UGA's Rhodes Scholars: 1903-99

Life's a field of dreams for Rhodes winner

This year, three UGA students were invited to the Rhodes Scholarship state interview. "That's unheard of outside of Harvard," says Honors Program director Alex Rosenberg.

From a March 1998 Georgia Magazine article by Laura Wexler

Ask Scott Hershovitz to divulge the strategy that made him one of 32 American college students named 1998 Rhodes Scholars, and the senior from Duluth will say it had something to do with baseball.

"In the interview, one of the judges told me it was nearly impossible to be a federal judge," says Hershovitz, who plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in philosophy at Oxford University and a law degree at Yale University in preparation for his long-term goal of becoming a federal judge. "I said Dan Mattingly and Dale Murphy were two of the best baseball players around, but they never played in a World Series. In other words, I think I could still have impact on the justice system if I didn't get to be a federal judge."

Scott Hershovitz's love for baseball didn't win him a Rhodes. But it did show judges his human side.

Then ask Hershovitz to explain his master's thesis on racial gerrymandering in Georgia voting districts, and, again, he talks baseball.

"In the 1996 World Series, the Braves scored more runs than the Yankees. But they lost because the majority of runs they scored occurred in the early games," says Hershovitz, who will receive both his bachelor's degree in philosophy and political science and his master's degree in philosophy from UGA this spring. "Similar things occur with majority-minority election districts. The chances are that you'll elect more black Congresspeople. But, by contrast, the remaining districts will be more conservative."

Despite all this baseball talk, Hershovitz doesn't actually play the game. But his fascination with Atlanta Braves trivia-and his ability to link baseball to his academic interests-showed the Rhodes judges that, in addition to his outstanding academic record, leadership roles, public service, and working relationships with professors, Hershovitz has an interesting human side. That's crucial in a competition which, at the final level, relies as much on personality and social skills as on intelligence and achievement.

Hershovitz's success-and the suc-cess of his predecessor, Rob Sutherland (BS '96, MS '96), who won a Rhodes in 1996-results from pairing a strong candidate with good preparation. Much of that preparation is supplied by UGA's Academic Scholarship Identification Program (ASIP), which offers potential scholarship competitors opportunities to broaden and enrich their academic experiences, making them stronger candidates.

ASIP's success is clear. This year, three of the four students UGA nominated, including Hershovitz, were invited to the Rhodes Scholarship state interview. "That's unheard of outside of Harvard," says Honors Program director Alex Rosenberg. UGA was one of only nine public universities from which students won.

"In the last 20 years, national scholarship competition has become an industry," says Rosenberg. "Schools that don't commit time and resources don't win."

Eight years ago, UGA's Vice President for Academic Affairs William Prokasy recognized this fact when he created ASIP. "It became apparent that we could have the finest students in the world apply, but the process calls for things they may well have not done," says Prokasy. "The only thing was to set something in place that gives our students a better crack at winning awards."

Based on grade point average (3.75 minimum), faculty recommendations, and advanced coursework, students like Hershovitz and Sutherland are identified at the end of their freshman year and invited to enroll in ASIP for their sophomore and junior years. At that point, ASIP moves into its next phase: exposing students to various professors, visiting lecturers, opportunities for summer-study scholarships, and a host of cultural activities.

Beginning this year, ASIP participants also attend one-credit Honors Proseminars during two of the year's three academic quarters. Winter quarter Proseminar courses included: "French Slavery and the American South," "The Eighth Day of Creation," "High Culture," and "Black Holes and the Origin of the Universe."

ASIP began with 25 students; this year, 120 are taking part. While Else Jorgensen, scholarship program coord-inator, is thrilled student interest is so high, she struggles to find faculty willing to volunteer to teach the Proseminars.

Quisha Saunders says she joined ASIP because it offers opportunities over and above those available to most UGA students.

"I think it gives students the opportunity to expound on different social issues or cultural issues--things that you just wouldn't normally encounter," says Saunders, a sophomore honors student from Atlanta. Though many honors students particpate in ASIP, the program is open to non-honors students as well. In the future, Jorgensen says, ASIP plans to increase the number of non-honors students asked to join.

Each May, juniors interested in competing for the Rhodes complete a one-page form describing their interests and activities. On the basis of that form, several are asked to work on a draft of the 1000-word essay which is the heart of the Rhodes application.

Four or five students continue on from there, writing as many as eight or nine essay drafts over the next few months. All of the drafts are painstakingly critiqued by a faculty committee comprised of Rosenberg, the Senior Teaching Fellows, and assistant genetics professor Daniel Promislow, a 1986 Rhodes Scholar. "At that level of competition, everyone has the same GPA and spectacular letters of recommendation," says Rosenberg. "The only thing that's going to separate someone out is the quality of the mind reflected in the essay."

If a student qualifies for an interview on the state level, committee members grill him or her about politics, art, literature, and current events during a series of mock interviews. In the best of all worlds, the student goes to the regional interview as a Rhodes candidate and returns a Rhodes Scholar.

Promislow, who prepared for the Rhodes competition while a student at the University of Chicago, says UGA students are lucky to have ASIP. "The program we have here is pretty wonderful," says Promislow. "It's something the Ivy League schools have always done. We have plenty of students of equal caliber. It's a question of helping them refine their skills to be competitive."

Hershovitz's words after learning he was named a 1998 Rhodes Scholar sum it up best: "This was an amazing group effort."

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