penn State public health space and apply my previous global health education and professional experiences to enlighten work. A fellowship at UNESCO has also been a remarkable achievement for me, once again, because of the relationships I have forged with my colleagues through this experience. Not only do I have the opportunity to connect with other UN agencies and young people from around the world to implement projects in response to COVID-19, but this is also living proof that it is possible to form strong emotional bonds with people in the most remote places!! I will be terminating my post-graduate contract in person at HQ in Paris, and I am frankly more excited to finally meet my colleagues in person than the graduation itself!
OS: How has Schreyer Honors College helped you achieve your goals?
LG: With my early access to undergraduate research experiences at Penn State, the Honorary College certainly supported me in my ability to write a dissertation that was meaningful to me, rather than just a box to check out. They have also supported me with study abroad opportunities and linked me to opportunities across the university that I would have never known about otherwise. I’d like to make a special shout out to Lisa Kerczynski who has involved me in the work she’s been doing on social impact and civic engagement in Wicked. I had the honor to work with her and other students from Schreyer, Schreyer management, and faculty at Penn State to advance this aspect of Schreyer’s mission, and working with her has already confirmed my professional interests in project design, development, and implementation work.
OS: Can you share with us the topic of your honors thesis?
LG: I am very proud to have written my honors thesis and the 2.5 years I have been working on it. I really wanted to make my thesis a meaningful experience that combined the fields in which I worked extensively as an undergraduate. For me, this has been my work in the stress and health lab, daily experiences with loneliness, and my position as a peer educator through AIDS with HIV and sexual health resources more broadly. Although it was very rewarding to do my own study, the most rewarding part of the experience was the ability to interview 26 healthcare professionals specializing in HIV care both locally (in Central PA) and abroad (in Dakar, Senegal, where I studied abroad). I loved forming relationships with these individuals, hearing their passions, and learning from their experiences.
Operating System: What does your research focus on and what is its impact on the world as a whole?
LG: I’m in a research lab studying loneliness, particularly exploring it in a multidimensional way and how people can feel loneliness differently based on whether it’s related to different groups or categories, like family, friends, romantic partner, community, etc. We are looking at ways to design new metrics to better assess this multidimensional aspect of the unit. My personal research branched off from the concept of multiple dimensions of loneliness by exploring this concept through qualitative interviews with healthcare professionals. I was looking at the provider’s perspective on the multidimensional aspects of loneliness they see in their HIV-positive clients. I think, looking at the topic of loneliness now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and seeing its relationship to the global community, shows the direct impact this research can have in reducing negative health outcomes in lonely people around the world. If I conduct future research in this area, I would certainly be interested in focusing more on intervention-based research around loneliness, given this multidimensional nature of loneliness.
Operating System: What does an application for a Rhodes Scholarship look like in terms of intensity and competitiveness?
LG: The Rhodes app experience and interview were not like you had before. Although the application shown was very standard (CV/CV, proposed course of study, academic statement of study, personal statement/essay), you needed 8 letters of recommendation, you needed to be very intentional in your choice of program of study, and you It needs to somehow show how all of your life experiences up to this point come together into a coherent narrative. With that being said, The Fellowship Office (a very special shout out to Dr. Caitlin Ting and Ben Randolph) has been very helpful in supporting me and sorting out my scattered thoughts when considering this application.
The interview was also a very unnatural experience with an observer reception, one-on-one interview and then a very long 4 hour deliberation period where the 14 finalists were in a side room while the panelists selected 2 finalists from Rhodes Scholars. With that being said, I used the experience as an opportunity to share myself with panelists and my passion for unit research. It was really nice to hear everyone’s intellectual curiosity about my subject of study, and it’s also really nice to now have a network of panelists with really interesting backgrounds (one of whom was President and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art!) and finalists.
OS: How did you feel when you represented Pennsylvania for the first time in 20 years as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholar Program?
LG: I am absolutely honored to be shortlisted, and the communication and support from the Pennsylvania community throughout this entire process, and especially now, has been simply amazing. I wouldn’t have asked for a more supportive final semester before graduation. I am now honored to be a part of the journey and support system for all future PSU Rhodes finalists!! Please, if anyone is considering applying to Rhodes and has any questions, get in touch! Dr. Ting in the fellowship office has my contact information.
OS: What other activities do you participate in on campus and in the community?
LG: Outside of my research experience at SHADE Lab and working as a collaborating team with the Human Development Design for Impact Laboratory (HUDDIL), I am also a peer tutor with the AIDS resource in downtown State College. She has also collaborated with the Penn State Center Philadelphia on various social justice projects. I was also heavily involved in Campus Rec and worked at the Tennis Center.
Operating System: After graduation, what are your next steps?
LG: I plan to end my position as a consultant with UNESCO in person (in Paris!) in early 2022, after which I will start a position doing government consultant work in public health.
OS: According to country lore, if you could be a dinosaur, what would you be and why?
LG: Definitely a velociraptor! They are very fast, I walk insanely fast and also love to run!