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Four Harvard students whose life goals range from fatherhood to nation-building have won the Rhodes Scholarship, the prestigious foundation announced Saturday.
For the third consecutive year, Harvard garnered more Rhodes Scholarship winners than any other university. This year, Harvard also claimed more than all of the other Ivy League schools combined.
Three undergrads—Dov Fox ’04, Alexander A. Pollen ’04 and Rachel A. Wagner ’04—will join Harvard Medical student Pooja Kumar for two years of study at Oxford University.
They faced a pool of 963 candidates representing 366 different universities and endured a rigorous selection process that tested everything from their writing ability to their schmoozing skills. Thirty-two Americans were selected and will join fellow winners from around the world next October in England.
Wagner, a Cabot House resident, said that the interview process was an intense seven-on-one free-for-all that was good-natured yet hard to prepare for.
She said she encountered such broad and proverbial questions such as “Are men and women different?”
But she was prepared, she said, crediting the Fellowships Office and Houses with prepping Harvard’s candidates.
Wagner, who hopes to help different countries find the development path best for them, plans to get an M. Phil in Development Studies.
When Wagner won the scholarship, her grandmother—who had been determined to stay home in Omaha, Neb. for Thanksgiving—changed her plans to fly to Virginia Beach, Va., to hug Wagner in person.
Wagner said she thinks the selection committee was mostly looking for idealism.
“They look for people concerned with making the world a better place and who have a plan on how to do it,” Wagner said.
Fox said he doubted his ability to match up to the other prospective scholars.
“I have no idea why they chose me,” Fox said several times. “I felt like the candidates had unbelievable accomplishments and admirable aspirations. Mine were modest compared to theirs.”
Fox, who was born in Israel, said he just wants to be a dad and raise a family, and perhaps to teach.
He credits his yet-to-be-published book, The Harvard Mystique, with helping him stand out from the crowd.
Fox also does stand-up at comedy clubs in Harvard Square and around Boston.
Fox said he wasn’t really planning on applying until his Tutors in Eliot House and Professor of Government Michael Sandel encouraged him to take the leap.
He described the scene at a preliminary round cocktail party as “people standing around talking about how wonderful they are.”
For Kumar, the news of being a scholar provided a birthday gift for her mother.
Kumar, who grew up in India, Singapore and Indonesia, applied for the scholarship from Pennsylvania.
A 2001 graduate of Duke, Kumar is planning to take two years off from Medical School to study at Oxford.
As an undergrad, Kumar worked with sick children in East Timor. Last summer, she worked with Congolese refugees. Kumar said she has no idea how she became a Rhode Scholar.
“They must have a method to their madness,” Kumar said. “I just don’t know it.”
Kumar said she was grilled during her interview with hypothetical questions ranging from the very specific to the very broad.
She plans to get an M. Phil in International Relations during her time at Oxford.
Pollen could not be reached for comment yesterday.
American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust Elliot F. Gerson ’74 said he does not know why Harvard is so dominant in the Rhodes competition.
“I have no idea,” Gerson said. “But it is reasonable that the competition roughly reflects the selectivity of the student body.”
British colonialist and philanthropist Cecil Rhodes created the scholarship in his will in 1902.
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