Woman who bounced among foster homes named Rhodes Scholar

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A woman who as a child bounced among foster homes and often slept on the couches of friends in Missouri has been named a 2021 Rhodes Scholar.

Mackenzie Fierceton, 23, is one of just 32 U.S. college students awarded a four-year scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Oxford in England, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Another local Rhodes Scholar is 21-year-old Jamal Burns, who went to Duke University after graduating from Gateway STEM High School in St. Louis. He will graduate in May with a history degree.

Fierceton said her foster homes were in several St. Louis area municipalities, including Manchester, Clayton and Creve Coeur. She is a 2016 graduate of the Whitfield School in Creve Coeur, and praised the teachers at the school.

“They were my family when I had no one else,” she said. “They stepped up as role models and served as parental figures when I needed them most.”

Fierceton earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2018 from the University of Pennsylvania. She now is a graduate student at Penn and should earn a master’s degree in social work in 2021.

Along with her studies, Fierceton works part-time jobs as a policy fellow with the Philadelphia City Council and as a social worker at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Burns, the son of Brenda and Eugene Burns of St. Louis, has focused his research on race and education policy while at Duke.

When Burns got to Duke, he wasn’t even sure he would graduate in four years, he said.

“So I just put my head down and studied. And then some time during my junior year I realized, ‘Hey, I’ve got the grades for it,’ ” Burns said.

He plans to seek advance degrees in education and social anthropology at Oxford. He wants to go into education as a principal or superintendent but hasn’t yet decided where.

Burns is co-president of the speech and debate team and president of his house council. Also, he recently was named a Duke Faculty Scholar, the university’s highest undergraduate honor.