BOISE, Idaho — Of the 32 Rhodes Scholars announced Sunday from across the U.S., two have even more in common than the intelligence, integrity and leadership potential required for the prestigious award.
Amanda Frickle and Joseph Thiel both live in the same Montana city, Bozeman. And they both have an Idaho connection: Thiel is originally from Idaho and goes to college in Montana, while Frickle is originally from Montana and went to college in Idaho.
“That’s how it worked out,” said Thiel, a senior at Montana State University. “We were surprised, too.”
The two met for the first time several weeks ago after learning they’d both been named finalists for the honor, which comes with a scholarship to Oxford University in England. They got together at a Bozeman coffee shop to discuss strategy for their final interviews.
“We just kind of talked through some things,” said Frickle, who graduated from The College of Idaho last spring. “We wanted to know where the other two were coming from. We asked each other some prep questions.”
A third Rhodes Scholar finalist from Bozeman also was named, and joined Thiel and Frickle at the coffee shop. But only two scholars are chosen from the six-state region that includes Montana and Idaho.
Frickle’s path through academics and the goals she’s set have always been about learning how to help others — so much so that she almost passed up the chance to become a Rhodes Scholar.
“I resisted applying even though my professors told me to do it because I didn’t want to take this opportunity away from somebody else,” said Frickle, 23.
But her professors turned out to be right.
“I’m still in a state of shock, to be perfectly honest,” said Frickle, reached by phone at a Seattle bookstore, where she was searching for Oxford traveler’s guides.
Frickle, originally from Billings, Mont., majored in history and political economy, and graduated summa cum laude from The College of Idaho in Caldwell. Much of her academic work has been in gender studies.
She served as student body president and president of the Gay-Straight Student Alliance at the Idaho school. She also has worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.
After graduating, Frickle worked for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in Montana as a phone bank coordinator as workers made calls to the battleground states of Iowa and Colorado.
At Oxford, she plans to pursue dual masters programs — one in women’s studies and the other possibly in public policy.
The winners were selected from 838 applicants endorsed by 302 different colleges and universities. One of the last obstacles for potential Rhodes Scholars was the finalists’ interview.
“I sort of teared up toward the end,” Frickle said. “I wouldn’t be here without my family and the people who really invested in me.”
Thiel, of Boise, has traveled to Kenya twice to work on engineering projects intended to help the local population. He admits he arrived in Kenya with a bit of a hero complex. But after two visits, that was gone.
“The engineering is easy,” Thiel said. “The social problems and history of aid work in the area and the challenges that has created — that’s a lot more difficult.”
It’s that problem faced by locals and the many students who travel abroad every year to help in some meaningful way that Thiel, 22, hopes to address through his studies as a Rhodes Scholar.
At Montana State, Thiel is majoring in chemical engineering and liberal studies with a focus on politics, philosophy and economics. He also is a student representative on the Board of Regents of the Montana University System.
Thiel has had a big year, marrying his high school sweetheart in August. Though his residence is now Boise, he graduated from Skyline High School in Idaho Falls in 2008. He said he met his future wife, Bizz Browning, in seventh grade in a science class. He said she’s heading to Oxford with him, and that she’s applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in Germany. The two of them graduate in May from Montana State.
Thiel’s two trips to Kenya with Engineers Without Borders have had a profound influence on his thinking. He would like to see changes “so that when we send innocents abroad, they can get realistic lessons from the experience.”
Like Frickle, Thiel said he was grateful for all the help he’s received on his path toward being named a Rhodes Scholar.
“It’s an honor and it’s an obligation,” he said.