Pitt 2008 Truman Scholar Eleanor Ott Named 2010 Rhodes Scholar

Issue Date: 
November 30, 2009
Eleanor OttEleanor Ott

Eleanor Ott, a University of Pittsburgh Honors College graduate who received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and French and a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Pitt in April 2009, has been named a 2010 Rhodes Scholarship winner. Pitt is the only public institution in Pennsylvania with a 2010 Rhodes Scholar; Swarthmore College is the only other institution in the state with a 2010 Rhodes Scholarship winner.

Ott, who is a Lawrence, Kan., native, is the sixth Pitt undergraduate-degree recipient to win the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. A former Pitt Chancellor’s Scholar, Ott was a 2008 Truman Scholarship winner. Ott’s interests are human rights, refugee issues, and the use of evidence-based policies to ease the plight of refugee populations. At the University of Oxford, she will study forced migration and evidence-based social intervention, refugee and migration issues, and social-science research methods.

Rhodes Scholarships, the oldest of the international study awards available to U.S. students, provide two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

“My first opportunity to meet with Eleanor Ott to discuss her work in chemistry, history, and French occurred in 2008, when she was the only student from a Pennsylvania public university to be named a Truman Scholar,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Ellie’s exemplary record as an outstanding Pitt student and a highly effective leader made her the ideal candidate for that prestigious honor. Her selection as a Rhodes Scholar is further testament to her distinguished record of academic excellence, overall high achievement, and wide-ranging humanitarian commitment.”

“At the very beginning of her undergraduate career, Eleanor Ott stood out,” said Alec Stewart, Honors College dean. “Her decision to pursue graduate work at Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre is indicative of what she values: knowledge that she can provide a glimmer of hope in the perplexingly catastrophic lives of refugees. Through her personal journey, she has taught us that, for her, change through empowerment takes heart, stamina, and the ability to lead on an international level. It is remarkable what this young lady from Pitt is achieving.”

After graduating from Pitt in April, Ott, a Truman-Albright Fellow, took a position as a social science research analyst in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. Her tasks include overseeing projects related to teenage-pregnancy prevention and in the Couples Together Against Violence program. She also collaborates with the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

While at Pitt, Ott was copresident and education chair for FORGEPitt (Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Empowerment), a refugee advocacy organization that she helped found in 2005. In cooperation with FORGEPitt and Catholic Charities, Ott helped local refugees obtain clothing, and she was instrumental in beginning a mentoring program that paired Pitt students one-on-one with refugees.

In addition to pursuing work with refugees, Ott worked with youth in local schools. She was an aide for the English as a Second Language class at Schenley High School and mentored at-risk elementary and middle school students with the Beginning With Books and First Step after-school programs.

Ott continues her work as a mentor and tutor with Somali, Burundi, and Senegal refugee families.

Ott’s dream is to one day become the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Her nearer-term goal is to work in the U.S. government, developing and overseeing evidence-based social policy, ideally within the Office of Refugee Resettlement. She hopes one day to be appointed to a position in which she can  collaborate with other countries and the United Nations.

Among Ott’s many honors was being named one of 12 University of Pittsburgh Phenomenal Women in the March issue of Pitt Magazine; she was the only undergraduate chosen for the distinction. In 2008, she won a Phi Beta Kappa Junior Scholarship, which is presented annually to one or two Pitt juniors a year. And in 2006, Ott won an Averill Scholarship, given each year to the top three sophomore Pitt chemistry majors.

This year’s Rhodes U.S. winners—32 students from 23 institutions of higher learning—came from a pool of 216 interviewees from 97 colleges and universities. Those chosen will enter the University of Oxford next October.

Rhodes Scholarships are the legacy of British colonial pioneer, statesman, and philanthropist Cecil J. Rhodes, who died in 1902. Although intellectual distinction is a necessary requirement for selection as a Rhodes Scholar, it is not alone sufficient. The selection process seeks excellence in qualities of mind and of person, which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. Thus, winners are chosen on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential, and physical vigor, among other attributes.

The value of the Rhodes Scholarship varies depending upon the academic field, the degree (bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral), and the Oxford college chosen. The Rhodes Trust pays all college and university fees, provides a stipend to cover necessary expenses while in residence at Oxford as well as during vacations, and transportation to and from England.

Pitt’s other five Rhodes Scholars are David Frederick (A&S ’83), 1983; Donna Roberts (A&S ’85), 1987; Nathan Urban (A&S ’91, ’96G, ’98G), 1991; Justin Chalker (A&S ’06), 2006; and Daniel Armanios (A&S ’07, ENGR ’07), 2007.