Rachel Kolb is a lot of things you might expect a Rhodes scholar to be. She is an articulate, hard-working, friendly graduate of Albuquerque Academy.
She is also deaf, a fact she plays down in describing her path to one of the most world’s most prestigious academic honors.
“I’ve always felt most comfortable in an academic setting, especially while I was reading and writing — that’s been close to my heart,” Kolb said. “And so I’ve never really thought of my disability as standing in the way of that.”
Just 32 Rhodes scholars were selected nationwide, from a pool of 838 candidates nominated by their colleges and universities. The list was announced this weekend.
Kolb, 22, has finished her undergraduate degree at Stanford. She is still there, now pursuing a one-year master’s degree in English. At Oxford next year, she plans to study contemporary literature and comparative social policy.
Kolb said she would like to write about social issues affecting people with disabilities.
“That’s something I’m passionate about, and I’m hoping to do that in a very mainstream, meaningful way,” she said, sitting outside the Academy on the day before Thanksgiving. Kolb was home for the holiday break.
Kolb has attended mainstream classes with her hearing peers since kindergarten, always with the help of a sign language interpreter. She attended the Academy from sixth through twelfth grade and had the same interpreter the whole time. She credits that interpreter, Jennifer Cole, with providing steady support and a familiar face throughout her schooling.
“That relationship is a really special one to me. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to get to know that person, but also explore what you are able to do in your own abilities while they help you through the classroom setting,” she said.
Kolb continued to have classroom interpreters at Stanford and will have them at Oxford. But she can have extensive conversations without any help, thanks to years of speech therapy, her ability to read lips, and a cochlear implant she got in the summer of 2010.
She said the implant helps her communicate, but she still doesn’t talk on the phone and relies on a combination of sounds and lip reading.
“It hasn’t turned me into a hearing person overnight, but it’s given me this wonderful tool to work with,” she said.
Besides excelling academically, Kolb began riding horses when she was 8 and did horse shows throughout high school. She has been president of the Stanford equestrian team for two years and represented Stanford in the national finals in 2010 and 2011.
She said that, even though riding takes a lot of her time, it helps her manage stress and focus on school.
“I think of riding as my fun time,” she said. “It’s my outlet to go to at the end of a day, where I finish stressing out about other things.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal