- Hannah Robbins
Alexandra "Zandy" Wong, a Johns Hopkins University senior majoring in public health studies in the Krieger School and founder of the NextGen Accessibility Initiative, has been named a Rhodes Scholar, one of the most prestigious awards available for American college students.
Wong, from Alexandria, Virginia, is one of 32 students to win a Rhodes scholarship this year. The scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Wong plans to pursue two Master of Science degrees, one in Applied Digital Health and the other in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation.
"I want to improve the user experience of patients with disabilities as they access digital healthcare platforms," she said. "It's so important to have access to assistive technologies, whether it be crutches, wheelchairs, hearing aids like I use—we want to make sure they're accessible and affordable."
Born with severe hearing loss, Wong received a life-changing hearing aid at the age of 12. She could suddenly hear birds singing and the wind rustling leaves.
"Alexandra's passion for inclusivity shined throughout my class," said Scott Warren, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins SNF Agora Institute. "Alexandra was respectful but forceful in every class conversation, listening deeply to her fellow students but making her opinions known too. I know she will shine as she makes an indelible impact in the world."
Wong started at Johns Hopkins as classes transitioned online during the pandemic. Faced with instructors who were learning new teaching technologies, Wong found she needed to advocate for herself and others. Her conviction impressed her professors, many of whom felt it a privilege to have her in their classes.
"She is a gifted and exceptional person," said political scientist and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Jeremy Shiffman. "Energized by her own profound hearing loss, through her advocacy initiatives she has already done immense good in advancing healthcare access for people with disabilities."
Over the past three years, Wong's advocacy has extended beyond the classroom. She researched the inequitable digital public health response to COVID-19 as a Coelho Law Fellow within Loyola Marymount Law School's Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy, and Innovation. As an intern for U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, she helped draft policy mandating federal agencies have accessible social media accounts. For the Council for State Governments, she helped create inclusive policies to help youth with disabilities transition into workplace and academic settings.
Through her NextGen Accessibility Initiative, an organization that partners with Generation Z-led organizations to make their content fully accessible for young audiences, Wong has helped create accessible educational content for over 200,000 students across 119 countries.
She also explored neuroscience and policy research at Johns Hopkins, intentionally seeking experiences that would prepare her to work at the intersection of policy, technology, and medicine. As a freshman, she joined the Johns Hopkins Neuroscience Scholars Program, and she currently studies hearing loss in associate professor Amanda Lauer's lab.
"I predict that after her studies at Oxford, she is going to emerge as one of the world's most prominent leaders on disability rights," said Shiffman.
Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, applicants must be endorsed by their college or university. This year more than 2,500 students began the application process; 862 were ultimately endorsed by 249 different colleges and universities. Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for interviews. Johns Hopkins had six finalists this year.
Wong plans to attend Oxford in October 2024. She then plans to go to medical school to become an academic physician.