Phillip Z. Yao

Phillip Z. Yao ’13 has built a library that may reach over two million students.

Phillip Z. Yao ’13 has built a library that may reach over two million students. A physics concentrator with a philosophy secondary, Yao channeled his longstanding interest in education into the creation of a virtual library last summer for the Indian educational non-profit Pratham, which operates in 19 Indian states.

“It’s something that hasn’t been done before in India,” Yao says of the virtual library, which, he says, is comprised of “free educational materials on the Internet all under Creative Commons licenses.”

The library is an extension of Yao’s interest in the intersection of technology and education, which began when he was a rising sixth grader enrolled in Prep for Prep, a program that helps New York City public school students gain admission into private schools. “They academically prepare us, but they also instill in us a lot of social awareness and a passion for improving education,” he says. “That made me really want to work on education.”

Yao has translated this interest into further work with Prep for Prep over the years as a tutor and summer instructor. He has also interned at City Hall in New York City, where he created a computer science curriculum for public schools.

Besides his work in education, Yao also has a love for a classic combination: art and food. As a summer intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yao worked extensively with the museum’s musical instrument collection. As a sophomore, he established Hole in the Wall, a Wintersession program in which students explore lesser-known features of Cambridge, including underappreciated and secluded eateries.

A Rhodes scholar, Yao will continue his studies next year at Oxford, where he intends to further his understanding of the intersection between technology and education. And while the Rhodes committee may not know it, Yao crosses the Atlantic with a very special skill. “I should probably mention that I’m religiously obsessed with Assassins,” he says. “I’ve won Winthrop Assassins since my freshman year.”