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2 Chicago Area Women Among Rhodes Scholarship Winners

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Sarah Smierciak (left) and Alexis Brown (right) were among 32 Rhodes Scholarship winners announced on Nov. 20, 2011. (Credit: CBS/University of Wisconsin website)

Sarah Smierciak (left) and Alexis Brown (right) were among 32 Rhodes Scholarship winners announced on Nov. 20, 2011. (Credit: CBS/University of Wisconsin website)

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Updated 11/20/11 – 5:10 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – A 22-year-old woman from Lemont and an Algonquin native are two of 32 people named as Rhodes Scholars on Sunday.

Northwestern University graduate Sarah Smierciak and University of Wisconsin senior Alexis Brown earned free education at Oxford University in England by receiving the honor.

Smierciak, of Lemont, says she was “completely shocked” when she got the word this weekend that she’d been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford.

“I was obviously very, very grateful and very, very relieved to hear,” she said.

Her field is development studies.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports

“Which is essentially studying the political and economic processes of developing countries, with the hopes of understanding the larger picture so that development resources and energies can be… better used,” Smierciak said.

Smierciak has been living in Cairo, Egypt – and has already gotten quite an education.

“One of my favorite pastimes in Egypt is taking taxis,” she said

And she says because unemployment is so high in Egypt, there’s a wide variety of people who are can drivers.

“And I find some of my most fascinating conversations are in these traffic-jammed 30, 40 minutes that I drive. I always make a point of sitting in the front seat even if that may be taboo because I find our conversations so enriching,” she said.

In Cairo, Smierciak has worked at a “street school,” helping street children and orphans.

Brown, of Algonquin, is a senior majoring in English and history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society as a junior and is founder and editor-in-chief of a national undergraduate journal of literary criticism

She also has taught reading and math to low-income students and is a figure skating instructor and choreographer.

Brown plans to study English literature at Oxford.

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