High academic achievement. Leadership potential. A spirit of unselfishness.

The traits sought by the Army in ROTC Cadets, it turns out, virtually mirror those sought by the Rhodes Trust in applicants it considers for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

Despite his success in the community, in the classroom and in ROTC, University of Virginia Cadet Joseph Riley remained skeptical about his chances of receiving the honor after he applied this fall.

"I had told my parents that I didn't see how I could win, given how talented all the other finalists were," he said.

But Riley's credentials proved just as strong. The 22-year-old senior was named one of 32 American Rhodes Scholars Nov. 17 and will begin studying at the famed Oxford University in October 2013.

Winners were selected from a pool of 838 candidates nominated by their colleges and universities. Riley is the first Army ROTC Cadet to earn the scholarship since 2009.

"I was just extremely grateful and humbled," he said.

The scholarships fully fund two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Rhodes Scholars are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but also for their character, commitment to others and to the common good and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead.

Riley, who is majoring in Mandarin Chinese and is in the honors program in government and foreign affairs, ranked 10th on ROTC's 2012-13 National Order of Merit List. He is co-authoring a book on Sino-American relations and has done field research on Chinese mineral extraction industries in Africa.

Riley has attended the Army's Airborne and Air Assault schools and founded an organization to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. He also has completed an internship with the National Ground Intelligence Center.

At the University of Virginia, he was elected to the university's Student Government and Honor Committee and started the Alexander Hamilton Society, a national organization focused on fostering foreign policy debate and discussions on college campuses.

Riley plans to complete a master's and doctorate in international relations at Oxford and later serve as an Army infantry officer.

Riley credits ROTC for preparing him to tackle Oxford's rigorous academics. ROTC helps instill the confidence and skills needed to set high goals and work toward accomplishing those goals, he said.

"It also gives Cadets a host of leadership development opportunities that help develop them as leaders and lifelong learners," he said.

Lt. Col. Mike Binetti, the professor of military science at Virginia, described Riley as the epitome of a future Army leader.
"Cadet Joe Riley is an extremely gifted and talented young man who is passionate about what he does," Binetti said.

"He truly embodies all of the attributes that the Army seeks in its leaders, including character, presence, intellect, the ability to develop others and getting results. He has a 4.0 grade point average in an extremely rigorous double major honors program. His willingness to embrace a critical language and develop himself into a fluent and globally aware officer is exactly the type of initiative and self-awareness we need in our future officers."

Binetti said Oxford will prepare Riley to think and, if required, operate as a junior officer at the operational and strategic level.

"He will not only feel comfortable but be academically qualified to be an infantry platoon leader or a work in a general officers strategic initiative group," Binetti said.

Though he was set to commission in May, Riley will be on an educational delay while at Oxford and will commission in 2016.

"Having the time to think critically about these big questions without the competing demands often placed on Cadets and active duty officers will be incredibly formative," Riley said. "It will also allow me the opportunity to examine more closely what my role will and should be within the Army."

Once Riley completes Oxford and commissions, his goal is to serve as a platoon leader and company commander. He would also like to teach at West Point in the Social Sciences Department.

"Ultimately, I hope to spend as much of my career as possible leading troops," Riley said, "but at times I would like to work in capacities that allow me to help the Army develop its grand strategy."