W&L Graduate Named Rhodes Scholar


Rossella Gabriele, a 2019 magna cum laude graduate of Washington and Lee University who received a bachelor’s degree with a double major in physics and global politics, is the university’s 17th Rhodes Scholar.

Gabriele, who was a Johnson Scholar at Washington and Lee and is proficient in Italian, plans to pursue master’s degrees in both social data science and global governance and diplomacy at Oxford.

After completing her studies in the U.K., her goal is to become a leading force in the development of forward-thinking space and technology laws and policies that maximize diverse and democratic access to opportunities in these fields. Her path, she says, whether through international organizations such as the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or within governmental agencies, will rely on an ability to expand the intersection of law, data science and real-world empathy building through public policy.

At W&L, Gabriele was devoted to finding equilibrium at the intersection of physics and global politics. Her junior year, working with her adviser, W&L physics professor Irina Mazilu, Gabriele conducted independent research leading to a proof-of-concept model for predicting U.S. Senate votes using a partisan ranking tool combined with the Ising Model for ferromagnetism from physics.

As a policy intern for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, she created a database of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-targeted courthouses, hospitals, churches and schools. Her efforts resulted in the Minority office’s formal oversight letter to ICE demanding accountability for illegal and inhumane raids.

After graduating from W&L, Gabriele worked with the U.S. Department of State TechGirls program as a cultural ambassador and STEM mentor for girls interested in science from Middle Eastern, North African and Central Asian nations, empowering them to return to their nations as change-makers in their chosen fields.

In 2017, Gabriele held an internship in the office of U.S. Senator Mark Warner. The following summer, she worked as a nuclear astrophysics research intern at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, where she modeled and graphed results from experiments using the Trojan Horse Method of extracting two-body collision cross-sections from a three-body reaction.

“Exceedingly few students intern for U.S. senators one year and renowned nuclear astrophysicists the next,” said Seth Cantey, assistant professor of politics at Washington and Lee. “But somehow it doesn’t surprise me that Rossella has done that. For as long as I’ve known her, I’ve wondered how she would pair her love for science and her drive to advance the cause of human rights in a career after W&L. Rossella has noticed that the law governing human activity in space is as nascent as the ethical questions that surround it. She has further realized that her interests and experience position her well for what would be – for what I believe will be – an unusual, extraordinary, meaningful, and impactful career. It will be one at the intersection of law and science, social advocacy and space.”

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