Four more MIT seniors declared 2020 Rhodes Scholars

Number of Rhodes Scholarships awarded to MIT students now at 58

Claire Halloran ’20, Francisca Vasconcelos ’20, Billy Woltz ’20, and Megan Yamoah ’20 were announced as American Rhodes Scholars for 2020 on Saturday. There are a total of 32 scholarships for U.S. citizens.

A fifth student, Ali Daher ’20, received the Rhodes Scholarship for Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, totaling a record high number of MIT Rhodes scholars. Daher’s award was announced Nov. 15.

Fifty-eight MIT students have received this scholarship since it was first awarded in 1904.

Woltz, Vasconcelos, and Yamoah are all currently conducting research with the Engineering Quantum Systems Group in the Research Lab for Electronics.

Claire Halloran: climate policy and clean energy advocate

Claire Halloran is a Course 3 student with minors in energy studies and public policy. She has been working with solar energy both through independent projects and through her work with the Electrochemical Materials Laboratory in the department of materials science and engineering. In addition, she has worked with the Faraday Institution SOLBAT Project and the startup Form Energy on efficient battery design.

Halloran wishes to pursue a Master of Science degree in energy systems and a Master of Public Policy degree at the University of Oxford, according to an MIT News release. Founder and director of the MIT Climate Action Team, she is passionate about climate policy and clean energy. She hopes to become a policy leader, and has held fellowships with Our Climate and the Better Future Project.

In an email to The Tech, Halloran said she felt “honored” to have the opportunity “to study at Oxford among some of the brightest scholars and leaders” and “grateful for all of the help and support from MIT faculty and staff, particularly the Distinguished Fellowships Office.”

Halloran advises current students interested in climate change to “work outside of their labs and engage politically with this problem.” She suggests that students participate in national, state, and local elections and leverage “institutional power in their future careers to promote rapid, fair decarbonization.”

Francisca Vasconcelos: future quantum engineering research lab leader

Francisca Vasconcelos will graduate with a double major in Courses 6-2 and 8. Vasconcelos’ current research “focuses on extending quantum state tomography for superconducting quantum processors,” according to MIT News. She has also worked on other projects in the past, and has worked at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab NETMIT group, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, MIT Media Lab Camera Culture Group, and Rigetti Computing. “I have UROPed almost every term I have been at MIT, in a variety of labs,” Vasconcelos wrote in an email to The Tech.

Vasconcelos aspires to pursue a career in quantum engineering and lead a research lab. Vasconcelos wrote that she plans to pursue MSc degrees in statistics and foundations of computer science at Oxford, which she hopes will help her develop a better understanding of mathematical theory. Vasconcelos also “hopes to explore the renowned Oxford Quantum Centre and Statistics department,” potentially through research.

Vasconcelos wrote in an email to The Tech that she is excited for the “incredible experience and opportunity to work towards my ultimate goal of becoming an academic, establishing a research laboratory, and helping push forward cutting-edge technology that will allow us to take on some of humanity’s largest challenges.”

Vasconcelos urges current students to discover and pursue their passion, participate in research and UROPs, and “keep an open mind.” Vasconcelos pointed out the importance of cross-discipline knowledge due to “how much distinct fields and topics … can overlap, allowing you to draw inspiration from previous work.” 

She also praised her HASS classes, writing that in “order to grapple with some of the largest challenges facing our generation, it is important to understand the ethical, societal, philosophical, and political impact of the technologies we develop.”

Billy Woltz: aspiring quantum researcher and science and technology policy advisor

Billy Woltz is a double major in Courses 8 and 6-2. His research with the Engineering Quantum Systems Group focuses on developing a superconducting qubit platform for quantum information processing. He has also conducted research with the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and the Physics of Life Systems Group in the Department of Physics.

Woltz wrote in an email to The Tech that he plans to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics to “balance the technical training [he has] received at MIT.”

He wrote, “This opportunity will greatly enrich my education and pay massive dividends throughout my career as I research methods for improving quantum technologies while advising legislators on science and technology policy issues.”

Woltz captains the varsity track and field and cross-country teams. He also “founded a summer camp to teach computer science skills to underserved Appalachian and refugee students in rural and urban Ohio communities,” according to MIT News.

Woltz encourages MIT students to apply for awards such as the Rhodes Scholarship “if they find an academic program that excites them.” For the application, Woltz advises students “simply to be yourself and go all-in on the things that interest you” but also “think about the place you and your work occupy in society, and how your work can improve the lives of other people.”

Megan Yamoah: leader in the undergraduate physics community

Megan Yamoah is a double major in Courses 6-1 and 8 interested in technology and international development. Yamoah plans to pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in economics at Oxford to study how innovation can guide emerging economies. She has organized workshops to combat local challenges such as food insecurity while serving as a project committee member for MIT Design for America.

She has also been involved in physics research since high school, when she worked at the Goldhaber-Gordon Laboratory, which studies electrons in nanostructures.

Yamoah did a summer internship for the Q Circuits Group at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, according to MIT News. She also attended workshops for the MIT Regional Acceleration Program, where she connected with various stakeholders seeking to spearhead innovation.

As president of the MIT chapter of the Society of Physics Students, Yamoah helped develop the first-ever physics department statement of values, according to MIT News. She is also an executive board member of Undergraduate Women in Physics and has served multiple roles in the Society of Women Engineers.

Yamoah did not respond to The Tech’s request for comment as of press time.

The Rhodes Scholarship is an international postgraduate award established in 1902. About 100 students are accepted to study fully-funded at Oxford each year. According to the Rhodes Trust, “Rhodes Scholarships are for young leaders of outstanding intellect and character who are motivated to engage with global challenges, committed to the service of others and show promise of becoming value-driven, principled leaders for the world’s future.”

Editor’s note: Billy Woltz is a staff reporter for The Tech.