PHILADELPHIA – Senior David Carel of Penn Valley and sophomore Dakota McCoy of Wexford are recipients of the scholarships established in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes.
“I keep sort of checking my phone to see if this actually happened,” Carel said Sunday. “It’s so hard to believe, I just sort of assume I dreamed the whole thing.”
Carel, 21, an economics major, said he spent much of his undergraduate years studying global health economics, mostly public health, and plans to study comparative social policy.
“It’s a way to study not just health or education or in this case welfare economics, but the intersection of all three,” he said.
A trip to explore the South African roots of his family led to work in the KwaZulu-Natal region of western South Africa, where he joined Peace Corps volunteers and later a nonprofit working with at-risk youths who aren’t in school and don’t have jobs, trying to prevent widespread alcoholism, depression and other problems. Greater knowledge of the AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics led him to become an advocate on those issues, he said.
Carel said his experience with rural education in South Africa prompted him to join a friend on an educational technology startup that works to provide data for school systems in the United States on the environment of their schools and student feedback on teachers.
“It’s something that a lot of schools and a lot of districts are looking for right now. There’s a big movement to improve the collection of data within schools,” he said, adding that he might want to try to expand the use of such techniques in South Africa after he graduates.
And greater knowledge of the AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics led him to join other students to work on AIDS advocacy, he said.
Fluent in Zulu and Hebrew, he is lead drummer in a West African dance troupe and teaches Rukdan Israeli dancing, which he said he has been doing since the age of 10 or 11.
McCoy, 22, nicknamed Cody, has researched ecology, primate cognition and evolutionary biology and will study zoology at Oxford.
“I’m completely surprised and excited and blown away,” McCoy said Sunday. “It still feels like a dream.”
She said she hopes to study behavioral ecology, the connection between animal cognition and ecosystem processes. Learning how animals think and behave in an environment – how they forage and choose mates, for example – can help in designing of land reserves, setting up captive breeding programs and better managing ecotourism, she said.
McCoy said she has worked with primates but became interested in birds because studying animals with brains that developed in a completely different fashion could give clues to what leads to complex cognition.
“Are there environmental factors or do you have to be a social animal to be ‘intelligent’?” she asked. “Octopuses happen to have really high levels of cognition, so I think that kind of thing is really interesting.”
She also sings with Yale’s a cappella groups and competes in javelin and hurdles on the track team, where she is in the school’s all-time top 10 in each.
McCoy said her interest in biology was spurred by classes at North Allegheny Senior High and by internships at the Pittsburgh zoo and National Aviary, but acknowledged that having grown up with pets may have played a role, too.
“We had two dogs, and recently I went to Puerto Rico to do research and took care of two dogs who were starving on the streets, and now we have four dogs,” she said.