BTN LiveBIG: Wisconsin senior wins Rhodes Scholarship

Kristen Shilton

Funny how some of the most important moments in life go by in the blink of an eye.

That’s how University of Wisconsin-Madison fifth-year senior Drew Birrenkott felt about the process of applying for, and eventually receiving, a Rhodes Scholarship earlier this month.

Last summer, Birrenkott received an endorsement from UW and put his hat in the ring for one of the most prestigious academic scholarships in the world. Upon learning he was a finalist in October, the McFarland, Wis., native traveled to Chicago with 11 other students vying for the chance to interview with a panel that would ultimately decide his fate.

After two hours of deliberation, the committee announced Birrenkott a winner.

“It was a very surreal moment to hear I had gotten the scholarship,” Birrenkott said. “The application process was rigorous. Each step of the way I told myself, ‘this is a big accomplishment, I should be proud.’ I never really thought it would happen. It (all) went by so fast, in an instant.”

Birrenkott, 23, is finishing his triple-major in political science, biochemistry and biomedical engineering at UW and plans to pursue a Master’s of philosophy in developmental studies at Oxford. Following his two years abroad, Birrenkott wants to return to the United States and attend medical school.

Through his work with Engineers Without Borders in Kenya and with UW’s Khorana program in India, Birrenkott has developed a passion for working to improve health systems in developing countries. His seemingly divergent majors have played a big role in helping him see all the ways his skills can go to use in the field.

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