January 19, 2001

Cornell Faces Difficult Odds In Scholarship Competition

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The annual Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships sweepstakes offer few guarantees beyond the certainty that hundreds of highly qualified applicants will not win. From the latest competition in December, Cornell candidates earned several distinctions — but no scholarships.

“We usually have roughly twenty people who seek to be nominated by Cornell,” said Beth Fiori, fellowship coordinator, who helped 12 students navigate the processes for the scholarship applications last fall. To go before selections committees for either of the scholarship organizations, a student must first be endorsed by a Cornell faculty committee.

“We had ten people total as endorsed candidates for the Rhodes and Marshall competitions,” Fiori said, not including a student entered into the Rhodes competition in Canada and one competing in Jamaica.

Yemi Rose ’01, who applied for the Rhodes Scholarship in Jamaica, encountered a different process last semester while vying for a two-year position at Oxford University. Rather than seeking endorsement from the Cornell faculty, Rose — a communications major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences — presented his application to the Jamaican government instead.

In Jamaica, Rose said, “anyone can apply and [then] you get shortlisted [for review].”

As it got closer to the final round of the application process Rose was asked to provide more academic and biographical information, along with eight letters of recommendation.

Then, as a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, “before I even spoke with anyone [from Jamaica], I was one of five people [left in the competition],” Rose said.

Though Rose did not win the prize awarded in Jamaica, he has since been accepted to Oxford University. Expecting to graduate in May, “hopefully with a distinction in research,” Rose may continue his education in England, or he may remain in the United States, possibly at Cornell.

Along with Rose, the University produced two other finalists, and during the application process, Cornell endorsed the first scholarship application from the School of Hotel Administration.

“We try to recruit vigorously in all of the colleges,” Fiori said.

Still Fiori acknowledged that the University typically performs best in the sciences.

“I don’t know if that is significant, and if anything, that reflects Cornell’s strengths,” she said.

While none of the Cornell candidates claimed a prize among a Rhodes Scholarship field of over 1,000 endorsed students — or from about 800 potential Marshall Scholars — approximately 70 percent of the University’s students participated in selective interviews.

That accomplishment rates on par with Cornell’s performances in past years, and as Fiori was quick to note, before the position of fellowship coordinator was created by the University, far fewer students rose to such heights in the prestigious competitions.

In fact, “Cornell has produced about as many Rhodes and Marshall Scholars [in the last 10 years] as it had in the previous 30,” Fiori noted.

Last year Cornell produced two Carnegie Junior Fellows, two Churchill Scholars, four Goldwater Scholars, one Marshall Scholar, three Mellon Fellows and three Udall Scholars.

David Roberts ’99 received the Marshall Scholarship in 1998, as did Daun DeFrance grad. Alex V. Rau ’00 won last year while studying physics at Cornell.

The Marshall Scholarship program is funded by the British government and is named after former U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

“The people who are endorsed by Cornell are just fabulous, extraordinary students,” Fiori said.

In the past five years, nine Cornellians have staked claim to the prize.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch