PAHS Grad Awarded Rhodes Scholarship

PAHS Grad Awarded Rhodes Scholarship
Posted on 11/25/2019
PAHS Grad Awarded Rhodes ScholarshipFor the second time in a year, Phoenixville Area School District has the distinct honor of having a graduate named a Rhodes Scholar.  Olivia McGinnis, PAHS Class of 2016, joins an elite club of only 32 Americans selected from a pool of 963 applicants nominated by their colleges and universities for this prestigious scholarship.

For many in Phoenixville, Olivia’s latest accomplishment is no surprise.  As a student at PAHS she was the Class of 2016 Valedictorian, President of the National Honor Society, Captain of the Physics Team, Student Representative to the School Board, among other activities.  Mr. Jay Jennings, Olivia’s Physics teacher had this to say, “Teaching Olivia was one of the highlights of my career.  She was bright and inquisitive, and she showed great dedication and perseverance when working on IYPT and USAYPT.”  He continues, “But what made her stand out even more, and made her such a joy to work with, was her positive attitude.  She always treated her peers and her teachers with such warmth and respect.  I’m so proud of her for pursuing her interests and wanting to make a positive impact on the world.” Olivia has continued to excel in her studies at Harvard University, while crediting PASD with providing a solid foundation to this success. “I had such a great time in high school,” she shared.  From intense discussions about Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse in her English class, to “discovering” Physics, she is generous with her praise of her teachers.  “I don’t think I had a bad teacher my entire career in Phoenixville”, she says.  “The education I received in PASD more than prepared me for Harvard,” she added, likening the structure of her high school Physics class with the way courses are taught at Harvard.

The oldest of three girls, Olivia grew up in East Pikeland.  Her parents are both artists, with her mother teaching art in a neighboring district.  She has found a way to join her love of science with her artistic side as the editor-in-chief of an art and science journal at Harvard.  Ecdysis is a print journal published biannually by Harvard undergraduates that celebrates the inherent beauty of natural phenomena. The journal showcases both visual and written works created by students from Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Harvard Medical School.  In her role as editor-in-chief, Olivia is responsible for the design and layout of the journal, taking special care to place the articles in such a way as to draw comparisons and make people think.

Beginning in September, Olivia will spend the following two years enrolled in a course of study at Oxford. Upon completion, she will have a Masters in Experimental Psychology (in the U.S. its referred to as Cognitive Neuroscience).  As for her research, she says, “I am really interested in probing the question of what is the self - from the primitive, spatial models of self in zebrafish that I study in my undergraduate thesis to mouse models or human patients that I hope to study to understand the self as it changes in neuropsychiatric states”.  

When asked what advice she might give to students who are in high school now, she smiles and worries it might sound trite. “You have to learn to be yourself and be comfortable with yourself.  You won’t be happy or able to be passionate about your studies.  You just have to be true to yourself”.  Great advice for any age.

Phoenixville native and Harvard senior awarded Rhodes Scholarship; Penn, Princeton students also winners
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