Campus & Community

Five from Harvard named Rhodes Scholars

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Award recognizes academic achievement, leadership potential

Two Harvard undergraduates and three recent graduates are among the 32 American men and women named Rhodes Scholars on Nov. 22. Each of the five will begin study next October at the University of Oxford in England.

Harvard’s newest Rhodes Scholars are Roxanne E. Bras ‘09 of Celebration, Fla.; Darryl W. Finkton ‘10 of Indianapolis; Jean A. Junior ‘09 of Troy, Mich.; Eva Z. Lam ‘10 of Milwaukee; and Grace Tiao ‘08 of Marietta, Ga. They were chosen from among 805 students nominated by 326 colleges and universities nationwide.

Created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes, the scholarships cover all costs for two or three years of study at Oxford. Winners are selected on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, leadership potential, and physical vigor, among other attributes.

This year’s recipients bring Harvard’s total number of Rhodes Scholars to 328, more than a 10th of the 3,196 Americans who have received the award.

Roxanne E. Bras, who graduated from Harvard College in June with a degree in economics, will pursue an M.Phil. in international relations at Oxford, focusing on strategic studies.

Currently a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bras is also a Truman Scholar and a marathon runner. Her mentor of nearly five years is Gen. David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command.

As an undergraduate, Bras studied counterinsurgency as part of the economics of national security. Her senior thesis focused on quantitative metrics in counterinsurgency, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. She plans to focus on studying other post-World War II conflicts at Oxford.

“I applied for the Rhodes because I wanted to study international relations in a graduate program, and I wanted to do so overseas,” Bras said. “More specifically, I’d like to research the relationships between countries’ diplomatic and military institutions.”

Despite her impressive background, Bras said she wasn’t expecting to win.

“I was shocked,” she said. “I hadn’t ever seriously considered winning, so I was really surprised when they called my name. After a while, the shock wore off, and I was incredibly humbled. I can’t really say I’ve earned it. Instead I feel obligated to live up to the gift I’ve received.”

Bras hopes to make a career in public service, whether in uniform or in some other capacity, possibly teaching at West Point.

After Oxford, Bras intends to return to the Army, where, she said, “I have met fantastic mentors who have taught me about leadership, and I have been profoundly impressed by the courage and commitment of my peers.”

“My life goal is to remove income as one of the factors of life expectancy,” said College senior Darryl W. Finkton, a resident of Quincy House concentrating in neurobiology with a secondary concentration in African and African-American studies. “I don’t believe that the access someone has to health care, the cleanliness of their water, or the expertise of their physician should be determined by something so arbitrary as wealth.”

During his freshman year at Harvard, Finkton co-founded (with Sangu Delle ’10)  a sustainable-water-delivery system for a community in Ghana. He has also researched infant cognition, and played varsity basketball for two years.

Finkton was first approached about the Rhodes by Quincy House’s senior tutor, Tim McCarthy, during his sophomore year.

“I thought he was just being nice and optimistic, but I decided to go ahead and look into the programs at Oxford, just in case,” Finkton said. “They seemed pretty amazing and fit into my overall plans, so I decided to throw my hat in the mix to see what would happen.”

Finkton will now pursue an M.Sc. in global health during his first year at Oxford and an M.B.A. in his second year.

“I spent much of my time in college studying global health, human rights, and international development,” Finkton said, adding that studying global health will solidify his understanding of community-based care, and an M.B.A. will help to ensure the success of his development projects in Africa.

Jean A. Junior sees an M.Phil. in comparative social policy from Oxford as a logical bridge between her undergraduate studies in sociology and medical school.

“I applied for a Rhodes Scholarship because I saw it as a golden opportunity to learn about some of the most effective ways to address the socioeconomic challenges facing the destitute sick,” she said. “I realized that while medical school would prepare me to address people’s clinical challenges, I needed additional training to address people’s socioeconomic challenges and to become as familiar as possible with effective policies and strategies for poverty alleviation.”

Since graduating summa cum laude in June, Junior has been a Fulbright Scholar researching HIV/AIDS in South Africa. As a Harvard undergraduate, she studied health behaviors of the rural poor in Bangladesh and co-directed CityStep, which engages public middle school students in dance and other creative activities. She also immersed herself in her sociology studies.

“Studying sociology as an undergraduate really opened my eyes to the depth of socioeconomic inequalities in society, inspired me to act to alleviate these inequalities, and made me a much more critical thinker about the problems faced by the underprivileged,” Junior said.

Junior hopes eventually to lead an organization that advocates for large-scale policy change to improve the lives of the poor and sick while providing health care and socioeconomic services to the poor.

“I also want to mentor and encourage others to do social justice work, because I know that, as one person, I can only do so much,” she said. “But if I can help motivate others, so much more can be done.”

“My undergraduate work, particularly my senior thesis, has focused on cultural competency training in an American context — which almost always refers to white, middle-class teachers working with low-income, black, and Latino students,” said Eva Z. Lam, a senior in Leverett House concentrating in social studies. “At Oxford, I hope to consider cultural competence and teacher training in a broader international context.”

Lam will pursue two one-year master’s degrees at Oxford: one in comparative and international education, and the other in comparative social policy. After Oxford, she plans to teach high school for a few years, hoping eventually to find her way into a policymaking position, either as a school administrator or at the district level.

“My eventual goal is to make education policy, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to study that in an international context at Oxford,” said Lam, a black belt in tae kwon do who was a national champion debater in high school. Also president of the Harvard College Democrats, she campaigned for Barack Obama both at Harvard and in New Hampshire.

The news of her Rhodes took the better part of a day to sink in fully, Lam said.

“Perhaps my favorite part of the format of the Rhodes interviews is that you get to spend the entire day with the other finalists,” she said. “Over the course of the day, I discovered that all of the finalists were really incredible people. They were some of the most intelligent and accomplished people I’ve ever met, but every single one was also refreshingly honest and down-to-earth.”

Grace Tiao went far after graduating summa cum laude in 2008 with degrees in history of science and English and American literature and language. She ran a yearlong research expedition on ecosystem biodiversity in Antarctica.

Working with microbiologist Craig Cary of the University of Waikato in New Zealand, she spent three months doing fieldwork in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valleys.

“Environmental microbiology is a discipline that relies heavily on computational expertise,” Tiao said. “I realized that if I wanted to continue to work in the field, I’d need to go back and learn a good deal of basic and some more advanced statistics.”

So Tiao applied for the Rhodes, which she will use to pursue a second bachelor’s degree, this one a B.A. in mathematics and statistics.

“The B.A. doesn’t build upon my studies as an undergraduate,” she said. “It triangulates them.”

Tiao’s ultimate goal is to write literary nonfiction about science, and in particular to focus on various environments and human relationships to those environments, for a general audience.

“In other words, I’d like to be, as my professor, Steven Shapin, puts it, ‘a spokesperson for reality,’” Tiao said. “That’s his description of who a scientist is. Good spokespeople try to reach as wide an audience as they can. But unfortunately, because scientists are very busy people and aren’t necessarily gifted writers or speakers, the message doesn’t always get through reliably or comprehensively to the public. I think that’s where I fit in.”

Tiao, who is currently working on her first book, said winning the Rhodes will mean not only having the gift of financial support and academic training but also precious time to conduct fieldwork and write between terms.

“It’s an enormous gift,” she said. “I don’t think I understand what it means yet, and I probably won’t till long after I’ve graduated.”

For full biographies on the winners.