Three EECS students are named 2020 Rhodes Scholars

(L to R) Francisca Vasconcelos, Billy Andersen Woltz, and Megan Yamoah will begin postgraduate studies at Oxford University next fall. Photo: Brandi Adams

Julia Mongo | Distinguished Fellowships

Three EECS students are among five from MIT who have been selected for the 2020 cohort of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship program. They will begin fully funded postgraduate studies at Oxford University in the U.K. next fall.

Each year, Rhodes awards 32 scholarships to U.S. citizens, plus additional scholarships reserved for non-U.S. citizens. Francisca Vasconcelos, Billy Andersen Woltz, and Megan Yamoah will join the 2020 American Rhodes Scholar class.

The MIT students were supported by MIT’s Distinguished Fellowships team in Career Advising and Professional Development and the MIT Presidential Committee on Distinguished Fellowships. “It has been a gift to work with all of our applicants, and we are especially gratified when the Rhodes committee sees in them the same traits that we value so highly — not just academic excellence, but also thoughtfulness, creativity, initiative, and moral character,” says Tamar Schapiro, associate professor of philosophy, who co-chairs the committee along with Will Broadhead, associate professor of history.


A senior with a double major in EECS and physics, Francisca Vasconcelos hails from San Diego, California. She plans to become an academic, leading a cutting-edge research lab to tackle problems in machine learning and physics, specifically in the domain of quantum computing. She hopes to develop the algorithms, derive the physics, and design the hardware that will drive forward the next revolution in computing, while inspiring and educating the next generation of quantum engineers. At Oxford, she will pursue an MSc in mathematics and foundations of computer science, as well as an MSc in statistical science.

Vasconcelos currently conducts research under the direction of EECS Professor William Oliver in the Engineering Quantum Systems Group of the Research Lab for Electronics (RLE). Her research focuses on extending quantum state tomography for superconducting quantum processors, but she has also worked on a waveguide quantum electrodynamics project and study of radiation induced quasiparticle formation in superconducting qubits. Vasconcelos has done additional research with the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’s NETMIT group, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, MIT Media Lab Camera Culture Group, and Rigetti Computing.

Vasconcelos plays for the MIT women’s club soccer team and has held leadership roles in the MIT Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and on the MIT IEEE Undergraduate Research Technology Conference committee. She is an instructor for the MIT EECS IAP “Intro to Quantum Computing” course and is leading development of a high school quantum computing curriculum with the nonprofit organization, The Coding School.


Growing up on a farm in Logan, Ohio, Billy Woltz had limited options for internet service and education in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). He arrived at MIT with an interest in physics and modeling of complicated systems. He is a senior with a double major in physics and EECS.

At Oxford, Woltz will pursue a second undergraduate degree in philosophy, politics, and economics to acquire skills for making an impact on both the technical and policy aspects of quantum computing. He plans to eventually earn a PhD in physics, conduct research on quantum technologies, and advise legislative bodies on science and technology.

He is currently a research assistant in RLE’s Engineering Quantum Systems Group, where he is working on a superconducting qubit platform for quantum information processing. In the Department of Physics, Woltz designed an algorithm for automating data collection from CERN’s particle detectors with the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, and tested the effects of environmental fluctuations on microbial communities with the Physics of Living Systems Group.

Woltz also founded a summer camp to teach computer science skills to underserved Appalachian and refugee students in rural and urban Ohio communities. A 2018 New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Runner of the Year, he is captain of the MIT varsity track and field and cross-country teams, and has achieved five All-New England honors. He also writes investigative journalism articles for The Tech, the MIT student newspaper.


A senior majoring in physics and electrical engineering, Megan Yamoah is from Davis, California, is a senior majoring in physics and electrical engineering. The daughter of immigrants from Ghana and Thailand, she seeks to expand on her engineering background to tackle questions involving technology and international development. At Oxford, she will pursue an MPhil in economics to acquire knowledge in development economics and study how innovation can positively impact emerging economies.

A Goldwater Scholar with several first-author publications and a patent to her name, Yamoah has focused on the cutting edge of quantum computing. As a high school student, she conducted research in the Goldhaber-Gordon Laboratory at Stanford University. Since her freshman year at MIT, she has been assisting Oliver in the RLE Engineering Quantum Systems Group. She also completed a summer research internship in the Q Circuits Group at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon. This past summer, Yamoah attended workshops for the MIT Regional Acceleration Program, where she connected with diverse stakeholders from around the world on developing initiatives for spurring innovation.

As president of the MIT chapter of the Society of Physics Students, Yamoah worked to develop a physics department statement of values, the first of its kind at MIT. She is an executive board member of Undergraduate Women in Physics and has served multiple roles in the SWE. As a project committee member for MIT Design for America, Yamoah organized workshops for teams creating technology-based solutions for local challenges such as food insecurity.

The other two MIT students selected as Rhodes Scholars are Ali Daher, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a concentration in biomedical engineering, and Claire Halloran, senior majoring in materials science and engineering with minors in energy studies and public policy.

For the full version of this article, please visit the MIT News website.

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