Rhodes Less Traveled

UWEC senior only second in school history to win prestigious scholarship

Tom Giffey |

LAB COAT? CHECK. PURPLE GLOVES? CHECK. MAD SCIENCE SKILLS? CHECK. Tayo Sanders II became only the second Rhodes Scholar in UW-Eau Claire history in November.
LAB COAT? CHECK. PURPLE GLOVES? CHECK. MAD SCIENCE SKILLS? CHECK. Tayo Sanders II became only the second Rhodes Scholar in UW-Eau Claire history in November.

UW-Eau Claire senior Tayo A. Sanders II recently achieved something only one other student in the university’s 98-year history has: He was named a Rhodes Scholar. Sanders, a materials science major from Neenah, is among the exclusive crop of 32 American scholars selected for the elite academic honor, which includes a scholarship to Oxford University in Great Britain (as well as, we imagine, permanent bragging rights among academic colleagues). 

“I was truly at a loss for words,”
– UWEC senior Tayo Sanders II, on being named a Rhodes Scholar, one of only 32 in the U.S. this year

“I was truly at a loss for words,” Sanders said of the Nov. 22 announcement, according to a UWEC news release. He’s certainly not at a loss for accomplishments, however: The first-generation college students, who will graduate in May, joined Assistant Professor Jennifer Dahl’s research team as a freshman. Since then, he has seen his research published in academic journals, has presented his findings about nanotechnology at the national level, and has spent a summer studying at a nanotech lab at the University of Strasbourg in France. Oh, and he’s also served as a mentor for minority students, a campus tour leader, a volunteer at the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, a co-captain of the university’s Triathlon Club, and much more. 

“Although I tasked Tayo with the most challenging research project in my lab, he has far exceeded my expectations, setting the bar ever higher for new members of the group,” Dahl said. “Over the three years that we have worked together, Tayo has proven to be an independent, mature student whom I consider a collaborator, rather than the typical apprentice.”

Sanders’ selection as a Rhodes Scholar is a double rarity. First, only one previous Blugold has earned the honor: history/geography major Chauncy S. Harris Jr. in 2005. Second, winners tend to be from the most elite American universities: Fourteen of this year’s Rhodes Scholars attend Ivy League institutions, while three are from MIT and two are from Stanford. The Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1903 by the estate of mining magnate Cecil Rhodes to honor exceptional scholars from around the world.

Sanders’ goal is to become a college professor, and he says he’s been “fortunate to have the opportunity to connect with so many faculty” at UWEC. “These are the individuals who have dedicated years of their lives to academic pursuits, and to be able to easily engage in direct discourse with professors creates opportunities for a much more profound comprehension of material,” he continued. “UWEC’s emphasis on undergraduate research has also developed my ability to draw connections between material learned in my courses and their applications to the real world – a skill that will prove absolutely essential as I continue on my academic path at Oxford.” And speaking of Oxford, the scholarship will allow Sanders to spend two to three years at the legendary university at a cost of about $50,000 a year, as well as grant him the priceless opportunity to be part of a global fraternity that includes presidents, prime ministers, and Nobel Prize winners.