One is writing a novel about life and death in a fishing village. Another, whose grandfather died in India because of contaminated water, is determined to find ways to purify water. And a third aspires to go into public schools to make students excited about learning.
They are among six Harvard University students named Rhodes Scholars yesterday.
They are also the only Massachusetts students to receive the honor.
Harvard's success followed a disappointment last year, when no one from Harvard was named a Rhodes Scholar.
Other New England colleges to have students named Rhodes Scholars include Yale University, which had four students, and Brown University, which had one. Slightly more than a third of the 32 American recipients came from Ivy League colleges.
The roughly $45,000 annual scholarship, considered one of the most prestigious academic awards in the world, covers two or three years of study at Oxford University in England.
Among the former recipients of Rhodes Scholarhips is Bill Clinton, the former president.
The American winners were selected from among 896 candidates endorsed by 340 colleges and universities.
Finalists were interviewed in 16 regions of the country, including locally at Brandeis University in Waltham.
"It's a very humbling experience," said Casey N. Cep, of Cordova, Md., who is writing a novel for her senior thesis about how four siblings in a fishing village deal in different ways with the death of their mother.
"You meet such wonderful and talented students from around the country at the interviews," Cep said.
Cep, who plans to study theology at Oxford, is president of the Harvard Advocate literary magazine and is an editor at the Harvard Crimson and the Harvard Book Review.
The other recipients named this year from Harvard are Joshua Billings of Cambridge, a senior majoring in German and classics; Brad M. Smith of Chattanooga, Tenn., who graduated summa cum laude in government last year and has spent the last 15 months working as campaign assistant to US Senator-elect Bob Corker; Parvinder Singh Thiara of Rochelle, Ill., a senior majoring in chemistry; Elise Wang of Lake Bluff, Ill., a senior majoring in gender studies and comparative religion; and Ryan R. Thoreson of Fargo, N.D., a senior majoring in government and gender studies.
Thiara already has taken a step toward purifying the world's water.
He cofounded a nongovernmental organization about two years ago dedicated to improving water quality. He plans to study theoretical chemistry at Oxford.
"Water is a huge problem in the world," said Thiara, a first-generation American, in a telephone interview yesterday. "It's amazing people don't have access to clean water."
Billings would like to develop a collaboration between a university and public schools. He has worked for two summers with a program for Cambridge middle school students.
"Literature is what brought me to learning," said Billings. "I want to help others to come to that love."
Also this weekend, Scot Miller of Fargo, N.D., a Harvard senior, was named a George J. Mitchell Scholar for next year.
That scholarship, which is given to 12 students each year by the US-Ireland Alliance, pays for one year of postgraduate study at any university in Ireland.
Miller, who has examined the effects of deforestation on a lake in Tanzania, plans to study environmental sciences.
James Vaznis can be reached at email@example.com.