Josh Aiken wins Rhodes scholarship, to study at Oxford starting fall 2014

| Senior News Editor

Senior Josh Aiken, Washington University’s 27th Rhodes scholar and its first in three years, said he has been in a daze since receiving the good news Saturday afternoon—early enough to celebrate with his friends and family in a frenzy before the news came out and the congratulations poured in.

Previously a member of Student Union and student representative to the board of trustees, Aiken is one of 32 men and women from around the country to win the Rhodes scholarship this year.

Currently co-chair of the Mosaic Project and resident advisor on the third floor of Koenig House, Aiken is a double major in American culture studies and political science with a minor in psychology.

At Oxford University, he plans to get a master’s of philosophy in sociology and demography, but he still technically needs to apply to and be accepted by the program. Pending formal admission, he will spend two years in the United Kingdom, tuition and fees fully covered, after which he plans to return to the States and ultimately attend law school.

“A lot of my interest in sociology is around identity and thinking about refugee communities as persecuted communities for a variety of identities—whether it’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, whatever it may be,” Aiken said. “Sociology is an incredible lens to start interrogating questions of what their experiences might be like.”

He said that he plans for his senior year to continue similarly, focusing on the Mosaic Project, his classes and his freshman floor, but said it is nice to have figured out what he will be doing next year.

“Trying to think about the rest of senior year, I can’t imagine doing anything different than what I was doing before,” Aiken said. “I think it would feel inauthentic to kind of change directions.”

Last summer, Aiken worked at a refugee camp doing research in Germany as part of the Civic Scholars Program in the Humanity in Action fellowship. He said his work on campus, such as his time in Student Union, was similarly about fostering inclusivity.

“For me, it all fits together in a very, very logical way,” he said.

He found out he won the scholarship Saturday after an application and interviewing process that began over the summer. He said former Rhodes scholars have already reached out to him to offer congratulations, and one thing that excites him most about the scholarship is the community it allows him to join.

Sharon Stahl, vice chancellor for students, wrote one of Aiken’s letters of recommendation for the scholarship and stressed how much he has added to campus over his years at the University—most recently, hosting the Forum on Diversity in Undergraduate Admissions.

“He’s an incredibly intellectually gifted individual; he’s a serious scholar but also so incredibly committed to the community. He’s what I would call one of those quiet leaders—he’s not boastful and doesn’t beat his drums. He’s very thoughtful,” Stahl said.

“He’s just a great person, and he really, really cares about the Washington University community, and he cares about the world,” Stahl added. “I have no doubt that Josh [Aiken] is somebody, no matter where he is or what he does, that will be making change for all of us…you want someone who’s going to be a Rhodes scholar to really understand the power of change they can make based on this opportunity, and Josh [Aiken] is one of those people.”

Aiken “is one of the most genuine and caring people I’ve ever met,” Jessica Wilen, coordinator of the Mosaic Project, said. “Josh [Aiken] has a magnetic personality that draws others to him. He gets them excited. I think people just want to be around him because that sort of energy is infectious. He’s very collaborative and comfortable in his own skin, and really brings something unique to the group.”

With additional reporting by Divya Kumar

  • Yasmin

    So proud of you, Josh! Congrats!!!