A Look at Brown's Four Rhodes Scholars

March 14, 2012

From left to right, David Poritz, Nabeel Gillani, Brianna Doherty. Not pictured, Emma LeBlancFrom left to right, David Poritz, Nabeel Gillani, Brianna Doherty. Not pictured, Emma LeBlancIn November 2011, Brown made history when three seniors and one recent alumni, Brianna Doherty, Nabeel Gillani, David Poritz, and Emma LeBlanc, earned the Rhodes Scholarship.  This was the first time that Brown won more than two Rhodes Scholarships in a single year, and the first time since 1970 that we had more than one student win in a year. Only 32 United States students are selected to receive the award each year based upon their scholarly achievements, character, commitment to others and the common good, as well as potential for leadership in their chosen field. The scholarship enables recipients to attend the University of Oxford and pursue any postgraduate degree of their choosing. Notable winners of the Rhodes include former President William H. Clinton, surgeon Atul Gawande, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and journalist Rachel Maddow, to name but a few.

Brianna DohertyBrianna DohertyBrianna Doherty is a senior majoring in cognitive neuroscience who studies how abnormalities in the neurocognitive systems of autistic individuals affect their social and communicative abilities, in particular the ability to feel empathy. Brianna’s current research focuses on how infants 7 – 10 months old understand cause-and-effect and how they use this probabilistic information to guide their actions. Such research will, hopefully, provide greater insights into how humans understand their own and others’ mental states. Brianna also explores human consciousness in less scientific venues: she is a dancer, DJ (working at the nation's oldest student-owned and -operated radio station WBRU), painter and was a leather smith during time she spent studying in Florence. She is a peer advisor and a leader of the Brown Outdoor Leadership Training program and a certified wilderness first responder. Brianna will pursue a master’s degree in experimental psychology at Oxford.


Nabeel GillaniNabeel GillaniNabeel Gillani is a senior majoring in applied mathematics and computer science. His work focuses on the question of how computer science can help people, businesses, NGOs, governments to make better decisions within systems where an exponentially large number of possibilities and therefore, difficulties must be navigated. At Brown, this has meant work in the university’s optimization lab, researching how best to restore electricity to those affected by disasters. Time spent at outreach program in Providence’s public schools teaching mathematics, as well as mentoring work with the Aga Khan Education Board, has led Nabeel to try to harness this computer power to improve educational outcomes. Nabeel has worked as a Microsoft project manager, co-founded The Capital Good Fund (a Providence-based microfinance organization),  and loves basketball. At Oxford Nabeel plans to pursue a dual master’s degree in computer science and education.

Emma LeBlancEmma LeBlancEmma LeBlanc graduated from Brown in May with a degree in sociology. She is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in fiction at Southern New Hampshire University, where she is writing a novel. LeBlanc founded and maintains the Besease Scholarship Fund in Ghana, where she lived and taught English. Emma co-founded her own small, independent photographic agency, Makoto Photographic, in order to counter a tendency to produce photographs stripped of context and, therefore, meaning. She  has worked as photojournalist in Iraq, independently and embedded with the 101st Airborne, as well as in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Her photographs have appeared in GQ Magazine, Le Monde Diplomatique, The National, The Kurdish Globe, Syria Today Magazine, JO Magazine, and Niqash. She now lives near Damascus, Syria. Emma has written an ethnography about the people at the House of Dignity, a home for the disenfranchised in Damascus where she worked for two years. Emma will pursue a doctorate in social and cultural anthropology at Oxford, researching the area’s marginalized Bedouin community.

David PoritzDavid PoritzDavid Poritz is a senior majoring in anthropology and Latin American and Caribbean studies whose research focuses on the impact of the oil industry upon the lives of people in the Amazon. While still in junior high school, David traveled to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where he observed villagers walking barefoot on roads contaminated by oil.  He promptly organized and directed a project to collect and collect 12,500 pairs of used shoes for the villagers. This project led David to create Esperanza International, an NGO that seeks to bring relief to villages in the oil affected regions of Ecuador. Since then, David started and maintained Equitable Origin, the first global certification program for the petroleum industry, which aims to find and support companies engaged in the best practices of extraction. Fast Company recently did a full-length profile of David's work with Equitable Origin. A Truman scholar, Poritz was instrumental in introducing an article to the Ecuadorian constitution that establishes the right of nature to be preserved. At Oxford, David plans to pursue a master’s degree in Latin American studies.