Two from state chosen as Rhodes scholars

By RON TODT

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — An aspiring oceanographer from West Chester and a northeast Philadelphia native planning a medical and research career are among those selected as Rhodes scholars to pursue post-graduate studies at Oxford University.

“It feels really incredible and very, very humbling,” Stanford University senior Meghan Shea, of West Chester, said Sunday about her selection.

Officials said Shea had developed innovative methods for water filtration and oil spill bioremediation and worked with small-island developing states on dealing with climate change. She hopes to go on to do a PhD in biological oceanography.

“I’ve loved the ocean for as long as I can remember,” she said, fascinated by the region from afar while growing up in Pennsylvania and swimming and diving in Saint Croix on vacations. But climate change, ocean acidification and growing human impacts have given new impetus to the vast, difficult-to-study regions.

Shea said she’s most interested in a relatively new tool called environmental DNA, taking water samples and using genomic techniques to synthesize DNA.

“It gives a picture of what animals and organisms were in that part of the ocean,” she said. “Researchers are using it to see how ecosystems are responding to human impacts.”

One thing she hopes to keep doing in England is participation in a steel pan drumming group like the one she has been a part of at Stanford.

“Maybe I’ll start one at Oxford,” she said.

Harvard senior Spencer Dunleavy calls his selection “an incredible honor” but also a testament to the people in his life who helped him get where he is, including his high school teachers. He attributes his focus on a medical career to his own family’s experience dealing with chronic illnesses.

Dunleavy said his mother had diabetes and a medical emergency when he was 8 years old brought home to him the difficulties of dealing with a disease like that.

“She couldn’t afford to miscalculate her medication because she would miss a day at work at that would impact her ability to put food on the table,” she said.

She raised a family and attended community college, eventually becoming a nurse when he was a junior in high school.

His mother’s work with psychiatric patients from low-income backgrounds also gave him an understanding of the intersection of race, socio-economic status and illness, he said.

“I want to be on the front line as a family doctor in a working class neighborhood, but I also want to do research that can serve other communities around the country,” he said.

Dunleavy has taught CPR, first aid and life support while studying chemistry and psychology at Harvard, and also founded a nonprofit organization, Raise Uganda Now, that has raised more than $30,000 for an orphanage. At Oxford, he will work toward master’s degrees in education through research and primary health care through research.