Youngest Rhodes Scholar is an all-around achiever

Devi Sridhar, an eighteen-year-old UM senior, is the youngest ever recipient of the prestigious Rhodes Scholar award and the first from UM since 1987.
“I never actually thought even once about winning and being a Rhodes Scholar and how it would feel because it seemed so far away,” Sridhar said in an interview with the Associated Press. “So I just took it step by step.”
According to a press release from the Rhodes Scholarship Trust on Dec. 7, 2002, the criteria of the honor includes a high level of academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, a potential for leadership and physical vigor. The award is presented to 32 men and women in a nationwide competition.
Recipients of the Rhodes Scholar receive two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England, including a stipend to cover living expenses and travel to and from Europe
According to Sridhar, the competition itself was a grueling process of interviews and receptions that tested the candidates both mentally and socially. During the final stage of competition, candidates faced a committee of judges that questioned them on topics ranging from famous people to current events.
“They were very blunt and straightforward. I almost came out in tears,” Sridhar said. “I think they grilled me just to see how far they could push me before I’d cry or walk out.”
When one of the judges suggested Sridhar take a test on what she considered to be her specialty, she was hesitant to select biology after hearing that the biology questions were unreasonably tricky.
“I realized there wasn’t a single linguist among the judges, so I told them I’d prefer to be tested on my language skills and they all started to laugh because they all only spoke English,” Sridhar said.
Among her many achievements, Sridhar is an accomplished violinist and a ranked tennis player. She is also fluent in five languages and has written a children’s book with her siblings entitled Puzzle Your Way Through Indian Mythology.
“I’m so proud of Devi being selected as a Rhodes Scholar,” said UM President Donna E. Shalala. “She has accomplished so much for someone her young age. Her outstanding academic record, combined with her musical and linguistic talents and concern for children unquestionably satisfies the Rhodes criteria for leadership and character.”
Sridhar attributes much of her motivation to her supportive parents and competitive siblings.
“Every single person in my family is always trying to be the best,” Sridhar said. “My parents both gave me a lot of attention and support. Whenever I developed interest in things, they always gave me the opportunity to do them.”
In high school, Sridhar tutored and coached autistic children. She also started a club to raise money for autism research and to yield more involvement from her peers.
“It’s an epidemic,” Sridhar said of the growing numbers of autistic children in America.
At UM, Sridhar is enrolled in the Medical Honors Program at UM, which accelerates students from Undergraduate entrance to a medical degree in only six years.
“She’s the kind of student who immediately makes an impression,” said UM English professor Robert Casillo in an interview with the Associated Press.
Sridhar will also be working with Shalala, a former Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Clinton administration.
“We’re going to spend some time this spring exploring issues of health policy,” Shalala said in an interview with the Associated Press. “Who knows? She might be the Secretary of Health and Human Services someday.”
“Shalala’s been really supportive throughout all of this,” Sridhar said. “She’s been really great for UM.”
Through all of the media attention, Sridhar remains down-to-earth and keeps her mind set on her future goals as she prepares for her graduation in May.
“I just want to make the world a better place,” she said.