Two Elis are among the 32 students nationwide who will be heading to Oxford this fall as Rhodes scholars.
Matthew Baum ’09, an alumnus of Berkeley College and currently a Mitchell Scholar studying at Trinity College in Dublin, will pursue his two-year degree in neuroethics, and Geoffrey Shaw ’10, a senior philosophy major and head Branford College freshman counselor, will study legal philosophy. Yale tied with the United States Military Academy and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for third in the total number of Rhodes recipients. Five Harvard students and three Massachusetts Institute of Technology students also received the honor.
This year, 326 American universities and colleges endorsed 805 students as scholarship candidates for the Rhodes. A total of 32 students — two from each of 16 regional districts in the United States — were named as Rhodes Scholars, which qualifies them for two years of study at Oxford toward a masters program, a research degree or a second undergraduate degree.
Baum, who hails from Watertown, Mass., graduated last year with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. Now completing a master’s in neuroscience at Trinity, Baum said he hopes the Rhodes scholarship will allow him to continue exploring the field of neuroethics, which examines the economic, political and philosophical ramifications of neuroscience.
This year is the second time Baum has applied for the Rhodes scholarship. In an interview Thursday, he said he chose to reapply because he thought his year-long Mitchell scholarship did not offer sufficient time to explore the humanistic and social side of neuroethics.
Baum transferred to Yale from Colorado College after his freshman year. During his time at Yale, Baum researched fragile X syndrome — a genetic syndrome that is the leading cause of inherited mental retardation —, served as the president of Yale’s club wrestling team and was the coordinator for FOCUS on New Haven, a week-long community service program for Yale sophomores. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as a senior.
Paul Lombroso, director of the Yale molecular neurobiology laboratory where Baum conducted much of his undergraduate research, described his mentee as an “amazingly talented young man.”
“I am delighted that he has been recognized by the Rhodes committee and am sure that we will hear again about his accomplishments in translational neuroscience in the not too distant future,” Lombroso wrote in an e-mail Friday.
Marvin Chun, Berkeley College master said Baum was well-liked at Yale for his fun-loving and easygoing going personality — he once showed up at a senior Oktoberfest event in lederhosen, Chun recalled. Baum also helped create a bronze sculpture that will go on display in Berkeley’s Lazarus Library, Chun added.
While Baum is already getting acquainted with life across the Atlantic, Shaw continues to pursue his philosophy major at Yale. He is “deeply honored” to have won the Rhodes scholarship, he said Tuesday.
“It’s sort of like getting struck by lightning — there are so many people more deserving, and it’s hard to tell why they picked some people over others,” he said. “I hope I can do as much as possible with it.”
Shaw said he never thought applying for the Rhodes was a realistic possibility for him, although he had contemplated going to Oxford after graduation to study legal philosophy even without a scholarship. He credits his professors and Rachel Bayefsky-Anand ’09, who won the Canadian Rhodes scholarship last year, for encouraging him to apply.
Shaw serves as editor-in-chief of the Yale Philosophy Review, and he has dedicated much of his time as an undergraduate to the Yale Political Union’s Independent Party, for which he served as chairman last year. In addition, the California native spent three summers between 2005 and 2007 teaching public speaking, mathematics and government courses at Summerbridge in San Francisco, an educational program staffed by rising high school seniors and college students for underprivileged middle school students in the area.
Frank Prochaska, a lecturer in the History Department who taught Shaw in his seminar “Monarchy and Modern British Society” last spring, said he was not surprised by Shaw’s success.
“He is quite simply a remarkable person — one of the finest students I have ever taught — who wears his considerable intelligence lightly with great maturity and humor,” Prochaska wrote in an e-mail.
Branford Master Steven Smith echoed Prochaska’s sentiments. “I could not be prouder of Geoff,” he said. “I am especially pleased because Geoff has been in two of my classes, and we have had many opportunities to discuss themes — politics, philosophy, education — of mutual interest.”
Established in 1902 by Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer, the Rhodes Scholarship is considered the world’s most prestigious postgraduate academic scholarship. Last year, one Yale student, Jarred Aguirre ’09, was named as a Rhodes Scholar. Two students were awarded the scholarship in the previous year.