Two University of Chicago alumni, Ian Desai, B.A. '04, and Andrew Kim, B.A. '04, have been selected as Rhodes Scholars, the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust announced last weekend. Desai and Kim will join 30 other Rhodes Scholars from the United States and approximately 60 Rhodes Scholars worldwide to study at Oxford University next fall.
The selection of Desai and Kim brings the University's total number of winners to 39. Their achievement marks the third time in less than a decade that the University has had multiple winners of the scholarship in one year.
The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the most prestigious academic awards in the world. Created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and colonial pioneer, the scholarship pays all academic fees, provides a stipend for living expenses, and covers transportation costs to England for two to three years of study.
Louis Tremante, senior advisor for fellowships, also noted that the Rhodes Scholarship is "very, very selective." More than 900 candidates from approximately 340 colleges and universities applied for the scholarship. The University of Chicago endorsed six candidates this year.
Not surprisingly, the news of being selected for the scholarship left both Desai and Kim with feelings of awe, excitement, and joy. "Winning a Rhodes Scholarship is incredible. It is an amazing feeling and an experience I will never forget. It is also quite an overwhelming and humbling experience," Desai said.
Kim said his win produced a "strange feeling," and added, "I'm extremely happy that Ian and I won."
Desai and Kim were chosen for the scholarship based on the criteria including high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor.
Desai and Kim both graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 2004. Desai concentrated in ancient studies, and Kim concentrated in political science.
Desai was elected Student Marshal, the highest undergraduate academic honor at the University. He also received honors for his undergraduate thesis in ancient studies and won the Brooker Prize for his collection of poetry.
As an undergraduate, Desai studied and compared ancient Greek and Indian civilizations and mythology. Desai spent several weeks retracing the mythic path of Jason and the Argonauts.
"The main focus of my journey was understanding the role of the ancient past in the social fabric of modern life. I traveled by foot, bus, car, train, motorcycle, and Turkish fishing boat through Greece, the Black Sea, and Georgia," Desai said.
Desai hopes to build on his studies as an undergraduate by pursuing two degreesone in oriental studies, and one in modern Greek studiesat Oxford.
Before coming to Chicago, Kim studied at Deep Springs College, a two-year experimental college in the California desert, on a full merit scholarship. Kim's academic interests in political science as well as his extracurricular pursuits influenced his decision to study international relations at Oxford.
"I will study the theoretical foundations of rightssuch as human rightsand apply them to an examination of the intersection between conflict and refugees, with a primary focus on Africa," Kim said.
In addition to their academic achievement, Desai and Kim were also selected for their extracurricular pursuits. "Both were quite remarkable in their academic and extracurricular accomplishments," said Susan Art, dean of students in the College.
While a student at the University, Desai co-founded and directed the Chicago Society, which brings together students, faculty, and leaders in government, industry, and policy to address pressing global issues. From this, Desai initiated one series, the Kashmir Project, to explore the cultural history of Kashmir.
Desai also co-founded the LITE Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on promoting cross-cultural understanding.
"Ian Desai is one of the most expansive people I have known," Nancy Jacobson, an advisor in the College, said. "His thinking isn't constrained by pre-conceived categories, expectations, or probabilities. This allows him to bring together ideas and people in ways that other people wouldn't imagine."
In his two years at Chicago, Kim balanced his life between the University and the city. Kim worked for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, focusing on the connection between prostitution and homelessness. Kim helped to develop a citywide task force, which proposed new ways to respond to youth prostitution.
"This job gave me the balance I wanted between political theory and political application," Kim said.
In addition to his work with the homeless, Kim also played cello in a blues band and worked for Urban Farmers in Training. Last summer, Kim was an intern at the Bureau of Africa and the United States Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C. Currently, Kim is training to become an EMF in New Jersey.
Desai and Kim both believe that their time at the University, in particular their interactions with students and faculty, contributed to their application and subsequent selections as Rhodes Scholars.
"In my opinion, the University of Chicago is the best school in the world. My relationships with my teachers were especially instrumental in the success of my Chicago career. I can't imagine a better environment to prepare for a lifetime full of connection, intellectual inquiry with positive social change, than the College," Desai said.
Kim echoed Desai's sentiments, saying that he was thankful he had so many professors and friends at Chicago who were not just excited by learning, but by discussing.
"I learned the most in college in discussions, whether formal or informal, about philosophy, politics, and whatever else was on our minds," Kim said.