Campus & Community

Three from Harvard selected as Rhodes Scholars

5 min read

Prestigious scholarship goes to a graduate and two seniors

Two Harvard seniors and a recent graduate have been chosen as Rhodes Scholars. Clara L. Blättler of Brookline, Mass., and Shayak Sarkar, of Edinburg, Texas, were among the 32 Americans chosen for the prestigious scholarship that funds two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Sammy K. Sambu has been selected as a Rhodes Scholar from Kenya, according to Harvard Fellowships Director Paul Bohlmann.

Blättler is a Harvard senior majoring in earth and planetary sciences. Harvard record-holder and Ivy League champion in the women’s pole vault, violinist in two Harvard orchestras, and a pianist, Blättler has conducted extensive research and fieldwork in geology and chemical oceanography in South America, Africa, and Europe. She has also studied at the Goethe Institute in Berlin.

A Leverett House resident, Blättler plans to earn a master of science degree in earth sciences at Oxford. Working with scholars at Oxford’s department of earth science, she plans to conduct research on climate conditions during the Pleistocene and Mesozoic periods in order to better understand the dynamics of earth’s climate systems. Ultimately, she hopes such research will contribute to better policies for sustaining Earth’s present environment.

“We can all pay better attention to the place we live in, especially now that we have so much more power to change the environment,” she said. “We’re all living on this planet, and we have to learn to take care of it.”

A biomedical science and engineering concentrator and a resident of Leverett House, Sambu ’08 plans to conduct research at the Oxford Institute of Biomedical Engineering on improving vaccine delivery technology. He is especially interested in experimental techniques for freeze-drying liquid vaccines and injecting them through the skin with a high-velocity aerosol spray. Such systems may be more effective for use in developing countries, he said, because the freeze-dried vaccine requires no refrigeration while the absence of needles minimizes exposure to blood-borne diseases.

Sambu was a participant in the 2007 Harvard College Program for Research in Science and Engineering (PRISE) and received a David Roux Fund grant. He also participated in the Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) program at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in 2006.

Sambu’s father managed a tea plantation in the west highlands of Kenya and his mother works as a school inspector. Curiosity about the world combined with a gift for observation was what led Sambu toward science, but as his perspective widened, he realized that science could make great contributions toward improving people’s lives.

“Recognizing persistent problems in the society I’m from motivates me to do something about them,” he said.

Sarkar received his bachelor of arts in applied mathematics at Harvard in June, where he also graduated with a master’s degree in statistics. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior and won a prize for his thesis on America’s homeless children. Having served the homeless, refugees, and low-income youth through various public service organizations while an undergraduate, Sarkar is now interested in applying his analytic skills in mathematics, statistics, and economics to addressing problems associated with poverty, especially affordable housing and education reform.

Currently studying evidence-based social work at Oxford on a Harvard fellowship, Sarkar said that receiving a Rhodes Scholarship felt like “winning the lottery” because it will make it possible for him to remain at Oxford long enough to complete a doctorate.

A first-generation American whose parents came to the United States from India, Sarkar said that his knowledge of both worlds has given him a unique perspective on issues of poverty.

“In India, the United States is thought of as a promised land, but I’ve seen that even in the developed world there are great disparities and that we still fail to provide a basic standard of living. I’m interested in understanding how we can integrate economic growth with greater equality and provide a social safety net for all citizens.”

The Rhodes Scholarships, the oldest and best-known award for international study, were created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer. The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904. Blättler, Sambu, and Sarkar will enter Oxford in October 2008.

Candidates for the scholarship must be endorsed by their colleges. This year, 764 U.S. students were endorsed by 294 different U.S. colleges and universities. A select number of those were invited for interviews that determined the final 32 Americans.

Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, said that with the addition of Blättler and Sarkar, a total of 321 Harvard and Radcliffe graduates have been selected as Rhodes Scholars from the United States.

That number does not include Rhodes Scholars who were Harvard students from Canada, or nations of the Caribbean, Africa, or Asia, such as Sambu, and also does not include scholars who were selected while attending Harvard’s graduate schools.

Some countries have not yet formally announced the selection of their Rhodes Scholars.