All Rhodes lead to England for Devi Sridhar

M
ost students who are Devi Sridhar’s age are just entering college and taking the academic steps of registering for classes and deciding on a major. But Sridhar is not your typical college student. At only 18 years of age, she will graduate from the University of Miami this May with a biology degree and then head to Oxford University in England as the youngest American ever to be named a Rhodes Scholar.

Sridhar is one of 32 American winners of the prestigious scholarship, which provides up to three years of study at Oxford. Starting next October, she will study for a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics, specializing in developing countries.

She is among 95 winners selected worldwide from 981 applicants. Winners are chosen on the basis of high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor.

Sridhar is the University’s third Rhodes Scholar. The award was created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes.

For Sridhar, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Medical Honors Program, which fast-tracks students from undergraduate entrance to a medical degree in six years, winning the award brings her a step closer to achieving her goal of working in the field of government service.

“I want to work with the United Nations or World Health Organization to help bring basic health care to developing nations such as India and countries in Latin America,” says Sridhar, whose mother and late father moved to South Florida from India in 1982.

While Sridhar’s Rhodes Scholarship is a prestigious honor, it is but one in a long list of accomplishments achieved by this lifelong straight-A student, who entered UM as a junior after graduating from Ransom Everglades School only 15 months ago.

Sridhar already has been accepted to UM’s School of Medicine as well as to Cornell, Georgetown, and Yale law schools. She speaks five languages—English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Tamil, an Indian dialect—is an accomplished violinist and tennis player, and has tutored autistic children.

Sridhar also has written a book with her older sister and younger brother called Puzzle Your Way Through Indian Mythology. “We took the huge, complicated books of Indian mythology, and we simplified them into little stories and paired them with puzzles, games, and drawings to make it fun for children,” Sridhar says. “We had fun doing it.”

Preparing for the grueling Rhodes Scholarship interview process also was fun, says Sridhar, who used several different techniques—such as reading The New York Times and discussing Shakespeare and history with her younger brother, Jay—to ready herself for the panel of judges. Applicants faced questioning on general knowledge, current events, and their academic majors.

“But the big secret is that I went to Barnes and Noble and read through some of the Idiots Guides,” Sridhar says. “My favorites were World Conflicts and Philosophy. They’re just a great basic education in the why, what, where, and how.”

More important than any lesson Sridhar ever learned in the classroom is the one taught to her by her late father, Kasi Sridhar, a noted lung cancer researcher at the UM/Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, who died of leukemia and lymphoma. “He taught me what’s important in life,” Sridhar says, “that material things don’t matter. It’s all about what you leave behind, what you do with your life.”

It is a lesson also learned by Sridhar’s four siblings, who all exhibit the same penchant for success in academics and life as their Oxford-bound sister.

Older sister Divya, who just turned 21, is already in her second year in UM medical school. “Now she’s brilliant,” says Devi Sridhar of her older sibling. “Being around her inspires me to work better.”

Meanwhile, 14-year-old Jay is a tenth grader at Ransom and one of the top chess players in Miami-Dade County. Last year, his math team was number one in the state. Sridhar also has a younger brother and sister in elementary school.

“They are a very tight-knit group of kids,” says mother Leela, a pediatrician. “They support each other highly in a lot of ways and are actually each other’s best friends.”

Leela Sridhar says there is no “magic formula” for her children’s success. “Just a lot of love, support, and attention.”