Sarah Chen, a graduate of Anchorage’s West High School, will head to the University of Oxford in England next fall after being selected as a Rhodes Scholar.
She was one of 32 students selected for the award out of more than 2,300 applicants. The Rhodes scholarship, which funds recipients’ graduate studies at Oxford, is the oldest international academic fellowship and one of the most prestigious in the world.
Chen, who is 21, grew up in Anchorage and graduated from West High in 2018.
“At West High, I did a lot of mock trial and I was pretty competitive in debate,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “And I think those sort of thinking skills, as well as exploring a variety of ethical and political topics, really helped me come here and experiment with what I wanted to do before I settled. ... What West and Anchorage in general gave me would be a really large appreciation for curiosity and also just a love of nature.”
Chen is now a senior at Claremont McKenna College in California, where she is working toward a dual major in international relations and philosophy, politics and economics. Much of her work so far has focused on cyberspace issues and wargaming, which focuses on building simulations and exercises that revolve around conflict and can provide training and preparation for those heading into those situations, she said.
Growing up, Chen and her younger brother bonded over playing video games, which she said shaped her interest in wargaming and has inspired her designs. She credited her family for their support and encouragement leading up to the Rhodes scholarship.
“In a really cheesy way, I couldn’t have done this without my family,” she said.
At Oxford, she plans to earn master’s degrees in social data science and social science of the internet.
“I want to explore more into technology and the ethical issues and vital implications,” she said. “And then I’m hoping to continue my path into developing more quantitative skills because I think that a large part of wargaming is developing accurate analyses and working with data.”
Chen learned that she had been selected Saturday night. She said the experience was so surreal that she didn’t realize she’d actually won until she started receiving text messages congratulating her.
She’s looking forward to continuing her education and also traveling to the United Kingdom, which she’s never visited before.
In the past five years, three other Alaskans have been named as Rhodes Scholars. After he was selected last year, Noorvik’s Wilfried Kuugauraq Zibell, who attended Harvard University, said he planned to study colonization and its economic impacts on subsistence economies in rural Alaska. In 2019, Cyrus V. Reza of Fairbanks was selected for the honor, intending to pursue a Ph.D. in Oriental studies at Oxford after graduating from Stanford University.
And in 2017, Samantha Mack — an Aleut woman from King Cove attending college in Anchorage — was named a Rhodes Scholar, the first from the University of Alaska. She planned to study politics at Oxford.