Marietta woman named Rhodes Scholar

Grace Tiao, 23, learned late Saturday that she received a full scholarship to study mathematics and statistics at the University of Oxford in England under the Rhodes program.

"I was just surprised, overwhelmed and in a daze," Tiao told the AJC Sunday night. "I didn’t cry and I didn’t laugh. I just swam through molasses."

The scholarship is valued at $55,000a year, including tuition, housing, transportation and a stipend, according to Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust. It will cover studies for two to four years.

Tiao will begin her studies at Oxford in October 2010.

The regional winners were announced late Saturday at Emory University. Tiao immediately called her mom and her younger sister, who is studying at Princeton University.

“I knew Rhodes was going to be a long shot, but it was the only program that really met the needs I had for education," she said from her Marietta home.

Tiao graduated from the Center of Advanced Studies in Science, Math and Technology at Wheeler High School in Cobb County. She earned a perfect 1600 on the SAT, scoring perfect on both the reading and math sections of the college admissions test.

She went on to study literature and history of science at Harvard College. While at Harvard, she worked for the school’s literary magazine and the Harvard Science Review, along with playing violin for the Baroque chamber orchestra.

Tiao graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 2008 and then obtained a fellowship to study microbiology through a New Zealand university.

As part of the fellowship, she led an expedition to Antarctica to study the continent's ecosystem. The project focused on mapping organisms to predict life in other areas of Antarctica, she said.

Since returning to Marietta in September, Tiao has spent her time working on a book about her journey to Antartica.

She hopes to continue her work in microbiology at Oxford and after completing her degree, she said.

The 32 Rhodes scholars were chosen out of 805 students endorsed by 326 colleges and universities, according to the Rhodes Trust. The strongest candidates are then selected for interviews.

Candidates are chosen based on high academic achievement, integrity of character, spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor, said Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary for teh Rhodes Trust.

The Rhodes Scholarships were started in 1902 with the first American scholars entering Oxford in 1904.

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