UI senior Austin Hughes named Rhodes scholar

UI senior Austin Hughes named Rhodes scholar and will begin studying English and Japanese language and literature at Oxford University beginning in October 2019.


Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

After being named a Rhodes scholar, UI senior Austin Hughes said he “cycled through anxiety, joy, worry — the whole gamut of emotions.”

On Nov. 17, Hughes became one of 32 Rhodes scholars from the U.S. selected to study at Oxford University starting in October 2019. Hughes is majoring in English, creative writing, and Japanese language and literature.

The journey to becoming a Rhodes scholar began for Hughes at the end of the past summer. Throughout the application process, he acquired letters of recommendation from professors, wrote essays, was endorsed by the UI, and finally interviewed for the scholarship in Chicago, Hughes said.

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Studying at Oxford is the perfect next step for him, he said. While there, he will be able to start learning classical Japanese, a rarer form of the language. Through learning the language, he will be able to read texts that predate the 1800s, he said.

By learning classical Japanese, he hopes to be able to compare the Japanese texts to English texts of the same time period, Hughes said. He hopes to do a comparative-literature dissertation through his studies in the English and Japanese languages while at Oxford.

The first year of his studies will consist mostly of classes and the second year will focus on his dissertation, he said.

“My ultimate goal is to become some sort of educator,” Hughes said. “I want to reinvigorate the interest of humanities in America.”

Melissa Lauer, a UI senior majoring in English, creative writing, and studio arts, was also a Rhodes scholarship finalist.

One of the people Hughes said was a huge influence through the entire process was Kelly Thornburg, the UI Honors’ director of scholar development.

Thornburg is in charge of the nominating process and is the head of the committee for choosing students to apply to be a Rhodes scholar, she said. She meets regularly with the applicants and guides them through the process.

When looking for Rhodes scholars, she looks for students who are “hyper-literate,” Thornburg said. She wants students who have an interest in other people’s stories and value perspectives that aren’t their own.

“They have to have a vision for what is not only coming next for them immediately but a couple layers beyond that,” Thornburg said. “They have to have a sense of themselves and that getting started on their work is possible.”

When he had Hughes as a student, Blaine Greteman, a UI associate professor of English and former Rhodes scholar, said he noticed right away that Hughes was a strong and charismatic student. He then recommended that Hughes contact Thornburg about the Rhodes scholarship.

The opportunity to study at Oxford allows Rhodes scholars to connect with a network of people, Greteman said. The opportunity will allow Hughes to pursue the kind of learning he wants to and make important friendships and connections, he said.

Students at state schools may not plan to apply for scholarships such as the Rhodes, Greteman said. Students may not feel like they can compete with students at other institutions, such as Ivy League schools, he said.

“Iowa students tend to be humble and modest and don’t consider themselves as good,” Greteman said. “I think that modesty gets in the way of realizing how good they are.”