It’s been a busy fall for Kate Colley ’18. A full courseload for the chemistry major from Fredericksburg with a 3.92 GPA. Research work with her professor. And countless hours on the field hockey field, where the star midfielder has helped lead Longwood to a 10-2 start, the best in program history.
Add one more achievement to the list: she’s been nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship, a two-year fellowship to Oxford that is arguably the most prestigious award a college student can receive.
She’s believed to be Longwood’s first known nominee for the scholarship, at least going back several decades.
"There are a lot of fantastic students and professors at Longwood who challenge me every day."Kate Colley ’18
“It’s an honor to be the first person to submit a Rhodes Scholarship application from Longwood, but it seems almost natural,” said Colley. “There are a lot of fantastic students and professors at Longwood who challenge me every day, and the response I’ve gotten from faculty, administrators and the entire athletics department shows the kind of support system that is in place here.”
The Rhodes Scholarship funds two years of graduate study at the University of Oxford in England, the oldest English-speaking university in the world. Students who receive the scholarship join an elite and accomplished group of men and women that includes notable scientists, authors, academics and political leaders. Criteria include outstanding academic achievement, character and demonstrated leadership potential. Just 32 are chosen from the United States each year.
Longwood Chief of Staff Justin Pope, an Oxford graduate who has been advising Colley, said it isn’t necessarily for lack of qualified applicants that Longwood has not been nominating students. In the years ahead, the hope is to create a pipeline of campus high achievers and groom them for the rigorous application process.
Applicants must develop a compelling personal statement and supplement details of their coursework by gathering up to eight recommendation letters from professors, coaches, and university administrators. Colley will now wait to hear in the weeks ahead if she advances to the next stages, where finalists from the state and region are interviewed in person.
“It was Troy Austin (Longwood’s athletics director) who first identified Kate as a worthy candidate to be at the forefront of this effort, and she will do an outstanding job representing Longwood,” Pope said. “She is at the absolute top of her class academically, a committed student-athlete and team leader, and a delightful person who really loves and appreciates Longwood’s community and embodies the ideals of a citizen leader. However this application process plays out, she has a great future ahead of her.”
Colley is applying for a research-based graduate program in pharmacology at Oxford. Her passion for the field blends the two parts of her Longwood career – scholar and athlete.
"She is a perfect example of a student-athlete, which is I think someone who has to be committed to excellence on and off the field, and that’s Kate."Dr. Sarah Porter
“I was injured in high school and my time in the hospital led me to want to work in medicine—though I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a doctor or a nurse,” said Colley. “As I began studying chemistry seriously at Longwood and began to dive into research in Dr. Sarah Porter’s lab, pharmacology became this perfect blend of two things I wanted to pursue. That research challenged me in ways I haven’t been challenged before.”
Her research—devising a faster and better system for determining potentially harmful changes in molecules that are being considered for prescription drugs—is important for any student who wants to seriously study pharmacology, said Porter, Colley’s faculty research mentor for the last two semesters. “She’s learning what factors go into designing new pharmaceuticals, and the extremely complex mechanisms that make these drugs work—or not work,” she said.
Colley presented her research at the American Chemistry Society national meeting in Washington, D.C., in the fall, answering questions from scientists and professors interested in her work.
“She came alive when she started working in the lab on drug design,” said Porter, who wrote one of Colley’s Rhodes recommendation letters. “She is a perfect example of a student-athlete, which is I think someone who has to be committed to excellence on and off the field, and that’s Kate. She throws herself into whatever she’s working on with a lot of energy.”
Colley’s natural determination and grit are also highly visible on Longwood’s field hockey turf, where the four-year starter quietly anchors her team in the midfield—responsible for reading defenses and finding passing angles that will open up her teammates for scoring opportunities. She was also appointed team captain as a senior and has the Longwood program on track for one of the best seasons of any sport in school history.
“She is the type of player every coach dreams about—that quiet kind of leader who does everything I ask her to without complaints and plays one of the most selfless positions on the field,” said field hockey head coach Iain Byers, whose team started 9-1 and currently sits atop the Mid-American Conference standings with a record of 10-2. “She quietly does a lot of work so other players can be successful—and she’s very happy to play that role. But she’s a leader off the field too. Everyone on the team knows how hard she works in the classroom and that she holds all of them to as high a standard as herself.”