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Naval Academy Rhodes Scholar Aims to Combat Human Trafficking

Posted on: November 28, 2012 08:00 EST by Jessica Clark

Naval Academy Midshipman 1st Class Katie Whitcombe has big dreams, and with the recent announcement of the 2013 Rhodes Scholarship recipients, she is one step closer to seeing those dreams take shape.

Whitcombe is one of 32 Rhodes Scholars selected this year from a pool of students from more than 300 colleges and universities across the country. Whitcombe, a Chinese major, plans to pursue a Master of Philosophy in modern Chinese studies at the University of Oxford in England.

She plans to use her degree to develop better policy on counter-terrorism in Southeast Asia and find correlations between terrorism and organized crime like human trafficking. During the past summer, she worked with abused girls in conjunction with Volunteers for Visayans in the Philippines as one of the inaugural recipients of the Naval Academy's new Summer International Service Leadership Scholarships.

“We worked with 42 girls who were exploited and abused, and it was there that I realized these are the people I want to fight for,” she said.

Prior to that experience, she spent spring semester 2012 studying in China as part of the academy's semester abroad program.

Her interest in the Philippines and other areas of Asia stems from her Filipino mother's experiences growing up in poverty-stricken areas of her native country.

Whitcombe's parents struggled financially in the U.S. as well, working to ensure a better life and better opportunities for Whitcombe and her brother. Their financial circumstances forced them to return to the Philippines but not before Whitcombe had secured an appointment to the Naval Academy.

“So many people have helped me get where I am today - the teachers who spent hours of their free time to help me get better at physics and my parents who sacrificed so much for me to go to school,” said Whitcombe. “I'm happy that they can see the person they believed in is doing great things.”

For Whitcombe the opportunities opened to her by the Naval Academy and the Rhodes Scholarship are a way to help her family and, after many years of separation, hopefully bring them together again, she said.

“I feel like I'm living a dream right now,” she said.

Whitcombe will serve as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps after she completes her graduate studies.

Rhodes Scholarships provide U.S. citizens two or three years of postgraduate study at the University of Oxford in England. The Rhodes Scholarship program looks for students who excel in more than just academics. The criteria include integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for other, potential for leadership and physical vigor. The intent is to select students with the potential to make a positive contribution to the world.

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