UM graduate named Rhodes Scholar

Kristiana Yao, who graduated summa cum laude in May, said she was “still in shock” after finding out she is among 32 Americans named Rhodes Scholars.
Rhodes Scholar Kristine Yao

Kristiana L. Yao, who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Miami in May and has dedicated her career to improving health through public service, has been named a Rhodes Scholar and will begin graduate studies at Oxford University in England next fall. 

She is among 32 Americans named Rhodes Scholars, considered one of the most competitive and prestigious academic awards for international study. 

“I’m still in shock. It has not set in yet,” Yao said Sunday. “I’m excited to represent the University of Miami at Oxford next year.” 

While at UM, Yao earned two degrees—a B.S. in Public Health from the School of Nursing and Health Studies, and a B.B.A. in Health Sector Management and Policy at the Miami Business School. 

“UM provided a stellar education and the support was fantastic,” said Yao. “My favorite part of UM is the phenomenal faculty who let me come into their offices at any time and talk wonky health policy with them.” 

Yao, a University of Miami Stamps Scholar, Foote Fellow, and National Merit Scholar, was awarded a Truman Scholarship in 2017 during her junior year, an award that recognizes an individual’s call to public service leadership. She is the third UM student to be named a Rhodes Scholar, and the first since 2003.

“Kristiana’s dedication and commitment to improving public health is remarkable,” said Jeffrey Duerk, UM’s executive vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost. “The University of Miami provided the academic rigor and interdisciplinary study that Kristiana was seeking, and she thrived in achieving her two degrees from the School of Nursing and Health Studies and the Miami Business School. She credits her professors for being ‘invested in her success from day one,’ and is thankful for the mentoring and encouragement she received to pursue opportunities.”

Duerk also acknowledged the work of UM's Office of Prestigious Awards and Scholarships, "which advises and guides our students through the application process for these distinguished awards and programs."

Since graduating, Yao has served as a Dunn Fellow in the Office of the Governor of Illinois, focusing on health and human services policy. She will stay in that role until the fellowship ends in August. She intends to pursue an M.Sc. in Comparative Social Policy at Oxford.

Yao said her mission is to improve health through public service, and she hopes to “work at the intersection of policy and implementation.”

“Health reform comes in waves,” she said. “I’m just looking for the best possible way to improve public health.”

Yao previously participated in several internships, including one in patient access at Jackson Health System, and in Washington, D.C. at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Domestic Policy Council of The White House. She also worked on health policy for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance. While at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Yao worked with the body charged with implementing the Affordable Care Act. 

Yao, from Naperville, Illinois, has focused her research on devising better systems for health care delivery. Rhodes Scholars are selected based on a number of criteria, including academic excellence, personal energy, ambition for impact, ability to work with others, and a commitment to “make a strong difference for good in the world, be concerned for the welfare of others, and be conscious of inequities.” 

The previous two UM Rhodes Scholars were Ronald Ritter in 1988 and Devi Sridhar in 2003.

For more information about how to apply for prestigious scholarships, visit the Office of Academic Enhancement's website.