When Malaika Marie Williams goes to Washington early next year to read a medical research paper that she coauthored at the tender age of 21, the Whittier College senior will be lecturing many doctors more than twice her age. But despite her youth, she can lay claim to an honor many of them would envy: She's now a Rhodes scholar.
Williams, Juan De Lara of Pitzer College in Claremont, and Alvan Ikoku, a Stanford University senior from Westwood, were among the 32 students named Sunday to the elite program, created at the turn of the century by British philanthropist and colonialist Cecil Rhodes.
The new Rhodes scholars get free tuition at Oxford University in England and an annual stipend of more than $11,000--plus, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that they have been selected for a program that counts President Clinton and other luminaries among its alumni.
"I held my breath when they were announcing the winners," said Ikoku, 21. "Then when I heard my name, I just let go. It was an amazing feeling."
This year's winners also include a former circus juggler, a firefighter and a worker at Mother Teresa's home for the dying.
The honorees, selected from a pool of more than 1,000 applicants from 315 U.S. universities, were split evenly between men and women. Harvard University boasted the most winners with eight, and Stanford followed with three.
Ikoku said he wants someday to return to Nigeria, where his family is from, to help promote health care reform and education. He was born in the United States but lived in the African nation for six years before moving to Westwood in 1991 to live with an aunt. He said he saw in Nigeria a tremendous need for combating the spread of AIDS and other socially transmitted diseases.
"What I really want is to get into medicine at the policy level," he said.
Ikoku received an associate degree from Santa Monica College before transferring to Stanford, where he has earned a 3.89 grade point average as a premed major in human biology. But he said his most important training may have come outside the classroom, as a resident advisor for about 40 students in a dormitory. That has taught him the need to listen to people and gain other perspectives--qualities, he said, that doctors often lack.
For her part, Williams said some of her best training came at the Mayo Institute in Minnesota, where she interned last summer--and coauthored with three doctors a research paper on what makes some people suffer fainting spells.
The premed student said she didn't faint when the Rhodes organizers disclosed the regional winners Saturday night at USC--but came close.
"I was just blown away," said the Las Vegas native, who competes in track-and-field and holds the Whittier College record in the hammer throw. "It's exciting, but it's also scary. You have this plan of what you're going to do and where you'll be, and now it's all changed."
De Lara, the winner from Pitzer College, said the Rhodes panelists appeared most impressed with his extensive extracurricular efforts in grass-roots activism, working with disadvantaged students, poor workers and immigrants. De Lara, a sociology major, said his aim was to "give these people a voice in society at large."
The 32 students chosen as American Rhodes scholars for 1996, listed by district where the application was filed:
DISTRICT ONE, NEW ENGLAND
Jeremy A. Dauber, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University
Priya Aiyar, El Cerrito, Calif., Harvard University
Tracey Jones, Genesee, Pa., Norwich University
Tobias Ayer, Burlington, Vt., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
DISTRICT TWO, MIDDLE ATLANTIC
Jennifer Oliva, Millsboro, Del., U.S. Military Academy
Samantha Salvia, Norristown, Pa., Old Dominion University
David Bonfili, Morgantown, W. Va., Harvard University
Carolyn Conner, Valley Fork, W.Va., West Virginia University
DISTRICT THREE, SOUTHEAST
Robert Matthew Sutherland, Atlanta, University of Georgia
Adam Russell, Washington, D.C., Duke University
Laura Nell Hodo, Brentwood, Tenn., Brandeis University
Mark Patrick Embree, Springfield, Va., Virginia Polytechnic Institute
DISTRICT FOUR, GREAT LAKES
Mark Wu, Chicago, Harvard University
Kristen Fountain, Indianapolis, Princeton University
Dayne Walling, Flint, Mich., Michigan State University
Ahmad Atwan, Shaker Heights, Ohio, Harvard University
DISTRICT FIVE, MIDDLE WEST
Ramin Toloui, Iowa City, Iowa, Harvard University
Abigail Noble, New Haven, Ind., Macalester College
Eric Greitens, St. Louis, Duke University
Ben R. Sharp, Hot Springs, S.D., University of Chicago
DISTRICT SIX, GULF
Letitia M. Campbell, Mobile, Ala., Davidson College
Philip C. Skelding, New Orleans, Columbia University
Alice Chen, Jackson, Miss., Harvard University
Ana L. Unruh, Corpus Christi, Tex., Trinity University
DISTRICT SEVEN, SOUTHWEST
Michelle Gavin, Phoenix, Georgetown University
Malaika Marie Williams, Las Vegas, Whittier College
Juan De Lara, Coachella, Calif., Pitzer College
Alvan Ikoku, Los Angeles, Stanford University
DISTRICT EIGHT, NORTHWEST
Rachel Eyre Hall, Anchorage, Alaska, Stanford University
Barnaby Marsh, Anchorage, Alaska, Cornell University
Jennifer DeVoe, Helena, Mont., Montana State University and Harvard Medical School
Angelina Marguerite Foster, Portland, Ore., Stanford University