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UCSB Bren Alum Kirsten Tilleman Named Finalist for Prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

Scholar-athlete and UCSB alumna Kirsten Tilleman (master's degree in environmental science and management, 2013, Bren School) has been named a finalist for a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, “the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship award in the world.”

Annually, 32 Americans are selected to continue their academic studies at England’s Oxford University as Rhodes Scholars through a highly competitive process representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Selection is based not only on outstanding scholarly achievements, but also on the applicants’ character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for the potential to be leaders in their careers.

“I'm honored and grateful for everyone who ever supported me and pushed me towards applying for the scholarship,” the former UCSB women’s basketball player told the GradPost in a written interview from her home in Portland, Ore.

While at UCSB from 2012 to 2013, Tilleman twice received the Golden Eagle Ring Award, which is given to the female and male UCSB scholar-athlete with the highest GPA. Her GPA during that time was 3.96. In that period, Tilleman juggled a busy academic schedule (she dual-specialized in conservation planning and water resources management) and activities as a starter for the Gaucho women’s basketball team, finishing her NCAA eligibility in March.

Tilleman first found out about the Rhodes Scholarship while pursuing her undergraduate studies at Oregon State University.

“I was immediately drawn to it because of the multifaceted criteria for which Rhodes Scholars are selected: academics, athletics, character, leadership and the desire to serve others," she said. "Since then, applying for it has been on my radar, and I was thrilled to be in a position to apply this past summer.”

Among the application requirements, she said, were six to eight letters of recommendation; completion of an online application; transcripts and other supporting documents; a resume tailored to the Rhodes criteria; and a personal essay. She learned last week that she is a finalist for District 14, which encompasses the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

“I applied with the intention of pursuing a DPhil [Doctor of Philosophy] in environmental law at Oxford,” Tilleman said. “If chosen, I would head to England next October and start working towards candidacy. The Rhodes Trust also encourages — even expects — its scholars to travel, stay active and continue to be well-rounded. The idea that Rhodes Scholars are diverse, engaged leaders is one of the many reasons I'm so interested in the scholarship program. Scholars get to be surrounded by incredible people every day. Excellence is contagious.”

Since returning to Oregon, Tilleman has worked to build her local network to get familiar with environmental work in the area and to meet local professionals. She has attended networking events such as Green Drinks, volunteering as a Stream Team captain for SOLVE Oregon, helping to lead riparian restoration events in the area; participating in start-up workshops in support of a project that stems from a Bren new ventures course (GearedUP Outdoors); and assisting with fundraising and awareness efforts for the preservation of a local Oak Savanna. Recently, she took a short-term contract position as an ecosystem service specialist with Willamette Partnership to help with its water quality trading program and various other projects.

“I've been keeping myself busy with a variety of projects and have met many kind, interesting people doing good things along the way,” she said.

Tilleman credits UCSB for helping to prepare her for what lies ahead.

“This experience is an extension of my time as a UCSB graduate student, where I was continually challenged and inspired by some of the world's best and brightest," she said. "The Bren program trains not just environmental scientists and managers, but also well-rounded individuals set up to tackle the world's challenges with creative, resilient solutions. Life as a UCSB grad student at the Bren School has prepared me well for this process and, if chosen, equally well for becoming a Rhodes Scholar.”

She will undergo interviews next weekend in Seattle. The selection committee will announce the male and female recipients at the end of the weekend.

Should she be selected as a Rhodes Scholar, Tilleman will join a diverse and distinguished group of past winners, including Byron White and David Souter, associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court; CIA Director Stansfield Turner; U.S. Sens. Richard Lugar, Paul Sarbanes and Cory Booker; singer-songwriter-actor Kris Kristofferson; NBA star and U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley; U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark; U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich; U.S. President Bill Clinton; USC quarterback and athletic director and L.A. Rams player Pat Haden; Good Morning America host and Clinton communications director George Stephanopoulos; National Security Advisor Susan Rice; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.

For previous coverage on Tilleman, read the GradPost Graduate Student in the Spotlight feature; “A Day in the Life of Kirsten Tilleman” in the Daily Nexus; the GradPost article about Bren’s 2013 commencement, at which Tilleman was recognized; a “Faces of the NCAA” article, “The active conservationist,” on the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s website; a Bren School article, “Tilleman Named Tournament MVP as Gauchos Win Big West Tourney”; and the UCSB Gaucho Athletics video, “A Great Example: Kirsten Tilleman.”

— Patricia Marroquin is a senior writer for the UCSB Graduate Division and The Graduate Post.

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