CMU graduate named Rhodes Scholar


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Burma, a country in southeastern Asia with a history of ethnic civil wars, has long interested Courtney Wittekind.

Now, as a Rhodes Scholar, she’ll have the chance to study it further.

Ms. Wittekind, 23, a 2013 Carnegie Mellon graduate originally from Mason, Ohio, was one of the 32 Americans named Saturday as a Rhodes Scholar for 2014. Each year, 80 scholars are selected worldwide to receive the generous scholarships.

She is one of four Carnegie Mellon graduates to ever receive the scholarship, and the first to receive it since 2002.

The program covers the full cost of attending Oxford University in England for two to four years, and Ms. Wittekind will use it to pursue a doctorate in anthropology, with a geographical focus on Burma, also called Myanmar.

“It’s really good timing,” she said, because Oxford has begun a set of Burma-related programs and there should be additional opportunities to improve her Burmese language skills.

Her introduction to Burma came in 2009 when she was a recent high school graduate. She graduated early, then traveled to Thailand for nine months and volunteered at a school that happened to serve a refugee and migrant community from neighboring Burma. There, she became close with a family that had left the often-turbulent country.

“I was really touched by the people I met,” Ms. Wittekind said.

So much so, that as a student at Carnegie Mellon University, she continued learning about Burma. She took summer language lessons in Burmese at the University of Wisconsin, then studied abroad during her junior year of college near Thailand’s border with Burma, living with Burmese migrant communities.

She graduated from Carnegie Mellon in May with an interdisciplinary degree in art and anthropology with a focus on displaced persons and refugees, after visiting Burma for the first time in January and spending the second semester of her senior year working with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Now, she is doing an internship at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Her goal is to move into the research and policy field related to Burma, with the aim of answering the question that she has pondered as she has visited Burma and spoken with Burmese refugees.

“How do individuals merge from these histories, and how does a country do that as a whole, and more broadly, in what ways can the international community support that?"

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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