When Monica Marks was growing up a Jehovah's Witness in Eastern Kentucky, she dreamed one day of getting an education.
Now that dream will take her from the University of Louisville to the University of Oxford in England as a Rhodes Scholar.
"Where I grew up, it was never which college are you going to, it was if college was possible," Marks said Saturday, just hours after learning in Indianapolis that she had been awarded the prestigious scholarship. "For me, it was just so rebellious to even consider that."
Marks, 23, grew up in Rush, Ky., in a fundamentalist evangelical family, but her parents respected her hunger for education.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Her background shaped her choice of what to study as well: Marks is presently researching Islamic law in Turkey as a Fulbright Scholar and plans to continue those studies at Oxford, where she will research comparative human rights and Sharia law.
Winning the Rhodes scholarship, "really resonates with me on a deep personal level," Marks said. "It's a vote of confidence in your future."
She said she is often struck by the patriarchal similarities between Islam and her fundamentalist Christian upbringing.
Marks was raised with three things "very much off limits": politics, women's rights, and philosophy. "So these three things ended up being my three majors at the University of Louisville," she said.
She hopes one day to work for the State Department as an adviser on Near Eastern and African Affairs.
"This is a tremendous accomplishment by Monica. Her University of Louisville family congratulates her. We couldn't be more proud," said James Ramsey, U of L president, in a statement. "This reaffirms our commitment to recruiting, retaining and graduating the top students in Kentucky."