GHHS grad earns Rhodes Scholarship

Dwinal to study at Oxford after receiving prestigious honor
By Susan Schell
The Peninsula Gateway

When Mallory Dwinal walked away with a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship last weekend, her parents were overjoyed — but not a bit surprised.

“She has never been anything but No. 1 in everything she has done,” said her father, Steven Dwinal. “She is very strong-willed.”

The Rhodes provides a two- to three-year all-expenses-paid scholarship to study at England’s University of Oxford. Only 32 students receive the scholarship nationwide.

“I am so excited about this,” said Dwinal, a 2005 graduate of Gig Harbor High School who was a Student of Distinction. “I did not really see this coming.”

Steven Dwinal said Northwestern University near Chicago, where Mallory goes to school, chose her to represent them for the award.

“You don’t apply for the Rhodes,” he said. “They chose her to compete for the award on their behalf. They (the Rhodes) receive thousands upon thousands of applications each year, and they select just about 790.”

Mallory was one of 16 finalists in the Northwest region. She flew to Seattle from Chicago last week and, after a series of 25-minute interviews with a panel of nine, she came out a winner.

Dwinal’s list of accomplishments is staggering. She was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and will graduate from Northwestern with three degrees. She studied for a quarter in China and also in Mexico. She is fluent in four languages and has already been accepted to Harvard’s business school. Dwinal plans to attend for two to three years and get a master’s in business administration — but for now, Harvard will have to wait.

“I’ll be doing that in a few years,” she said. “I asked them for a deferral after getting the Rhodes, and they said that was OK. I’ve also been accepted for ‘Teach for America’ and have been assigned to Washington, D.C.”

Teach For America is the national corps that attracts outstanding college graduates and professionals to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools.

Dwinal is no stranger to philanthropic endeavors. She’s worked at a homeless shelter cooking breakfast, and at Northwestern, she helped teach young children English as a second language.

“She saw a need for students to receive help in English,” Steven Dwinal said. “So she put together a program and brought students in from Northwestern and four elementary schools to teach English. It became a huge program, and the school adopted it as an accredited class.”

Mallory Dwinal is committed to the education process and has profound ideas as to why educational systems break down — mainly that the people who make decisions do not always have a firm grip on what works best in a classroom setting.

“I think policymakers have a lot of numbers at their fingertips, but unless you work in an educational setting, it’s hard to make a well-informed policy,” she said.

“They have strong education policies, but they universally fall apart when it comes to mitigating problems and encouraging progress. I think they make these executive decisions and pass them down to principals and teachers, but they don’t have the knowledge of what happens on the ground level.”

Dwinal also has a keen interest in politics and would like to merge that with her passion for education.

“I would love to go into education policy,” she said. “I plan to use the next few years to really get an understanding of it.”

Steven Dwinal said his daughter has had remarkable success.

“She’s very focused — she knows exactly what she wants,” he said. “Mallory loves a challenge. This kid has no fear. She’ll get on the phone and call the head of the world bank. She’ll call a foreign commission and carry on a conversation in another language and think nothing of it.”

Steve Dwinal said he and his wife, Terese, taught their children to make decisions and stand behind them at a very young age.

“They worked very hard for everything,” he said. “We taught them to be self-sufficient. If a light switch burned out in the house, we taught them how to rewire it. We bought them used cars so they would learn how to take care of them.

“They had to repair their own cars. They had to mow the lawn and clean the house.”

The Dwinals taught their children independence and respect. Their father’s job offered the family a chance to travel quite a bit, and Steven Dwinal felt that experience helped shape his children. The family also experienced life-defining tragedies that they had to overcome. They lost everything in a flash flood in 1990. Several years later, their Gig Harbor home burned to the ground.

“The girls stood out on the lawn and watched it,” he said. “These things provide a unique ability to deal with anything that is thrown at you. It’s going to define you. You can walk away and either say, ‘I managed this,’ or ‘I fell apart.’

“I told the girls, ‘This can be an adventure or a disaster.’ They chose to look at it as an adventure.”

Steven Dwinal doesn’t bat an eye when considering the sky is the limit when it comes to his daughter’s future. When asked if one day she could become President of the United States, he deadpanned, “I would not only be not surprised, but I think that’s where she’s headed.”