Gig Harbor native wins Rhodes Scholarship

Education: Miles Unterreiner third Gig Harbor High graduate to win prestigious award

of the GatewayDecember 4, 2013 

Miles Unterreiner thinks the Peninsula School District must be doing something right.

The former Stanford University student has become the third Gig Harbor High School graduate to be named a Rhodes scholar in the past five years.

Unterreiner joins Mallory Dwinall and Elizabeth Betterbed as the most recent Rhodes scholars from Gig Harbor. He went from Harbor Heights Elementary to Goodman Middle School to Gig Harbor High School before he enrolled at Stanford.

He credited teachers for the production of three prestigious scholars from the area.

“I think that really put me on the path to where I am today,” he said.

Unterreiner said his interest in government and law was nurtured in his advanced-placement history class.

He landed at Stanford with his prowess in cross country and track and field. He’s still training and hopes to run a marathon. His parents are both marathon runners, he said.

It was his parents and his literary choices when he was young that sparked an interest in human rights, according to his Rhodes scholarship application essay. Books like “The Lord of the Rings” piqued his interest in the idea of fairness, his essay said.

The idea of human rights and fairness led him into international work.

Unterreiner spent last summer at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, a school founded in 1959 by Réné Cassin, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace and the first president of the European Court of Human Rights.

At Stanford, Unterreiner earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in history. Now he’s working for the Frontier Group, a policy think tank in Santa Barbara, Calif. He began work there in August after finishes his master’s.

Unterreiner hopes to fight for human rights through the law. With the Rhodes scholarship, he will study International Relations at Oxford University beginning in September.

Before Unterreiner moved into human rights work, he studied history.

“It’s been my academic love since middle school,” he said.

Studying history isn’t a far cry from studying international law. He saw that, throughout history, justice has shaped world events.

In his application for the Rhodes, he talked about the end of Apartheid and World War II. His grandfather manned bombers during the war. His senior honors thesis at Stanford investigated the expulsion of the Chinese population in Washington state and the repercussions of the abuse of human rights.

There are many options in the practice of human-rights law, he said. He’s not sure what his future will look like, because he hasn’t started at Oxford yet.

Working in international courts is complex, he said, because the law that is used depends on the country that holds the trial. That means Unterreiner will be learn about law from all over the world.

Unterreiner went through a rigorous application process for the Rhodes scholarship that involved several levels of interviews, a panel interview, eight letters of recommendation for the national application and a final interview.

There are 16 regions. Unterreiner is one of two winners from district 15. Clarke Knight of Smith College is the other finalist from the region.

This year, 1,750 students applied, and 857 were endorsed by a total of 327 colleges and universities, according to a Rhodes Trust news release.

“I feel really lucky and fortunate,” Unterreiner said of being chosen.

The Rhodes Trust is a British charity that gives full financial support to young Americans who plan to study at Oxford. It was founded through the will of Cecil Rhodes, a philanthropist. The first Rhodes scholar was named in 1904.

Every year, 32 students selected through a process that includes all 50 states and the District of Columbia are chosen. To date, 3,324 American students have won Rhodes scholarships. Famous recipients include former President Bill Clinton and astronomer Edwin Hubble.

Academics and athletics have taken Unterreiner to many different places, but he said Gig Harbor will always be home.

“Gig Harbor is such a cool community, and I’ve appreciated it more since I left,” he said.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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