Russian Jewish immigrant to St. Louis to study at Oxford on Rhodes scholarship

Anna Alekseyeva

By Lena Fish, Special to the Jewish Light

Among the 32 students in the United States awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England this fall, is St. Louisan Anna Alekseyeva, a Russian Jewish immigrant who came with her parents and brother to St. Louis from St. Petersburg in 1994. She will spend the next two to three years at Oxford, with all of her expenses paid.

Alekseyeva graduated from University of Chicago in May, where she majored in history and public policy. But she started her distinguished educational career as a shy kindergartener at Old Bonhomme Elementary School in Olivette. It was there that she first became a dedicated student.

“I always study,” Alekseyeva said. “I mean that’s what I have done for the past four years. It is difficult to achieve at the University of Chicago otherwise. But I like to study anyway. It’s kind of natural for me.”

Such tireless scholarly work made a long lasting impression even on her first-year professor. “Anna showed herself to be exceptionally bright from the very beginning,” said Dorit Geva, Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences at University of Chicago. “She enrolled in a full-year course with me focusing on some of the most influential thinkers in the social science, such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. She wrote a paper on Karl Marx that I consider one of the best papers I’ve read by a University of Chicago undergraduate on that topic. It became apparent, that Anna’s understanding of this complex thinker’s ideas was exceptionally strong and sophisticated.”

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Alekseyev’s fellowship to study in Oxford truly stunned her parents, Polina Levin and Victor Alekseyev.

“First, we had to educate ourselves about the Rhodes Scholarship,” Levin explained. “As newcomers to this country we didn’t know about such awesome opportunities and weren’t able to help Anna at all. Of course, now we feel very grateful that her hard work was rewarded. Yet, we are just a little sad that she will be so far from home for several years.”

Alekseyeva plans to pursue a career in international development.

One summer during college, she worked in New York for the Human Rights Watch, researching the immigration situation in Central Asia, in particular in Tadzhikistan, the border state to Afghanistan. “It was very interesting to do,” she said. “I got a strong feeling that I’m on the right path now.”

Last summer, she worked as an intern at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C., where she prepared materials for the United Nations on various immigration issues, including internal displacement and post conflict reconstruction.

“I hope the practical application of my research will be used at the upcoming workshop in Switzerland. In such countries as Georgia, Serbia, Uganda, Burundi and Sudan there are many internally displaced citizens who have to be returned to their home areas,” she said.

Education is of utmost importance to Alekseyev’s parents who were in their forties when they came to America. Once they arrived here, it took years of studying before they each got their professional license to work in this country as engineers, the career they had pursued in Russia. Such dedication became the strong foundation for both of their children.

Their eldest, Leonid, is an alumnus of Stanford University and is currently working on his doctorate in physics in Princeton. “My brother has a very intellectually curious mind that has always mystified and impressed me. And our mom and dad are a living example that has always been in front of my eyes,” said Alekseyeva.

Each year, 32 U.S. citizens are among more than 80 Rhodes Scholars worldwide who take up degree courses at Oxford University. The first American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904. This highly competitive scholarship is the world’s oldest international postgraduate award and is widely considered as the most prestigious one as well. The program’s alumni include former President Bill Clinton, television journalist George Stephanopoulos and the present U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, just to name a few.