For Rhodes scholars, the world beckons

2 Oxford-bound locals among 32 receiving prestigious fellowships
Erin Meyer
Chicago Tribune
Chicago, IL

In the turbulent wake of the Egyptian revolution, traveling by bus from Cairo to Medinat Al Salam on the outskirts of the capital city might qualify for many as a test of will.

But for Sarah Smierciak, 22, one of two Chicago-area natives to win a coveted Rhodes scholarship Saturday, the trek is just her daily commute.

A Northwestern University graduate from southwest suburban Lemont, Smierciak works with orphaned children in the Egyptian city. Through the Belgium-based nonprofit FACE for Children in Need, she is helping design a teaching curriculum to serve the Sudanese and Egyptian street children who inhabit the area.

Smierciak said the biggest challenge of her job is instilling in the minds of her students, all of whom are boys ages 6 to 16, the value of education.

"They are used to living on the streets," she said Sunday, at a news conference at her alma mater. "(They say) 'Why should we learn about history and science? How is that going to help us in our everyday lives?'"

Smierciak, the daughter of Cook County Judge Robert Smierciak, graduated from Northwestern in June with majors in history and Middle East language and civilization. She also studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo and Damascus University.

With the Rhodes scholarship, Smierciak said she plans to take development studies at Oxford University in England starting in the fall.

Algonquin native Alexis Brown, now in her senior year at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, will begin classes in English language and literature at Oxford around the same time.

Read more here.