Gethers & Whitney-Johnson Awarded Rhodes Scholarship

Alia Whitney-Johnson ’08 and Matthew L. Gethers ’09 are MIT’s latest Rhodes Scholars, two of 32 scholarship winners nationwide who will study next year at Oxford.

“I’m not sure how to describe my reaction … I was overwhelmed: so honored to have this experience in front of me, so excited by the opportunities this will provide,” Whitney-Johnson wrote in an e-mail to The Tech.

Whitney-Johnson, a civil and environmental engineering major, plans to read for a degree in development studies. She is the founder and executive director of Emerge Global, a non-profit that teaches skills to Sri Lankan girls who have been the victims of rape or incest.

“I hope to gain an understanding of the social, economic, and political foundation of international development so that I can make systematic and scalable change in the issues I care most about,” Whitney-Johnson wrote.

Gethers, a biological engineering major who works as a student EMT, will study for a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. Gethers worked for years in Professor Drew Endy’s synthetic biology lab, and hopes to get a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering. At Oxford, though, he hopes to broaden his perspectives and better understand the “socio-economic implications of our work” he wrote in an e-mail.

Whitney-Johnson is a former Truman Scholar, and in 2007 was named one of Glamour Magazine’s top 10 college women. She said she will to continue to work on expanding Emerge Global in the coming years to reach more women in different communities.

Gethers is a varsity fencer and has tutored extensively in local schools. He hopes one day to start a business around synthetic biology. “I think it would be a lot of fun to design biological systems to solve every day problems,” he wrote.

The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the most prestigious postgraduate scholarships, awarded to 32 students in the U.S. every year. Last year, MIT fielded one winner: Melis Anahtar ’08, a mechanical engineering currently studying immunology at Oxford. Whitney-Johnson and Gethers will be MIT’s 39th and 40th Rhodes Scholars.