When Ruth Anne French grew up on a farm in Partridge, she could not have imagined her excellence in academics and interest in the environment would land her a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
French graduated from Kansas University in May, and the $50,000 scholarship will help her attain a master's degree in politics, focusing on comparative governments, at the University of Oxford in Great Britain this fall.
Cecil J. Rhodes, the British colonial pioneer and statesman who died in 1902, provided in his will a vision of improving the world through leaders motivated to serve others. But it was 1976 before the Rhodes trustees opened the competition to women.
Rhodes officials selected 32 Rhodes scholars for 2005 through a lengthy process of eight regional competition sites throughout the United States.
French says her commitment to make the world a better place along with her academic success got her through the process.
"I really didn't think I had a chance, but I've always been studious and creative, and never let anything intimidate me," she said. "The interview process gave me an opportunity to meet people who inspired me."
French's interest in the University of Oxford was ignited when she visited a cousin there after high school graduation.
"I noticed they had top professors, and I was intrigued by the one-on-one style of study there," French said.
French says she's elated to have the opportunity to study how citizens of other nations are affected by their government's environmental policies.
"I would like to know how citizens can have more input with the process of environmental regulations," she said.
French's parents, Jim and Lisa French, live on a fifth-generation farm in Partridge and say they believe farming may have inspired French's interest in the environment.
"Ruth Ann grew up on a farm, and we introduced her to environmental issues related to the farm," Lisa French said.
French says her daughter always loved academics and was hopeful when she applied for the Rhodes scholarship, but she knew she was competing with top candidates.
"With Ruth Ann coming from a rural background, it just shows how well someone can do," French said. "It can be encouraging to other kids."
French's parents are planning a trip to England after their daughter gets settled there.
"I've never been outside the country," French said. "But we are making plans to go to England."