ST. LOUIS, Mo. – College applications can be tedious and stressful. The pressure placed on students to get accepted can be enormous. One former St. Louis student is accused of stretching the truth. Her story ended up getting her one of the world’s most prized scholarships. The problem is that a year of her life spent in foster care did not match the sad story she was telling colleges and committees.
Mackenzie Fierceton was named Penn’s 2021 Rhodes Scholar. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Penn and was working on a master’s in social work. The 23-year-old planned to use the scholarship to go to Oxford to pursue a Ph.D. in social policy.
Fierceton beat out more than 2,300 applicants from across the country to win the prestigious award. It allows recipients to study for free at Oxford University in England.
She won the scholarship, in part, because of her story. Mackenzie said that she grew up in the child foster care system, bouncing from home to home, and staying on friend’s couches because some of the living conditions were so bad.
Telling the Philadelphia Inquirer that she poured herself into her studies, “School was always an outlet because I never felt like I had any control over my home life or any other part of my life.”
“As a first-generation low-income student and a former foster youth, Mackenzie is passionate about championing young people in those communities through her academic, professional, and personal endeavors, dedicating herself to a life of public service,” wrote University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann during the announcement of the award.
An investigation into her past revealed by the Chronicle of Higher Education shows that her story did not match reality. They say that a tipster contacted the Rhodes committee and Penn, calling Fierceton’s story dishonest. She actually grew up with her mother in a home on a tree-lined street in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Her mother has a very nice job at a St. Louis area hospital and Mackenzie enjoyed hobbies like horseback riding.
There were some other red flags. A 2020 profile in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows that she is a 2016 graduate from Whitfield School in Creve Coeur. The tuition for that institution is around $30,000 a year before financial aid. She told the newspaper that her foster homes were in Manchester, Clayton, and Creve Coeur.
Fierceton did spend a year in foster care. That was after an incident with her mother. But the people investigating the case say that her childhood was not as harsh as she claimed.
The Rhodes committee recommended that Fierceton’s scholarship be revoked. In response, she withdrew herself from the honor. Penn is also withholding Fierceton’s master’s degree because of their concerns about the truth. Fierceton says that administrators are involved in a conspiracy against her.
Are you still wondering about her unique last name? Fierceton changed it while in college.