10 questions with Laura Guay, Rhodes scholarship finalist
Every scholarship seems glamorous and out of reach, but if you can believe it, there is one scholarship that stands out above the rest – the Rhodes Scholarship.
The Rhodes Scholarship provides 32 students from the United States with the opportunity to study at Oxford for several years. The competition is brutal, but the rewards are high. In Penn State history, only two students have been named Rhodes Scholars, but even to be considered is a huge honor.
This year, student Laura Guay was named Rhodes scholarship finalist, affirming Penn State’s place on the map as a respected academic institution. We managed to steal some time from Guay to ask him questions about his research, the scholarship application process and more.
Advanced state: Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you grow up, how did you get to Penn State, what is your specialty?
Laura Guay: I’m from State College (I’ve lived here since I was 5) and ultimately decided to study at Penn State due to the major in Biobehavior (which is my major). I was very interested in public health from high school which is really hard to find as an undergraduate major, so when I found out about BBH I was elated! I also specialize in French and Francophone studies and I have a minor in global health. I knew Penn State had a wide range of study abroad opportunities which would really improve my French studies, so this was definitely another reason to choose Penn State.
OS: What do you think have been your most notable accomplishments since your time at Penn State?
LG: Placing fourth in the Emory University International Global Health Case Competition was a truly enriching experience for me, as it was an opportunity to connect with medical students and other graduate students in the world. public health space at Penn State and apply my previous global health education. and professional experiences to inform the work. My UNESCO fellowship was also a remarkable achievement for me, once again, because of the bonds I forged with my colleagues through this experience. Not only do I have the opportunity to connect with other UN agencies and young people around the world to implement projects in response to COVID-19, but it is also living proof that it is possible to form strong emotional bonds with people living in remote spaces. !! I will be completing my contract after I graduate in person at the headquarters in Paris, and I’m honestly more excited to finally meet my colleagues in person than the graduation itself!
OS: How has Schreyer Honors College helped you achieve your goals?
LG: By connecting me early on to undergraduate research experiences at Penn State, Honors College definitely helped me write a thesis that made sense to me, rather than being just a checkbox. They also supported me through study abroad opportunities and put me in touch with opportunities across college that I would never have experienced otherwise. I would like to especially thank Lisa Kerchinski who included me in the work she was doing around social impact and civic engagement at Schreyer. I was honored to work with her and other Schreyer students, the Schreyer Administration, and the Penn State Faculty to improve this aspect of the Schreyer Mission, and working with her really confirmed my professional interests in design, development and implementation of projects.
OS: Can you share with us the subject of your honors thesis?
LG: I am very proud to have written my honors thesis and the 2.5 years of work that I have devoted to it. I really wanted to make my thesis a meaningful experience that combined areas in which I worked a lot as an undergraduate student. For me, it was my work in the Stress, Health and Daily Experiences with Loneliness Lab and my position as a peer educator through resources on AIDS with HIV and sexual health in general. While it was so rewarding to conduct my own study, the most meaningful part of the experience was being able to interview 26 health professionals specializing in HIV care locally (in the central PA) and abroad (in Dakar, Senegal where I studied abroad). I loved bonding with these people, hearing their passion and learning from their expertise.
OS: What is your research focusing on and what is its impact on the world as a whole?
LG: I’m in a research lab that studies loneliness, especially exploring it in a multidimensional way and how people can experience loneliness differently depending on whether it is related to different groups or categories, such as family, friends, romantic partner, community, etc. We are looking for ways to design new scales to better assess this multidimensional aspect of loneliness. My personal research branched out onto this concept of the multidimensionality of loneliness by exploring this concept through qualitative interviews with health professionals. I was examining providers’ perspectives on the multidimensional aspects of loneliness they see in their clients living with HIV. I think looking at this topic of loneliness now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and seeing its relevance to the global community, shows the direct impact this research could have on reducing negative health outcomes people suffering from loneliness in the world. If I do any future research in this area, I would definitely be interested in focusing more on intervention research around loneliness, taking into account this multidimensional nature of loneliness.
OS: How did the Rhodes Scholarship application go in terms of intensity and competitiveness?
LG: The Rhodes app and the interview experience was nothing like what I had experienced before. Although the surface application is very standard (CV / curriculum vitae, proposed study program, academic statement of study and personal statement / essay) you needed 8 letters of recommendation, you had to be very intentional in your selection program of study, and you needed to show somehow how all of your life experiences up to that point came together into a cohesive account. That being said, the scholarship office (very special thanks to Dr Caitlin Ting and Ben Randolph) have been extremely helpful in supporting me and sorting out my scattered thoughts in thinking about this candidacy.
The interview was also a very unnatural experience with a supervised reception, a one-on-one interview and then a very long 4 hour deliberation period where the 14 finalists were in a chat room while the panelists selected the last 2 Rhodes Scholars. . That being said, I used the experience as an opportunity to share with the panelist and my passion for researching loneliness. It was really rewarding to hear everyone’s intellectual curiosity in my subject of study, and it’s also really cool to now have a network of panelists with really interesting backgrounds (one was the CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art!) and finalists.
OS: How does it feel to represent Penn State for the first time in 20 years as a Rhodes Scholar finalist?
LG: I am absolutely honored to be named a finalist, and the awareness and support of the Penn State community throughout this process, and especially now, has been nothing short of amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a more favorable last semester before graduation. I am now honored to be a part of the journey and support system of all future PSU Rhodes finalists !! Please, if anyone is considering applying in Rhodes and has any questions, contact us! Dr. Ting from the scholarship office has my contact information.
OS: What other activities do you participate in on campus and in the community?
LG: Aside from my research experience at SHADE Lab and working as a team collaborator with the Human Development Design for Impact Lab (HUDDIL), I am also a peer educator with AIDS Resource in downtown State. College. I have also worked with the Penn State Center Philadelphia on various social justice projects. I was also very involved in Campus Rec and I worked at the tennis center.
OS: After graduation, what are your next steps?
LG: I plan to end my in-person consultant position with UNESCO (in Paris!) In early 2022, then I will start a government consultant position in the area of public health.
OS: According to Onward State lore, if you could be a dinosaur, which one would you be and why?
LG: Definitely a velociraptor! They are super fast, and I walk incredibly fast and I also love to run!