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Clara Beth Novotny

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When Clara Beth Novotny came to West Virginia University in 2012, the Rhodes Scholarship wasn’t on her radar. And it wouldn’t be until the spring of her junior year.

That’s when Dr. Ken Blemings, her biochemistry advisor and dean of the Honors College, mentioned the Rhodes Scholarship and encouraged her to apply.

A former Honors College student and WVU Foundation Scholar, Novotny graduated with dual degrees in biochemistry in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, and in Spanish literature, language and linguistics in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

“I did not spend my four years of college working specifically with the Rhodes in mind,” she admits.

During the application process, however, she realized she had assembled many experiences that fulfilled the Rhodes criteria.

“WVU offers so many programs to enrich an education much further than simply the completion of a bachelor’s degree. These opportunities make WVU students just as competitive for national scholarships as students at the most expensive private schools.”

Novotny, of Falling Waters, West Virginia, was one of 208 finalists selected from 869 nominated by United States colleges and universities. She interviewed in Chicago with the District XI Committee of Selection in late November.

While she was not among the 32 elected for the Class of 2016, Novotny intends to chart a future that mirrors the original goal for Rhodes Scholars: to make an important and positive impact throughout the world.

“Many women around the world lack a fundamental ability to care for and control their personal health or support the health of their children. I hope to work as a physician, scientist and advocate in the field of reproductive health to restore this autonomy and empower women.”

At WVU, she says she’s learned the importance of being a global citizen. She studied abroad in northern and southern Spain. Took diverse classes on topics ranging from the molecular mechanism of cancer cell growth to Spanish-English interpretation in medical and legal settings. And she has traveled to Honduras to do humanitarian and medical work.

“On those trips (to Honduras), I met mothers ages 13 to 50 who lacked any access to reproductive healthcare before or during their pregnancy because of financial limitations, proximity to a medical center or societal stigma. This endangers the health and opportunities for the mother, the baby and the families involved.”

Her goal is to help alleviate those issues and expand healthcare access for women across the globe.

Along the way, you can count on her inspiring others, particularly young girls, to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. She’s already spent a summer as a WVU Extension Service 4-H STEM Ambassador teaching courses and hosting hands-on demonstrations for children in rural areas.

It’s one way she pays tribute to her sixth grade science teacher’s transformative impact on her life. That teacher, Michelle Adams, noticed Novotny’s interest in physics lectures and suggested she apply to the West Virginia Governor’s School for Math and Science.

At age 12, Novotny attended the two-week camp and found herself “totally captivated by the field of science” — a feeling that compelled her to attend summer science academies, enter science fairs and take as many science classes as possible.

“STEM subjects have a stigma of being too difficult for many young students, but I strongly disagree,” she says.

“In my time at WVU, I have learned that as a young woman in science, I ought to be confident in my field and try to encourage young students to pursue science confidently as well.”

And someday those confident students will also find recognition for their accomplishments — such as becoming a Rhodes Scholarship finalist — on their radar.