Hopkins student a Rhodes scholar

School's first since 2000

Montgomery Co. resident at Princeton also wins

November 24, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A Johns Hopkins University senior who emigrated from China at age 15 is among 32 U.S. students chosen to become Rhodes scholars, 100 years after the first class of Americans received the prestigious grants to study in England.

Wen Shi, 20, is the first Hopkins student to win the scholarship since 2000. He intends to pursue research at Oxford University on controlling the growth of cancer.

David Robinson, 22, from Montgomery County, was chosen as one of four scholars from the Rhodes competition district that includes Maryland. The Princeton University senior, an aspiring journalist, plans to study moral philosophy at Oxford. The scholars for 2004 were announced yesterday.

For Shi, who was raised by his grandparents, the trip will be the next step in a journey that brought him from China in 1999 to live with his father, a computer salesman in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Shi said that while he spoke some English when he arrived, he needed additional language instruction. By the time he graduated from high school, he had enough college credits to allow him to graduate from Hopkins next spring in only three years.

Shi, who attended the university on a full scholarship from a fund set up by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said he learned Saturday that he had been selected after a final interview that day in Chicago. "I was in shock. It was like a dream for an hour or so," he said yesterday.

The choice of Shi came as no surprise to his research adviser, Kathleen L. Gabrielson.

"I expected him to win," said Gabrielson, a professor in the Johns Hopkins Hospital's Department of Comparative Medicine. "I remember when I first met him, I told my husband there's this work-study student and I hope he picks me because I knew he was really dedicated, he's very intelligent and I knew he would be easy to mentor."

Gabrielson said Shi has been working eight to 10 hours a week in her laboratory, as well as full-time the past two summers, on a study of the heart-damaging side effects of two potent cancer-fighting medicines.

"He's an extraordinary young man. He's mature, brilliant, and he's kind," Gabrielson said.

Shi said he will work on research at Oxford's Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine on controlling the formation of new blood vessels in tumors as a way of arresting the spread of cancer.

"Hopefully, cancer will become a disease manageable in the long term much like heart disease or high blood pressure," he said.

In his statement to the Rhodes selection committee, Shi wrote that stories of his academic success have spread throughout the Chinese-speaking world through newspaper articles and Mandarin-language interviews on the Voice of America.

He said he told the VOA his accomplishments have been the result of "the inclusive and tolerant environment in America."

Shi told the panel that soon after he arrived in the United States, he voiced opposition to the U.S. bombing in Serbia "in broken English" during a high school class. He said he and his family in China expected repercussions because he was alone in his views.

"My grandparents feared that I would be beaten at school because they could not imagine such open opposition to governmental policies," he wrote. Instead, Shi said, he received praise for expressing his views.

"I treasure the American emphasis on individual freedom and tolerance of different opinions, which motivate me to work hard, achieve, and to give back to my new country," he told the committee. He became an American citizen in 2000.

Shi, who intends to go on to medical school after Oxford, said that in addition to his scientific research he hopes to continue the public service activities he has pursued at Hopkins. Among other things, Shi has volunteered in an AIDS clinic and helped develop programs to teach sex education and violence prevention to juvenile offenders in Baltimore.

Robinson, of Potomac, said he, too, hopes his experience in England will equip him for a career of public service.

"This kind of good fortune really does generate an obligation to do good for the world," the Richard Montgomery High School graduate said.

Robinson, opinion editor at The Daily Princetonian student newspaper, said he hopes eventually to write articles for magazines such as Atlantic Monthly and Harper's. But before that, he expects to cut his teeth as a reporter.

At Oxford, Robinson said, he is looking forward to becoming an avid consumer of the British news media, which he considers livelier than their American counterparts.

While Robinson said he has not chosen a particular program, he knows he wants to concentrate on moral philosophy and to continue his study of civil disobedience, the subject of his senior thesis at Princeton.

"Oxford is the best place in the world to study moral philosophy," he said.

Robinson said his plans also include travel around Europe and a break from the pace of his high school and college careers.

"There will be some time spent in pubs," he said. "There will be some time spent just hanging out and soaking up life over there."

The 32 winners were chosen from 963 applicants representing 366 colleges and universities across the United States. The scholarships were created in the will of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes.

Among previous U.S. winners of the coveted awards are former President Bill Clinton; Democratic presidential candidate Wesley K. Clark, former Sen. Bill Bradley and former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

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