updated 11/23/2009 1:13:27 AM ET 2009-11-23T06:13:27

When Henry Spelman found out he'd won a Rhodes Scholarship, his first call was to his girlfriend. To share the good news, of course, but also to see whether she was a winner as well.

The couple, both seniors at the University of North Carolina, had done their final scholarship interviews apart — he in Philadelphia, she in Houston. Spelman heard the results first.

When he called with his good news, "the stakes just went way up," said his girlfriend, Libby Longino, who had to wait 45 minutes before finding out that she, too, had nabbed one of the world's most prestigious scholarships.

Now the pair are on their way to England, joining the 30 other American students announced Sunday as Rhodes Scholars, including two students who teach philosophy and poetry to inmates, three All-Americans in swimming and a U.S. Army second lieutenant mentored by Gen. David Petraeus.

One winner, Andrew McCall of St. Louis, is the first Rhodes Scholar from Truman State University in Missouri.

International group
The winners were selected from 805 applicants at 326 schools, and join an international group of scholars.

Their expenses will be fully covered for up to three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. The scholarships, worth about $50,000 per year, are awarded for attributes that include high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor.

Several honorees, such as recent Bowdoin College graduate and New Canaan, Conn., native William Oppenheim III, say they hope the Rhodes Scholar honors help bring attention to the causes about which they are passionate.

Oppenheim founded and runs the Omprakash Foundation, which helps link volunteer teachers with grassroots educational projects worldwide that need their help.

Another new Rhodes Scholar, 23-year-old Tyler Spencer of Staunton, Va., started Athletes United for Social Justice to help tackle the AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C., after learning of a similar program while studying in South Africa.

"AIDS in D.C. is just a severe epidemic," he said. "Our athletes have just about as much to learn from the South Africans as they would from us."

Eleanor "Ellie" Ott, 23, a recent University of Pittsburgh graduate from Lawrence, Kan., said her passion for working with refugees will motivate her to earn two master's degrees as a Rhodes Scholar: one in forced migration, and another that will teach her to use rigorous evidence to base social policy on.

"I hope to help shape refugee policy in the future, and ideally that would be through using research and evidence," she said.

Political career on hold
Columbia University senior Raphael Graybill, a native of Great Falls, Mont., plans to study political theory at Oxford. Right now, though, he's juggling life as an auxiliary police officer with the New York Police Department, his political science studies at Columbia and his responsibilities as captain of Columbia's ski and snowboarding team.

Graybill had already been approached to run for political office in Montana, but that will have to wait now that he's a Rhodes Scholar. Eventually, a political career is possible.

"The best way to live out your values is in public life," he said.

For Spelman, of Swarthmore, Pa., and Longino, of Dallas, the scholarships might even help them communicate better.

The couple avoided discussing their applications for the nine months they've been dating, a situation Spelman called "really awkward."

That changed when Longino called him with her news.

"It was probably one of the top five phone calls of my life," she said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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