Rhodes Scholarships make the world a better place

Rhodes Scholarships make the world a better placeThe most prestigious scholarship a student can win is, hands down, the Rhodes Scholarship. While the free education at Oxford University can't be beat, the esteem of being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship is unparalleled: Rhodes scholars are considered the cream of the crop and can get jobs in any career of their choice, according to Elliot F. Gerson, the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust.

That statement may sound self-serving, but then again, Gerson is stating the obvious. Just take a look at the list of former Rhodes Scholars: Broadcaster Rachel Maddow, author Naomi Wolf, George Stephanopoulos, Michael Kinsley, and of course, Bill Clinton.

The application process for a Rhodes Scholarship is lengthy, and includes five to eight letters of recommendation, a personal essay no longer than 1,000 words, a resume, and a statement of intent (field of study). The four criteria each student must meet was set in 1902 and remain:
  1. Literary and scholastic achievements (stellar grades).
  2. The ability to use one's talents to their fullest (enthusiasm and ambition).
  3. Truth, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship.
  4. "Moral force of character" and the penchant for leadership.
Rhodes Scholarship applicants are chosen by the Rhodes Trust selection committee, which is comprised mostly of Rhodes scholars. According to Elliot F. Gerson, the American Secretary of Rhodes Trust, they receive approximately 900 applicants per year (with backing from their prospective university) but twice that number seek endorsement. Only 32 Americans are chosen each year as Rhodes Scholars.

In a brief e-mail exchange, Gerson explained that as the criteria was written over a century ago and in a different language, the selection criteria has seen some modest reinterpretation over the years, but Rhodes Trust remains true to Cecil Rhodes' vision to seek "outstanding young people who have excelled in scholarship and who show great promise for future leadership in ways that will make the world better."

While fraudulent applications are "exceedingly rare," considering the amount of references and "many checks in our system," writes Gerson, they do happen. Just this May, 23-year-old Adam Wheeler applied for a Rhodes Scholarship under false credentials.

Wheeler was attending Harvard University at the time, having sneaked his way into the Ivy League university after forging perfect grades from MIT (which he did not attend). Wheeler now faces up to 50 years in prison on charges of identity fraud and larceny. It was Wheeler's application for a Rhodes Scholarship that was his undoing -- why he wasn't content with going to Harvard under what prosecutors say was false pretenses we will never know.

Given the great prestige of a Rhodes Scholarship, it is not surprising people try to fake it. But if you're going to make the world a better place, it's best to be honest about it. In July, Duke University suspended Dr. Anil Potti, an associate professor, researcher and cancer scientist, after it was revealed Potti lied on his resume about being a Rhodes Scholarship recipient. All Duke U. had to do was consult this public list of yearly winners when Potti was interviewed.

Potti's credentials came into question when three separate clinical trials failed to duplicate his 2007 cancer research results. Duke University has been investigating Potti's claims for a month, perhaps delaying its findings for fear of embarrassment. The only punitive measures taken against Potti have been the suspension of payments from a $729,000 grant from the American Cancer Society. Considering Adam Wheeler faces up to 50 years in prison for identity fraud, it will be interesting to see what happens to Potti in the scientific community.

Moral of the story? If you try really hard, and still don't make it as a Rhodes Scholarship recipient, don't cheat -- it's not the Rhodes way, and you'll get caught sooner or later. There is more than one way to make the world a better place, and financial stability can be reached through job opportunities in America's science and technology sector.
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