BY LISA TREI
Recent Stanford graduate Tess Bridgeman and senior Jared Cohen are among the 32 Americans who will enter Oxford University next October as Rhodes scholars.
Bridgeman and Cohen were selected from a pool of 963 applicants for the prestigious scholarships, which cover all university fees and provide a stipend for living expenses and travel. They are worth about $30,000 annually for up to three years of study. Bridgeman also won a Marshall scholarship, but declined it to accept the Rhodes.
"This is very good news," said John Pearson, director of the Bechtel International Center, the office that coordinates student applications for several national scholarships, including the Rhodes, Marshalls and Fulbrights. This year, the Rhodes selection committee invited 19 Stanford students to compete at the state level of the competition -- the highest figure ever, he said. From there, successful candidates moved to the district level, where four finalists -- including Bridgeman and Cohen -- were named Rhodes scholars.
According to Pearson, 48 Stanford students applied for Rhodes and Marshalls this year -- 16 more than last year. He attributed the higher number of applicants to increased outreach by the university: The Vice Provost for Student Affairs began funding applicant outreach last year, and this year the effort got a financial boost from the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, as well.
Expanded outreach translated into early Winter Quarter information sessions about scholarship opportunities; the matching of applicants with former Rhodes and Marshall scholars who are university alumni; and more workshops on application preparation and interview practice. "They really are remarkable students, but it does take this ability to do interviews," Pearson explained.
Rhodes Scholars are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the will of Cecil Rhodes, founder of the state of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. These criteria include high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor.
Bridgeman, 22, earned a bachelor's degree in human biology, with a concentration in international health and development, in June. At Oxford, she plans to pursue a master's of philosophy in development studies. Bridgeman said she also wants to earn a law degree in public interest and international human rights law in preparation for a career focusing on improving the development strategies of governments and international institutions. "I want to make the development process more sustainable, more just and more accountable to the people who are supposed to benefit from it," she said.
Bridgeman currently is working at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., as a John Gardner Public Service Fellow, a one-year scholarship sponsored by the Haas Center for Public Service. At Stanford, Bridgeman won many departmental, university and national awards, including the Kirsten Frohnmayer Prize, the Dean's Award for Academic Accomplishment, the James W. Lyons Award for Outstanding Public Service, the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship and the Harry S. Truman Scholarship.
Also while at Stanford, Bridgeman co-founded Puente a la Salud Comunitaria, or Bridge to Community Health, a nongovernmental organization in Mexico that helped reduce birth defects in babies by adding folic acid to the diets of women. "This young woman is already responsible for enabling the birth of innumerable healthy babies in the state of Oaxaca," consulting human biology Professor Armin Rosencranz wrote in a recommendation letter. "Her efforts are a testimony to how one energetic, purposive and fully focused person can make an enormous difference in the world."
A longtime volunteer at Planned Parenthood, Bridgeman also is a founding member of Stanford Students for Choice, and was active in community-service activities on campus. Bridgeman, who grew up in Santa Cruz, said she was raised in a family that supported public service.
"My parents have always encouraged me to give back to the community," she said. "They always encouraged me to stand in other people's shoes and understand the complex factors that create injustice."
At last summer's graduation ceremony for the Program in Human Biology, Bridgeman was asked to speak. She urged her classmates to use their privilege and connections to create change. "Tess has a wisdom beyond her years," said Russell Fernald, the Benjamin Scott Crocker Professor of Human Biology and the program's former director. "She brings a powerful intellect to complex social issues. And she is a wonderful person."
Cohen, 22, grew up in Weston, Conn., in a family that also encouraged him to experience life outside his sheltered community. Family vacations were spent in places such as Morocco and Egypt, and those early trips turned into an abiding interest in Africa. Cohen has worked and traveled in many African countries, speaks Swahili, is conversant in several other regional languages and is learning Arabic, Persian and Korean.
"He is effectively besotted with Africa and has put himself in a position to do some good for that troubled continent," said history Professor David Kennedy, one of Cohen's teachers.
Cohen will graduate next summer with bachelor's degrees in history and political science with a minor in African studies. Last June, he received the Hines Prize for the best senior honors thesis, which he wrote as a junior. The Absence of Decision-Making: U.S. Policy Towards Rwanda from the Arusha Process Through the Genocide contains original scholarship focusing on why the United States and the international community did nothing to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan genocide until 800,000 people were slaughtered. Hoover Senior Fellow Larry Diamond, Cohen's mentor, said the thesis will be turned into a book. "Jared has an intense curiosity and a very profound moral sense," he said. "He was so morally appalled (by the genocide), he was compelled to understand it to try to prevent it from happening again."
Cohen also has interned in the State Department, is a consultant on a PBS documentary on the 10-year anniversary of the genocide, has received several fellowships and grants to do research in Africa, and founded the on-campus publication Six Degrees: A Journal of Human Rights.
Stephen Stedman, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies, described Cohen as a doer and a capable leader. "He is the kind of individual to seize opportunities and wring substance and meaning from them," he said.
Cohen said he wants to become U.S. national security adviser. By pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford, he wants to focus on why more terrorists are seeking safe havens in Africa. He is also interested in investigating how the nuclear crises in North Korea and Iran are connected to human rights.
Stanford Report, December 3, 2003