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3 Indian-origin students chosen for Rhodes scholarship

November 19, 2007 15:50 IST

Shayak Sarkar, who has served as the treasurer of the Phillips Brooks House, the centre for service and activism at Harvard and managed an annual budget of over $1 million and also served as a director of the only student-run homeless shelter in America, has been selected as one of the 32 Rhodes scholars in America.

Past Rhodes scholars from America who have studied at Oxford University include president Bill Clinton, the newly elected Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and the eminent surgeon and bestselling writer Atul Gawande.

Sarkar, from Edinburgh, Texas, will be studying at Oxford applied mathematics in a master's program.

One of the most prestigious scholarships in the world, its total value averages $45,000 per year.

The scholarships are awarded to students with high grades and achievements as social workers and community leaders.

The 32 students were chosen from 764 applicants from 294 American colleges and universities.

Sarkar was joined by two other students of Indian origin, Deep J Shah, one of the most active students in the left to centre Roosevelt Institution and Pravin S Rajan, currently a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps Reserve and assigned to the Officer Selection Office Hyattsville in College Park, Maryland.

Another winner Ishanaa N Rambachan, who comes from Trinidad, has worked with NGOs in India and has written about discrimination against the Hindu diaspora and about caste abuses in India. She plans to do MPhil in development studies at Oxford.

The American students will join an international group of scholars selected from 13 other jurisdictions across the world.

Each year approximately 85 scholars are selected.

Sarkar, who works as a head course assistant for an undergraduate calculus course, says he hopes to use statistics and mathematics "to work towards a more collaborative society in which social justice and economic progress go hand in hand." He has also served as an intern for Congressman Donald Payne.

He also teaches uoung people to play the piano, and tutors prisoners in inner city Boston. Additionally, he is a news writer for the Harvard Crimson, the student-run newspaper.

Shah, from Duluth, Georgia, is a senior at the University of Georgia where he majors in international affairs and biology.

A Truman Scholar, he has publications in both public policy and biochemistry. He founded the university's first student think tank belonging to the Roosevelt Institution and has done research in primate neuroanatomy relating to Parkinson's disease, and has served as an intern in the US Senate, New York City hospitals, and at a children's clinic in Costa Rica.

He plans to do the MSc in global health science at Oxford.

Shah was skeptical when a professor suggested two years ago that he start a Roosevelt chapter at the university. He confesses he thought few of his peers wanted to devote time to extracurricular research and writing. But the unexpected crowds at the chapter's first meeting changed his mind.

Shah has been concerned about issues affecting his chosen profession, such as the cost of health insurance, according to a university publication. But he had also felt for quite some time that there was little for him to do about it. And he thought he would get his MD and become "probably become part of the problem."

But the reaction to the starting of Roosevelt chapter shook him up for the better, he says. He realised there was room for progressive vision at his school --- and beyond its boundaries.

His research, conducted along with two other students at the school, led him to present a paper on preparing hospital support workers for medical emergencies.

In the paper, which was also published in the Roosevelt Review, the activist-authors argued that educating nonclinical hospital employees about diseases such as anthrax and avian flu and vaccinating them against those diseases would help keep hospitals functioning during a medical or bioterrorism crisis.

Rajan, from Albuquerque, graduated from Georgetown University in 2007 with majors in science, technology and international relations.

He says he was inspired to join the Marines by his exposure as a child to the ethnic and political strife in India.

"Increasingly," he wrote in his Rhodes essay, "I felt that my past and my present were converging to urge a more direct participation in America's global role than any ordinary job could provide."

He served as class marshall and as president of the student body. He has researched terrorist movements in 20 countries. With his experience in the Marine Corps and his strong interest in world history, Rajan says he plans to do a DPhil in international relations at Oxford.

University Fellowship Secretary and Professor of English John Glavin wrote in his endorsement of Rajan for the Rhodes Scholarship that the student by his exemplary work followed the practice of Jesuits, the Catholic religious order founded in the year 1540.

The Jesuits are known for fostering academic achievements; they run hundreds of colleges and universities in more than 80 countries. Georgetown is one of the better known institutions served by them.

"He's the person in his class who most fully internalises the Jesuit ideal," Glavin wrote. "The Jesuits were founded by a soldier (Ignatius Loyola of Spain), and their practice, as it were, theologises a military ideal, of self-sacrifice... for the good of others. Since as a non-Catholic, he couldn't be a Jesuit, he chose the next logical option."

Arthur J Pais in New York