Kilimo ’14 wins Rhodes Scholarship

by Sasha Dudding and Sara McGahan | 11/11/14 8:59pm

Newly selected Rhodes Scholar Miriam Kilimo ’14 is doing research and on-the-ground work in her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya, this fall, but she will enroll at Oxford University soon.Once there, the scholarship will fully support Kilimo’s master’s degree in women’s studies.

At Dartmouth, Kilimo majored in anthropology, which she said has informed her research on female circumcision in Kenya and how the practice relates to women’s identity and sexuality. She said she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. after obtaining her master’s, ultimately joining academia in Kenya as an anthropologist.

Kilimo’s most influential academic experience at Dartmouth was studying nationalism and ethnicity during her senior fellowship, she said. During the program, participants pursue a yearlong research project in lieu of taking classes.

Kilimo studied how violence following the 2007-08 Kenyan election season served as a “coming of age” moment among young individuals in five Kenyan cities.

“The most important thing I think it gave me is just the confidence of being able to articulate my interests,” Kilimo said.

Kilimo said that her involvement in Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, a yearlong program that brings a group of seniors together for weekly meetings with various guest speakers, prepared her for the Rhodes application process. This proved especially important — given the amount of work Kilimo was conducting for her senior fellowship, she had little time to conduct mock interviews.

By teaching her how to interact well in a formal environment, she said, the program “normalized” the Rhodes application process.

“I remember going into my interview saying, ‘This is normal. I’ve done this before. This is just an extension of things that I’ve done at Dartmouth,’” she said.

Kilimo said she also sought advice from her classmate Joseph Singh ’14, who was one of two Dartmouth students to win a Rhodes Scholarship last year, along with Jonathan Pedde ’14.

Anthropology professor Sergei Kan, who served as Kilimo’s advisor during the fellowship, said he expects Kilimo to become one of the country’s and the region’s most prominent anthropologists.

“She is a great person, very smart and a pleasure to work with,” Kan said.

He added that Kilimo’s senior thesis was both an exercise in academic work and also a personal journey. The thesis included narrative and autobiographical elements, he said.

“She wasn’t just writing about some country — it was her country that she cares about very deeply,” Kan said.

African and African-American studies and comparative literature professor Ayo Coly called Kilimo “scary smart” and “extremely polite.”

Kilimo introduced herself to Coly as a freshman and set up a meeting to discuss their mutual interest in African women’s studies. Kilimo then took Coly’s class on gender identities and politics in Africa the following year. Kilimo earned a citation in the class — one of just four or five Coly said she has ever given.

It was Coly who first encouraged Kilimo to apply for the Rhodes.

“I told her, ‘You need to prepare yourself for the Rhodes. You need to apply for the Rhodes,’” Coly recalled saying to Kilimo. “‘You are a Rhodes Scholar.’”

Coly and Kan co-advised Kilimo’s senior fellowship, and Coly said the two would sit down for two hours each week to discuss her progress.

“I have to say, I really miss that,” Coly said.

When it came time to recommend Kilimo for the scholarship, Coly found herself with a seven-page document. The committee only wanted two pages, she said, and it took hours for her to condense the letter.

Rockefeller Center deputy director Sadhana Hall said the fellowship program benefited from Kilimo’s presence, and added that it was “a blessing” to know her. Kilimo, whom Hall called a “Rocky baby,” participated in six of the center’s programs over her four years at Dartmouth.

“I just found her thoughtful, introspective, reflective and full of fun,” Hall said.

Kilimo applied for the scholarship through the Kenyan application process, which has a different schedule from that of the U.S. or Canada, assistant dean of scholarship advising Jessica Smolin wrote in an email.

Smolin, who replaced Kristin O’Rourke in July, wrote that she works most closely with American and Canadian applicants, who must be nominated by their college. In Kenya, applicants apply to the scholarship directly, she wrote.

Kilimo was the 76th Dartmouth student to win the scholarship. In her time at Dartmouth, she was also a salutatorian, a tutor at the center for Research, Writing and Information Technology, an undergraduate advisor and a member of the Dartmouth African Students Association, Christian Union, Casque and Gauntlet senior society and Jabulani African Chorus.

Invo Chami ’16, the president of DASA, has known Kilimo since her freshman year, and called her friend a source of good advice, joy and support.

“She would just always be on the lookout for other students on campus, and I really appreciated that,” Chami said.

She also highlighted Kilimo’s writing abilities, from her personal blogs to her senior fellowship, and said she was a skilled storyteller.