By Published: Nov. 27, 2018

Following her passion rather than advice to major in a STEM field was key to finding a ‘sweet spot of success’ in political science and journalism for Serene Singh

It’s a mantra most millennials have heard: “We need more female doctors and engineers.” 

But Serene Singh, University of Colorado Boulder’s first Rhodes scholar in 25 years—and first ever woman—chose a different path for her education after asking herself about her talents, her happiness and the world’s needs.


Serene Singh. At the top of the page, she is shown addressing her high-school graduating class in 2015.

“Going into college, there was a lot of pressure from my community and from the world around me to be either in engineering or in pre-med,” she says. “Even in high school, I really felt like in order to be successful, I needed to be in the hard sciences.”

But Singh, a Boettcher, Truman and now Rhodes scholar, chose to major in both political science and journalism and minor in leadership studies. 

On where her passions lie, Singh says, “I realized it wasn’t in the hard sciences. It was in government. It was in communications like journalism, and it was in understanding our Constitution, democracy, freedom studies and learning how to reduce violence through a political lens in the United States.”

She hopes to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, exemplifying the ideals of the Truman and Rhodes scholarships, which prioritize public service and a plan for bettering the world. 

She will continue her education at Oxford University, where she’ll pursue graduate degrees in criminology and criminal justice, thanks to the Rhodes Scholarship, which offers a full ride to exceptional students who display leadership promise, ambition for impact and an ability to work with others to achieve one’s goals. 

Historically, most people honored by the Rhodes Scholarship have been in STEM fields, but Deborah Viles, director of Top Scholarships at CU Boulder, notes this year candidates in the humanities outnumbered those in STEM areas.

Viles says that exceptional skills in teamwork and written and oral communications set liberal-arts majors, including in the humanities, apart from those in other fields. Being able to “think aloud on paper and in an oral presentation can really make a difference,” she notes.

Where is my sweet spot, and am I really being true to who I am? If I didn’t have that conversation with myself, I might be in a very different major and a very different part of my life right now.”

“Anytime I get someone who’s in the liberal arts, I am super excited. I’m always excited by people who come through because they’re good writers and good thinkers, who want to contribute in interesting ways that are usually less recognized than the sciences are,” says Viles, who earned her M.A. in English literature and creative writing at CU Boulder. 

Viles, who has worked on campus for more than 25 years, had not seen a Rhodes Scholar at CU Boulder since 1993, and was “starting to feel uncertain” due to the long stretch of no recipients. “I’ve had some really fantastic finalists, but we couldn’t seem to crack the code of the Rhodes Scholarship,” she says.

Singh cracked the code with her extensive leadership and social-justice credentials on and off campus, a life of public service and making the world a better place, Viles observes. 

Singh serves in CU Student Government as the chief justice of the judicial branch, and as an active member of the Sikh community, working to promote religious freedom and challenge stereotypes and violence against Sikh Americans and other minorities. 

On campus, she is president of Pi Sigma Alpha (Political Science Honors Fraternity), founder and captain of the nationally competitive and statewide Colorado Bhangra Team, and president of the Sikh Student Association. She is also a Dalai Lama Fellow, a Global Changemaker, a Boettcher Scholar (fully funded undergraduate degree), and a former America’s Junior Miss and Miss Colorado Teen. 

Two years ago, Singh founded her own nonprofit called The Serenity Project to empower and provide skills to at-risk women survivors and changemakers. Singh also interned with Michelle Obama and the Global Girls Alliance this past summer. 

Her personal and educational backgrounds will be “instrumental” to her goal of becoming a judge, she says. 

“Judges are the vehicle through which justice is administered,” she says. “Serving on the (student government’s) judicial branch for the past four years, I’ve realized that the more you deep dive into one small thing, the more you need to see the intricacies of everyone’s perspective, of every different possible impact and the varying degrees and channels through which change can impact actual lives.”

To students who struggle to choose between the arts and humanities, STEM or anything in between, Singh says it’s important to ask oneself: “Where is my sweet spot, and am I really being true to who I am? If I didn’t have that conversation with myself,” she recalls, “I might be in a very different major and a very different part of my life right now.”

The Rhodes Scholarship is a fully paid scholarship that includes transportation to the UK, tuition, fees, books and a living stipend. Find out more at