Rhodes to success

UW-Eau Claire senior one of 32 students nationwide to receive prestigious scholarship


Photo by Anna Mateffy-The Spectator

ANNA MATEFFY / The Spectator – RHODES LESS TRAVELED: Tayo Sanders II is a materials science major at UW-Eau Claire. Because of his Rhodes Scholar honor, he has an opportunity to study at Oxford University

Story by Katy Macek, Currents Editor

After waiting almost two hours, judges came out to announce the 2015 Rhodes Scholars. Tayo Sanders II, a material science major, said he couldn’t believe when he heard his name called off the list.

He said all the candidates were told to be back in the office to hear the final decision at 3 p.m., but they didn’t come out until almost 5 p.m., apologizing because it was a hard decision to make.

“It really was just disbelief,” he said. “I don’t think it set in for a good minute or so. It was incredible.”

The application process itself took a lot of time and included eight letters of recommendation plus an endorsement from the university, among other criteria. Sanders said he could not have done it alone.

“It was definitely a group effort,” he said. “I’m just fortunate to have eight people who wanted to recommend me.”

Sanders said he has been doing research at Eau Claire since his first semester on campus. He was a Blugold Fellow, which gave him the opportunity to get involved in his field right away.

It was then that he began the now 4-year partnership with his research adviser, material science professor Jennifer Dahl, whom he said he could not have gotten this far without.

“She gives me a lot of respect and treats me like a colleague as well,” he said. “Just being able to have someone on campus who I feel comfortable talking to anything about has been really important to me.”

As a Rhodes Scholar, Sanders will be able to attend Oxford University in London after graduating from Eau Claire, and from there he eventually hopes to pursue his own career as an educator and give back to students the way Dahl has done for him.

“I’m passionate about two things,” he said. “One is education, particularly STEM education, as well as sustainable development. Those two things are incredibly important.”

While he has been doing research with Dahl in the lab since his second week of college, Sanders said he has also found time to be involved in many other activities on campus. He is co-captain of the triathlon club, participates in intramurals and is a member of the American Chemical Society and Materials Research Society, to name a few.

The key to being so involved is time management, Sanders said, and he always sets aside time for himself. While he’s busy, he said it’s worth it for the social aspect.

“I love meeting people,” he said. “All of these organizations allow you to meet all different sorts of people from different places.”

It was this commitment to being involved outside of research, in addition to his confidence in unfamiliar situations, which Dahl said she thinks stood out to the Rhodes committee.

“I was very impressed by the maturity he had right away,” she said. “It became apparent to me that he was somebody that could handle that level of uncertainty and that level of pioneering that he had to do in the research lab.”

From the first day she worked with him, she said she saw the determination to complete the tasks she assigned to him, both in the lab and the classroom.

Dahl spoke from experience when she said it can be intimidating to be in class with your research adviser because there is added pressure to perform well, but Sanders never let that stop him from learning.

“Sometimes we view education as simply a series of tasks rather than something that can shape our long-term future,” she said. “The wonderful thing about Tayo is that he really, truly understands the science that was presented to him.”