Beaufort native takes on the world

Photo above: Eliza Rhodes is the first anthropology major to receive the Norris Medal. Photo courtesy of Clemson University.

Left: Elizabeth Rhodes adds her name to a wall in Belfast in Northern Ireland. Photo provided.
Left: Elizabeth Rhodes adds her name to a wall in Belfast in Northern Ireland. Photo provided.

By Michael Staton

Elizabeth Rhodes says she’s interested in everything, from the humanities to health care, so it’s a good bet she would have excelled no matter which path of study she decided to pursue. 

Luckily for the sociology, anthropology and criminal justice department and Clemson University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, the Beaufort native decided to walk down a path that took her more often than not through Brackett Hall.

Anthropology majors know Brackett Hall well, and Rhodes is the first in the history of Clemson to win the Norris Medal, which honors one graduating senior who exemplifies the best qualities in a Clemson scholar. 

For someone who undoubtedly had a prompt, correct response to most questions posed to her throughout her college career, Rhodes found her own response to the news a little lacking.

“I was on the phone with my dad and I actually just couldn’t talk,” Rhodes said, laughing. “He just told me to read the whole letter over the phone, and then we both had trouble coming up with any words. All he could say was, ‘Wow.’ It was a great Monday.”

Rhodes’ interest in so many subjects found her torn between the humanities and science throughout her first two years at Clemson, but it only took one anthropology class to sell her on the major. She sees anthropology as a bridge between the arts and science, as it concerns itself with using science to answer questions that define humanity.

Katherine Weisensee, interim chair of the sociology, anthropology and criminal justice department, nominated Rhodes for the Norris Medal in part because of the work ethic, critical thinking skills and focus she displayed in that first anthropology class, qualities that only continued as she delved deeper into the major.

At one point, Rhodes found herself studying forensic anthropology, anatomy and physiology in a single academic year, and that combination reaffirmed that she had made the right call in her course of study.

“Many students are drawn to certain topics among the wide variety in anthropology, but Eliza excelled at them all,” Weisensee said. “She was able to effortlessly identify connections between the many different facets of anthropology as well as her other classes and pursuits throughout her college career.”

Outside of class, Rhodes’ time is often spent on books and podcasts detailing trends and diseases across hundreds of thousands of years of human history. That’s her leisure reading. She describes herself as “enthralled” by the concept of viewing health care from the “zoomed-out perspective” that an anthropological lens allows.

While her major allowed her to “zoom out,” her time as a volunteer on the Joseph F. Sullivan Center’s mobile health clinic certainly allowed her to hone in on public health concerns involving populations across the Upstate. 

As a Spanish minor, Rhodes was a valuable addition to the Sullivan Center team as it worked to bring medical care and education to migrant farm workers and marginalized communities. She discovered a passion for bringing health care to different cultures, and her studies in anthropology helped her to better frame these experiences.

Michael LeMahieu, an associate professor in Clemson’s English department, also nominated Rhodes for the Norris Medal and has known Rhodes since she was a senior in high school. 

He isn’t surprised to find Rhodes pulling on strengths in so many seemingly disparate areas to excel in an activity like public health outreach. LeMahieu said he has witnessed Rhodes quickly gain the confidence to do so over the course of her time at Clemson.

“It’s been a joy to watch Eliza grow into her talents and gain that confidence,” LeMahieu said. “At a certain point, I think she began to realize that her interests and talents couldn’t be contained by or expressed in just one area. Her career aspirations remained the same — she knew she wanted to be a physician — but she realized there was more than one path that would take her there.”

Because of her experience at Clemson, Rhodes sees herself as uniquely positioned to bring a different perspective to her studies when she begins medical school at the Medical University of South Carolina in the fall. However, her time at Clemson has also taught her to come into the experience with an open mind.

“Considering I was a bioengineering major who never even considered medical school when I started at Clemson, I kind of did a 180-degree turn when it came to my focus,” Rhodes said. “I know my interests will guide me once I get started.”

Rhodes was also nominated by John Coggeshall, a professor in Clemson’s sociology, anthropology and criminal justice department.

Elizabeth Rhodes visited Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, in May 2015. Photo provided.
Elizabeth Rhodes visited Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, in May 2015. Photo provided.
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