Apple of Our Eye

Before Sean Reilly ’16 traveled to Australia on a Fulbright fellowship, he had never eaten a pond apple. He worked with Aboriginal rangers to manage growth of the plants that formed dense stands and replaced native ecosystems. Today, Reilly can say pond apples are delicious—a tastier mango. Even sweeter? The Rhodes Scholarship he earned thanks in part to his research.

Apple of Our Eye
Photo by James Tensuan

An environmental science and biology alumnus, Reilly is one of 32 American Rhodes Scholars for 2018. He is the third Santa Clara University grad to win the award in the past eight years and the fourth in SCU history. At University of Oxford, he’ll follow in the Bronco footsteps of Aven Satre Meloy ’13Noelle Lopez ’09, and former FDA head Arthur Hayes ’55. And he joins luminaries such as former President Bill Clinton and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

A Rhodes Scholarship, one of the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world, provides all expenses for two years of study at Oxford.

While at Oxford, Reilly will earn a master’s degree in mathematical modeling and scientific computing and in environmental change and management. He wants to help communities address anthropogenic impacts on their ecological surroundings. During his time in Australia, Reilly saw spaces and problems far too big to tackle in person. His work at Oxford will teach him how to use sophisticated modeling to do research too large or complicated to physically sample. In other words, big data meets nature.

Reilly’s tenure at Santa Clara’s College of Arts and Sciences was an illustrious one. A member of the University Honors Program who worked with the Center for Sustainability, he won a trio of SCU Sustainability Champion Awards (one individual and two collaborative); was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior; won the SCU Environmental Science Research Award; and won the Distinguished Researcher Award from the School for Field Studies in 2015—which took him to Queensland for environmental field research.

Leilani Miller, director of the Honors Program, says Reilly is an example of SCU at its best: “He has the intellect and research skills to understand problems and find solutions no one else has found,” Miller says, “and a conscience that is pushing him to do something about it.”

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