NIU has finally broken through.
Thomas Bouril, senior University Honors student and history major, is the first Huskie ever selected to interview for a chance to receive a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. As a finalist, Bouril was invited to spend a weekend in Chicago to compete for the chance to earn a Master of Letters in History from Oxford University in England.
Thirteen candidates from District 10, comprised of Illinois and Michigan, vie every year for only two awards. The Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world, with only 32 Americans selected yearly from among hundreds of applicants. The scholarship, formed by Cecil J. Rhodes, has provided 7,521 students with tuition, fees, a living stipend and airfare to study at Oxford University since 1903.
Bouril’s path to this honor has been somewhat unconventional.
Until three years ago, he had never sat in a classroom with other students or a teacher other than his parents. As a home-schooled student, he learned to study independently and to integrate his academic studies into real-world applications. He also developed a strong drive toward academia, which he approaches with a competitiveness not often seen. Not being in a conventional classroom shaped his work ethic and created the academic foundation that has allowed him to succeed.
His enrollment at both Rock Valley College, where he maintained a 4.0 GPA, and NIU, has filled him with such excitement that the classroom is where he wants to spend his career. He continues to excel and maintains a 4.0 GPA as a history major and Community Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) minor. His research interests center on the interactions between western nations and African nations during the post-colonial period. His goal is to earn a doctorate in history and become a history professor.
Bouril is well-known on campus for his role as a University Honors Fellow, research efforts, advocacy for transfer students, involvement in campus committees and organizations and for his work in CLCE. In the summer of 2013, he also participated in the Summer Research Opportunities Program.
Under the guidance of a research mentor, Nancy Castle, Bouril researched the existing resources available to people with disabilities in Europe. His data mining and findings have laid a foundation for other CLCE students to expand into further research on this topic and greatly contributed to the development of Castle’s planned study abroad program for the summer of 2014.
Bouril has received many awards and recognition opportunities prior to being selected as a Rhodes finalist.
Until now, he considered his Harvard National Model United Nations “Honorable Mention” and his internship for Illinois State Rep. Joe Sosnowski his most notable accomplishments. But it’s clear that Rhodes is something special too. “It was really an amazing experience and such an honor to make it to the finalist stage. I feel so thankful for everyone who helped me get there and prepare for the weekend.”
Jason Goode, assistant to the associate vice provost of the University Honors program, who heads up the institution’s efforts for the Rhodes, said he believes that NIU is moving in the right direction for seeing even more students earning an opportunity to contend for these type of national and international awards.
“I am excited to have the opportunity to help students prepare for competitive awards. NIU provides students with the academic, service, and leadership backgrounds necessary to be considered for these awards,” Goode said. “Hopefully we will continue to see an increase in our applicants for the Rhodes Scholarship and for many of the other national and international scholarships.”
As for Bouril, he noted that being nominated and selected to interview is a huge milestone for him and for NIU. “It is remarkable to have opened the door for NIU, and looking at the staff and community members that have helped me, I know NIU will be able to continue to give some of our talented students this incredible opportunity.”
NIU students interested in applying for the Rhodes Scholarship next year and following in Bouril’s footsteps should contact Goode by email at [email protected].
“Awards like the Rhodes are not awards that a student can decide to apply for and be competitive at the last minute,” he said. “Preparing for the Rhodes should begin in your first year.”