U religious studies student awarded prestigious scholarship

Sarah McKenzie

Molly Zahn, a senior studying religious studies, has received the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. She is one of 32 Americans honored with the award.
Zahn, of Stevens Point, Wisc., shares company with an elite class of students who will be funded by the scholarship to study at Oxford University in England. The Rhodes Scholarship, endowed by British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes in 1902, pays for two to three years of study at Oxford.
Carl Tape, who studies at Carleton College in Northfield, is the other Minnesota college student who earned the scholarship. Eight regional committees chose among 950 applicants from 327 colleges and universities nationwide.
Zahn studies the Hebrew Bible, but started her undergraduate career as a music performance major. She is interested in biblical law and has aspirations to become a professor.
During final interviews Saturday at Macalester College in St. Paul, Zahn had to prove to the scholarship committee she is a committed leader who has the power to make a difference in the world.
“I really made the argument that because the Bible is such an important text, there is a place for critical biblical scholarship to examine what these texts are really getting at,” Zahn said.
In addition to her studies, Zahn is an active member of St. Frances Cabrini Church near campus. She also volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and does other social justice work with her church.
During the application process, Zahn had to secure eight letters of recommendation, draft a personal statement and send her resume and transcript. She interviewed with University, state and district committees before she was named a Rhodes Scholar.
The first call Zahn made Saturday night was to her parents in Wisconsin.
“She has been an autonomous learner from an early age,” said Molly’s father, Rick Zahn. “She has been a voracious reader since she was very young. When she latches onto something she really pursues it with all of her energy.”
William Malandra, chairman of the classical and Near Eastern studies department, said Zahn stands out as an undergraduate in the department. He said he expects her to rise to the top echelon of scholars studying the Hebrew Bible in the coming years.
“She has an extremely keen analytical mind,” Malandra said. “She is doing work now that you would expect a second- or third-year graduate student to do.”
Despite her academic prowess, Malandra said Zahn remains down-to-earth.
“She doesn’t have airs or pretensions,” he added. “She’s just a very good person.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.