A Paralympic basketball gold medalist who has campaigned to improve access for the disabled in the developing world and a scientist-turned-political philosopher who worked on ways to control the invasive kudzu plant were among the 32 Americans selected Sunday as Rhodes Scholars for 2005.
The scholars, chosen from 904 applicants endorsed by 341 colleges and universities, will enter Oxford University in England next October. The scholarships fund two or three years of study.
“I’m still having trouble putting into words how it feels,” said Jennifer Howitt of Georgetown University, a member of the U.S. wheelchair basketball team that won a gold medal at the Athens Paralympic Games. “In a lot of ways, it felt kind of like winning the gold in Athens. It kind of put this smile on my face that I couldn’t take off.”
Howitt, who lost the use of her legs in a hiking accident when she was 9, plans to study development and to continue work to improve conditions for the disabled in developing countries.
Others selected include Jeremy Farris, a senior at Georgia Tech who discovered a pathogen to help control kudzu and plans to study political theory at Oxford, and Andrew Kim, a University of Chicago graduate who plans to study international relations, particularly conflict resolution and refugee issues related to Africa.
Harvard University had the most selectees with five, followed by the U.S. Naval Academy with three — the most for that school in one year since 1929, said spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons.
The three midshipmen learned of their selection a day after they received their service selection. Joseph Preston had just been selected to train as a pilot; that will now be on hold while he studies at Oxford.
“It all came together at a pretty good time,” Preston said. “Now we get to come to the class and celebrate both the service selection and our very good fortune.”
This year’s selections also include three immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Anastasia Piliavsky, a Boston University graduate who plans to study anthropology at Oxford, came to the United States from Ukraine when she was 14 and spoke no English. She has filmed and translated a documentary about the indigenous Sahariya people of India.
Eugene Shenderov, a senior chemistry major at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, came to the United States from Ukraine at age 6. Lev Sviridov, also a chemistry major at CUNY’s City College, immigrated from the former Soviet Union as a young boy.
Sviridov, who will pursue a graduate chemistry degree, was homeless for a time in New York and learned English, in part, by playing softball in Central Park.
Chauncy Harris, a young entrepreneur who helped support his family with business ventures including a computer consulting company he founded, was the first Rhodes Scholar ever from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Harris also served as a missionary for two years.
University of Chicago graduate Ian Desai was so curious about ancient maps, he replicated the ancient voyage of Jason and the Argonauts along the south shore of the Black Sea. For six weeks, he walked, took buses, rode a motorcycle and sailed with a group of Turkish fishermen.
“I was looking to retrace this journey and get a kind of current perspective on this ancient myth,” said Desai, who will take courses in modern Greek studies and Oriental studies at Oxford.
Justin Mutter, one of two Rhodes honorees from the University of Virginia, has been working in public health in Haiti and plans to study how global religious communities confront problems like poverty and disease.
“Everyone experiences shock, not really having known what to expect, and all of a sudden hearing your name called out,” Mutter said. “After that, it’s this sense of gratitude, not only for being offered a scholarship but for the community, the experience of the whole process.”
The American students will join scholars selected from 18 other nations. About 95 scholars are selected each year.
The Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist and diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential and physical vigor, among other attributes.
Past Rhodes Scholars include former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Supreme Court justices Byron White and David Souter, singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson, former presidential candidates Bill Bradley and Wesley Clark, and James William Fulbright, creator of the Fulbright Scholarships.