In November, two Penn seniors were awarded Rhodes scholarships. Jenna Hebert, of Pittsburgh, and Adebisi Ogunrinde, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, were among 43 North American students this year to receive the prestigious award, which finances graduate study at the University of Oxford.
Hebert, who will graduate from the College with a degree in the biological basis of behavior, plans to pursue a master’s in psychiatry at Oxford. At Penn she studied the effects of nicotine and stress on neural circuitry, working in pharmacology professor Julie Blendy’s lab and co-authoring a research article that appeared in Frontiers of Neuroscience in September.
“In the past year, I’ve become more broadly interested in psychiatric disorders,” she says. “Particularly the influence of factors beyond the brain in the development of mental illness. For instance, gut bacteria have been shown to have effects on brain biology. I’m interested in studying the influence of the immune system and the body’s inflammatory response on mental illness.”
Hebert also made a mark as a rower for the Quakers. The four-year member of the women’s Varsity Eight was a two-time first-team all-region pick by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association, which also twice named her a National Scholar Athlete. She also volunteered at the Philadelphia Adaptive Rowing Club, assisting disabled rowers, as she had done as a high school student in Pittsburgh.
“I think it’s very therapeutic,” she reflects, noting that many of the rowers she helped were missing legs. “When you’re disabled, you are often dependent on others for mobility. But when you’re on the water, you can be completely independent, and row kilometers without any assistance.”
Ogunrinde, who goes by Debi, will graduate from the Huntsman Program with dual degrees in international studies and economics. At Oxford she intends to pursue two one-year master’s degrees: one in social anthropology and another in public policy.
At Penn, she focused on “learning about inequality and finding ways to remedy it.” She taught financial literacy to West Philadelphia students, worked in social-impact consulting, and traveled during summer breaks to research violence against Rastafarians in South Africa and the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in Nigeria. She is also an avid competitive debater, and plays badminton on the side.
She credits mentors Deborah Thomas, professor of anthropology and Africana Studies, and John Jackson, the Richard Perry University Professor and Dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice, with giving her “the tools I need in ethnography and anthropology” to advance her work on economic inequality.
The back-to-back master’s programs she intends to complete at Oxford, she says, “are a way of, from an anthropological lens, seeing what it’s like for minorities and disenfranchised groups—understanding their circumstances, how they perceive success, and what would be realistic, tenable ways to improve their socio-economic condition. And the master’s in public policy would be about finding a way to navigate business, navigate government, and find really long-term solutions.”
Both Hebert and Ogunrinde were assisted by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships in their Rhodes applications.
“We at CURF are extremely pleased that the Rhodes committee recognized Jenna’s commitment to improving the world through her work understanding the biological basis of behavior,” said Wallace Genser, senior associate director for fellowships and operations, in a statement. “We are also extremely proud that Debi is the recipient of a Rhodes in recognition of her academic achievement and ongoing commitment to serving marginalized communities in Philadelphia and throughout the world.” —T.P.