Oak Brook resident Vinay Nayak has been named one of 32 Americans chosen as a Rhodes Scholar, the Rhodes Trust announced Saturday.
Nayak, a senior at Yale University, is the only Illinois resident selected this year for the prestigious scholarship, which covers all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. He will begin study there next October.
"I was really speechless, really shocked," Nayak said of finding out he was selected. "I felt grateful for this wonderful opportunity I've been given to surround myself with amazing individuals from around the world. I felt grateful for the academic institutions that have gotten me here, including Hinsdale Central and Yale University. And I felt grateful for all the mentors, both academic and professional."
At Yale, Nayak majors in political science, focusing his academic work on how the Internet can be used to enhance citizen engagement in elections, government and policymaking.
"I've really come to believe that in order for our political system to work its best, we need to make sure all voices are heard equally," he said, noting that the Internet and social media provide a great way to do that.
The co-valedictorian of Hinsdale Central High School's class of 2010 has applied those interests to political campaigns, including the Obama 2012 re-election campaign where he managed many national digital programs and social media accounts. He also interned for the White House Office on Digital Strategy and managed the social media presence for Sandy Hook Elementary School parents whose children lost their lives. He plans to study for a master of public policy at Oxford.
Nayak has won many Yale prizes, and in forensics and debate was chosen as National Oratory Champion. He is the former president of the Yale Mock Trial Association and was named an all-American attorney by the American Mock Trial Association.
The 32 scholarship winners were selected from 857 applicants from 327 colleges and universities, according to the organization.
The Rhodes Scholarship program started in 1902 and seeks students with "high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor," said Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust.
The 32 Rhodes Scholars chosen from the United States will join an international group from 14 other jurisdictions around the world. About 80 Scholars are selected worldwide each year, according to the Rhodes Trust.
Nayak said besides the learning opportunity the scholarship will provide, he is looking forward to surrounding himself with people from different cultures and getting a chance to study abroad. "I've never spent any time in England," he said. "I'm so excited to have the chance to be in Oxford and explore Europe."