Recipe for a Rhodes
MIX . . . biology and music, Latin and Greek, A's in the classroom, ecology and coral reefs, ADD
From a March 1996 Georgia Magazine article by Phil Williams
or Rob Sutherland, all Rhodes lead to Oxford. Sutherland, a senior from Dunwoody, has been named a Rhodes Scholar, one of only 32 selected from the United States. He will study at venerable Oxford University in England beginning next October. He is UGA's 16th Rhodes Scholar, the first since 1973.
"I'm obviously delighted," says Sutherland. "I'm looking forward to the experience of studying in England."
Sutherland came to UGA on a Foundation Fellowship and for a time was considering a triple major in biochemistry, music and Latin. Instead, he opted to pursue two degrees simultaneously: a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's degree in conservation ecology and sustainable development.
"I'm drawn toward conservation ecology and sustainable development because I think it's an important field," says Sutherland. "We're going to have to move toward it if we're going to have intelligent development in the future. Unrestrained growth and poor planning are things we can't just get around."
Sutherland will finish his undergraduate degree in June and his master's degree in the summer before he goes to Oxford. Presently he carries a 3.97 average in his undergraduate program and a 4.0 in his master's program.
"Rob is the best student I've had in 25 years of teaching," says ecology professor James Porter, Sutherland's undergraduate advisor and his major professor in the master's program. "He is able to draw from a tremendous number of science and humanities disciplines to create an integrated understanding of how the world works."
Sutherland has been studying the degradation of the coral reefs off south Florida with Porter. "Rob's master's thesis is a brilliant dissertation on coral reef ecology and conservation issues in the Florida Keys," Porter says.
Sutherland's focus has been altruistic as well as scientific. He has aided Reef Relief, a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect living coral reefs in the Keys.
As part of his combined program of study, he has established two photo-monitoring stations on coral reefs near Key West. Underwater photographs taken annually over fixed grids allow detailed tracking of the state of the reefs through time.
"The first two-year comparison produced some startling results," Sutherland says. "At one end of the monitoring site, a careless boater dragged an anchor across the sea floor, devastating a section of the reef. The photographs tell such a powerful story that I am currently working on a digital collage of the damaged section of the reef for use in a conservation public information campaign."
In addition to winning a Rhodes Scholarship, Sutherland made USA Today's All-USA Academic First Team. One of 20 honorees, he earned a $2,500 cash prize and a trip to Arlington, Va., to accept his award.
Sutherland's expertise in the ecology of coral reefs helped win him the Rhodes Scholarship. Here, he befriends a manatee off Key West.
The Rhodes Scholarships were endowed by Cecil Rhodes, a British financier and statesman. Applicants for the scholarships must show exceptional achievements in academics, dedication to helping others and athletic ability.
Besides his training as a scuba diver for his reef project, Sutherland is an enthusiastic mountain biker and has backpacked in the Alps, Costa Rica, England and the Sierra Nevadas.
He also plays cello and trombone and has continued his interest in music at UGA.
"I've played in the University Symphony, though not this quarter." says Sutherland. "Right now I'm playing electric cello with a group called Volare in Athens. It's been really fun experimenting with it."
Sutherland came to UGA with 97 quarter hours already earned through advanced placement courses in high school and participation in a summer institute at Northwestern University, where he took an intensive course in Attic Greek intended for advanced undergraduates and graduate students and became proficient enough to read the works of Plato and Aristotle.
"He doesn't just do a lot of things, he masters them," says Peter Jorgensen, faculty coordinator of the Foundation Fellows program.
Sutherland is well-traveled, having spent the summer of 1992 taking part in the UGA Honors Field Geology Program, consisting of three honors courses taught during a nine-week field trip across the continental United States.
The following summer, he attended an exchange program in Erlangen, Germany, studying conversation, composition, literature and grammar and living with a German family. And he is no stranger to Oxford, having spent a term there in 1994 as part of the UGA at Oxford Program.
He also participated in a field course called "Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach" in Costa Rica this past summer.
"I've had a lot of encouragement from a number of people here," says Sutherland. "The most important has probably come from the Foundation Fellows Program. Peter and Else Jorgensen guided me through the university and provided numerous opportunities to do things above and beyond what you'd usually do at a university.
"My major professor, Jim Porter, has done a lot to encourage my success here and has supported my research and got me into the combined-majors program. And my cello professor, David Starkweather, has gone out of his way to let me work on the music in which I was really interested."
Ecology professor Jim Porter (second from left) calls Sutherland his best student in 25 years. Also offering Rob congratulations on winning the Rhodes are (at left) the "father of modern ecology" Eugene Odum and President Knapp.
Two anecdotes about Sutherland's interviews during the long process leading to the Rhodes Scholarship are telling. In the semifinals, he was queried about his interest in Latin.
"Can you quote from the Aeneid by Virgil?" the questioner asked.
"In Latin or Greek?" Sutherland responded. The questioner, somewhat taken aback, said Latin would be fine, whereupon Sutherland ripped off the first three lines of the epic and then translated them.
Another interviewer asked him about music. "Who do you prefer? Mozart or Crumb?" he asked. This could have been a challenge, since American composer George Crumb, though well-known in classical music circles, is hardly a household name.
"Crumb," Sutherland said without hesitation. "I like his melodies."
In fact, Sutherland had performed Crumb's Sonata for Cello not long before and knew it well. He even played part of it to the questioner on an ocarina he wears on a string around his neck.