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Joseph Riley, a Chinese and Politics Double Major, Receives Rhodes Scholarship

Joseph Riley, a fourth-year student at the University of Virginia, has received a 2013 Rhodes Scholarship.

The scholarships, valued at between $50,000 to $175,000, fully fund two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Riley is the University’s 48th Rhodes winner.

Riley, 21, is majoring in Mandarin Chinese and the politics honors program in the College of Arts & Sciences and is a cadet in U.S. Army ROTC program. He plans to complete a master’s and doctorate in international relations at Oxford and have a career as an infantry officer.

“It has honestly been one of the most exciting, yet humbling, experiences of my life,” Riley said. “I realize I have been given a great opportunity, and I am resolved to make the most of it. I remind myself of Luke 12:48 ‘To him whom much is given, much is required.’ I have been tremendously blessed.

“The scholarship and the degree will open numerous doors for me in the military, and will allow me to take assignments and leadership positions that I would not otherwise be able to hold.”

He added, “On a personal level, this scholarship will allow my fiancée and I time to start our marriage in a more relaxed and stable setting before going into active service.”

Riley’s research focuses on the relationship between the United States and China. As part of this, Riley received top-secret secure compartmented information clearance at the National Ground Intelligence Center to analyze the Chinese Army’s capabilities and ambitions. He is co-authoring a book with Dale Copeland, an associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in U.Va.’s Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics.

“The book will examine the future of Sino-American relations by synthesizing disparate theories on the nature of China’s rise,” Riley said. “My thesis is on the role of economic interdependence in great power conflict. Specifically, I am examining the impact of resource dependency on the Sino-American bilateral relationship.”

Riley is the son of Craig and Becky Riley of Etowah, Tenn. A Lawn resident, he is a Truman Scholar, a Jefferson Scholar, an Echols Scholar and Coca-Cola National Scholar. He has received the Vanderesee Award, given to a student who “best represents the scholarly spirit of the Echols Scholars,” two of the National Security Education Program’s Global Officer Critical Language Grants (in 2010 and 2011), and a U.S. Senate Youth Program Scholarship.

In high school, he was national president and state governor of the American Legion Boys Nation and national president and state president of the Future Business Leaders of America. He was honored by the Tennessee House of Representatives for his outstanding accomplishments and service to his home state.

Riley is a graduate research team leader for Gerard Alexander, an associate professor of politics, and led a 10-member team analyzing insurgent behaviors. He has done field research in China and was a panelist at an international conference, “The Eagle and the Dragon in Africa,” hosted by Virginia Military Institute’s Marshall Institute for Leadership and Ethics. He was also a presenter at the Global Initiatives Symposium in Taipei, Taiwan, addressing implications of China’s growing dependency on foreign oil for developing nations.

He has also been an undergraduate lecturer and designed a history course on “Ethics in Modern Warfare.”

Riley, a battalion commander in Army ROTC, has been named one of the top 10 Army ROTC cadets in the nation. He was ranked No. 1 in his class for the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault School, is a member of the Ranger Challenge Team, and recipient of the Gold and Medallion  Physical Fitness Awards and Distinguished Military Graduate award given to highest-ranking cadets. He has also received the Scholar-Soldier-Statesman Award given in memory of Capt. Humayun Khan, a U.Va. Army ROTC graduate who was killed in Iraq. He was a seminar coordinator for Integrating Minorities into the Military.

He is the founder of Operation Flag the Lawn, to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Fund, and a founding member and president of the U.Va. Chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society, a national organization dedicated to fostering foreign policy debates on college campuses; he represented U.Va. in the society’s first national meeting at Princeton. He is a College representative on the Student Council and a support officer for the Honor Committee. He is also a site leader for Alternative Spring Break and was a volunteer for the After School Reading Program in Beijing, working with children of migrant workers whose lack of official paperwork prevented them from attending Beijing public schools

He is a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, has trained horses for the National Racking Horse Association Juvenile World Championship and has worked as a motivational speaker.

Lt. Colonel Timothy Leroux, Riley’s former commander in the U.Va. ROTC program, said Riley has been working toward the Rhodes for three years.

“Mr. Riley is exceptionally gifted, but in my estimation, what really sets him apart are his focus and work ethic,” Leroux said.  “More so than just about anybody I’ve ever met, Joe knows what he wants and stops at nothing in his pursuit of excellence.  The entire community can take pride in Joe’s accomplishments, as it has truly been a team effort.” 

Kenneth G. Elzinga, a professor of economics, was impressed with Riley’s raw talent and became involved in recruiting him to U.Va. He said Riley has surpassed his expectations.

“Joe is incredibly gifted, but what further distinguishes Joe is his deep religious faith, which keeps his pride in line, and a work ethic that few, if any, can match,” Elzinga said. “When someone is bright and needs hardly any sleep, marginal productivity can be very high indeed.”

“I am so pleased that Joe has been selected as a Rhodes Scholar,” said Lucy Russell, director of U.Va.’s Center for Undergraduate Excellence. “Joe is a wonderful representative of the University of Virginia; he is very smart and extremely hard-working, and he never turns down the chance to learn something new.”  

William I. Hitchcock, a professor in the Corcoran Department of History, sees Riley as “one of the finest student leaders in a generation. I believe he also has a future as a great public servant for the nation. If ever there was a time the country needed young people like Joe Riley, that time is now.”

John Owen, a professor of politics and editor-in-chief of Security Studies, views Riley, whom he taught in a politics honors international relations seminar, as unique.

“He combines a razor-sharp intellect with boundless energy and enterprise,” Owen said. “He devours ideas, revels in argument and, above all, seeks the truth. Joe also is a man of action, as seen both in the initiative he has taken in his research on China and in his soldiering. He will thrive in Oxford and will represent our University and nation well in England.”

Alexander cited Riley’s drive and accomplishments for his scholarship honors.

“Joe is a model student: curious, persistent and wide-ranging in his interests,” he said. “Because he is in ROTC as well as the Politics Honors Program, his day starts with physical training before dawn and ends with big books and Chinese language studies into the evening.

“In the Politics Honors program, we grapple with some of the toughest issues in international relations, political philosophy and other fields in politics, and honors students write and talk about them each week. That helped Joe write the essays on big questions that snagged the attention of fellowship committees and then talk clearly about them in the interviews. We couldn't be happier that he's translated those interests and skills into these incredible opportunities.”

Created in 1902 in the will of Cecil Rhodes, British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer, the scholarships are awarded on the basis of high academic achievement, integrity, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor.

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