Plan II senior receives Rhodes Scholarship

Burhanuddin Calcuttawala

For the 31st time in the school’s history, UT Austin is sending a Rhodes scholar to the University of Oxford. 

Plan II senior Mikaila Smith is one of 32 U.S. students awarded the Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford by the Rhodes Trust this year. Smith said she intends to pursue two master’s of science degrees, one in refugee and forced migration studies and the other in global governance and diplomacy, though her plans may change as she coordinates with Rhodes and applies to Oxford.

Though she does not know exactly what she wants to do after Oxford, Smith said she wants to remain directly involved with the people she works with in the future.  

“[A] personal goal of mine is to always stay connected to the on-the-ground work,” Smith said. “I don’t want to be someone who is working for a foundation or working for a government and making decisions that affect people that I don’t interact with on a regular basis. So when I think about working in macro-policies for refugees or working on international development, it’s really important to me to continue to just interact with the populations that I’m trying to serve through regular volunteering.” 

Carlos Eric Bowles, assistant director of the Rapaport Service Scholarship Program and UTeach Liberal Arts, said Smith keeps herself busy and focused on her classwork, community service
and research.

“She’s an amazing student,” Bowles said. “I ran into her I think two weeks ago. I was on my way to a meeting, and I had my earbuds in, and she was walking by and waved. I took my earbuds out and she said, ‘I’m running to a meeting, and I just got back from New York. I’m going to Houston tomorrow for an interview and another scholarship.’ This is between all of these meetings and the Rhodes Scholarship. A few days later she emailed me saying, ‘I can’t believe I got this, but oh my God, look!’” 

Bowles said Smith also tunes out menial issues that may distract other students.

“Some of the things that I think normal undergrads worry about, for her it’s just chatter,” Bowles said.

Smith’s thesis advisor Uri Treisman, professor of mathematics and public affairs, said she is a workhorse who is extraordinarily strategic in incorporating her coursework into the things that matter most to her, including refugee education, which is the subject of her thesis, and sustainable development issues. 

“I think that students, when they read about Mikaila, should stop and reflect on what they hope to get out of the University and what they hope to do with the education they are receiving,” Treisman said. 

Anisha Srivastava, a Plan II and business honors senior, has been close friends with Smith since the beginning of their freshman year.

“Getting to see her on a personal level, … I truly view her as the embodiment of the Rhodes Scholarship,” Srivastava said. “Not because of her titles or achievements, but truly because of the personal values she has and the personal values she has cultivated over a long period of time, in my opinion, are in perfect alignment with the vision of Rhodes.”