KU student Kelsey Murrell wins prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas student Kelsey Murrell has won a Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious and sought-after recognitions of scholarly excellence. She interviewed for the award and was informed that she won Saturday in St. Louis.

Murrell is an English literature and creative writing major. She attended a reception for interviewees Friday in St. Louis and interviewed the following day. She will receive funding to attend the University of Oxford for one or two years, where she will pursue graduate degrees in migration studies and refugee and forced migration studies. She is the daughter of Ronald and Kathie Murrell of Kearney, Mo., and Dawn Murrell of Overland Park. Rhodes Scholarships are awarded to 32 students each year.

A playwright and journalist, Murrell said she has been inspired by her English teachers, especially those at KU who have helped her develop a respect for the role literature plays in the lives of people who move between nations for any number of reasons.

“Theatre and poetry throughout history have been really crucial in social resistance and rallying communities together,” Murrell said. “I like that it’s a performative art and is accessible to people of all classes and social backgrounds.”

Murrell will graduate from the University Honors Program and with highest distinction from KU in May 2012. In addition to playwriting she has taken journalism classes and has a passion for advocacy journalism and graphic story telling. Like theater, she admires journalism’s role in society and its ability to tell the stories of all members of a community to a greater populace.

Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, director of the University Honors Program, said Murrell’s strong social conscious is evident in her writing.

“Kelsey is a writer with a keen awareness of the power of the pen. Indeed, the defining feature of Kelsey’s writing is her profound engagement with social issues and her desire to have a transformative impact on her readers,” McCluskey-Fawcett wrote in her recommendation letter. “Whether she is writing a research essay, a journalism article or a play, Kelsey understands herself as engaging in advocacy writing.”

Murrell’s plays have been honored both locally and nationally. The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and the Multicultural Theatre Initiative have all recognized her works. Murrell has also been active on campus, founding and leading the Contemporary Student Alternative Theatre, a group she describes as a “greenhouse for student playwrights.” The organization brings speakers to campus, provides community for writers and performance opportunities. She also received an Undergraduate Research Award at KU for her studies in immigration narratives and experience and is working on a senior honors thesis on refugee stories and intergenerational memory’s influence on the refugee experience.

Murrell was one of only 10 students admitted to the Dean’s Scholars Program in the fall of 2010 and was one of only 20 KU sophomores chosen for the University Scholars Program, a program modeled after the White House Fellows.

She is a graduate of Kearney High School, Kearney, Mo.

Following her study at Oxford she plans to complete a doctorate in literature. Her career aspirations including teaching literature at the university level and continuing to write plays and pieces that speak to people.

“I’m very passionate about teaching literature,” she said. “It has such a great role in developing cultural and community understanding that transcends national boundaries. I’d really like to see my work used for something like a community project, rather than something like a Broadway production. If they’re seen or read by people and they can make a difference, that’s what’s most important to me.”

KU has a produced more Rhodes scholars than all other colleges in Kansas combined. Murrell is the 26th recipient from the University of Kansas, which is also a leader in national scholarships including Marshalls, Trumans and Goldwaters.