Last modified: Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — A Smith College senior from Nevada says she feels “overwhelmed” after becoming the first Rhodes Scholar from the United States in the 143-year history of the prestigious women’s school.

Clarke Knight, a 2010 graduate of Green Valley High School in Henderson, was one of 32 Americans named as 2014 Rhodes Scholars over the weekend.

The 21-year-old chemistry major said she wants to deal with climate change as a scientist after attending Oxford University beginning next October. She would like to see “evidence-based” policy on climate change and the U.S. take the lead on addressing the issue, she said.

“I really hope I can continue as a hard scientist who’s committed to policy, and I really hope we can rectify climate change and the problems we’ve caused with the environment,” Knight told The Associated Press.

“I really want to be a bridge between the two cultures of science and policymakers. They need a translator and I want to be that person,” she added.

Smith has previously had two Rhodes Scholars, Tariro Makadzange of Zimbabwe in 1997 and Angela Lwiindi Leila Hassan of Zambia in 1994.

Knight praised her college and high school mentors as well as her parents, Kenneth and Teri Knight, both of whom have Ph.D.s. Her father owns a Las Vegas environmental firm and her mother is a resource specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I’m just so grateful. I’m stupefied and overwhelmed,” she said. “I’m thinking about all the people who helped me get here... Smith College has changed my life. I had a fabulous public education in Nevada. My parents have always been the No. 1 people behind me.”

When she graduates from Smith in May, Knight is seeking to undergo a two-year program at Oxford. She plans to pursue a master of philosophy degree in geography and environment at Oxford.

During one recent summer, she worked with a plant pathologist in Australia to investigate two diseases that were having a significant impact on the global potato crop. The team discovered and marketed a new chemical that neutralized the disease, resulting in an estimated worldwide increase of one billion potatoes annually.

She was awarded a fellowship the following summer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the stability of biological samples from people exposed to mercury. The study resulted in a change of collection and storage procedures at the CDC.

At Smith, Knight is a member of the varsity crew and cross country teams. She also has written a book on women’s contributions to architecture. The success of this book has led her to compile biographies of Smith College chemistry graduates, a project that she says “fills the gap in the early history of American women chemists.”

The compilation, which earned Clarke the Emerson National scholarship from Iota Sigma Pi, a society of women chemists, will be published online.

“She’s the kind of kid who’s going to make a difference for the world someday,” Kenneth Knight said. “She’s not in it for the money. She’s in it because she loves science and wants to do good work.”

The Rhodes Scholarship, established in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes, provides the expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.


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