Fong and Sprung-Keyser Named Rhodes Scholars

Harvard's Share of Winners Decreases

UPDATED: November 24, 2014, at 3:50 p.m.

Ruth C. Fong ’15 and Ben D. Sprung-Keyser ’15 are winners of the 2015 Rhodes Scholarship, The Rhodes Trust announced Saturday. They were the only two Harvard students to take home the prestigious award, a significant drop from last year’s six Scholars.

This is the smallest number of Rhodes Scholars since 2006, when no Harvard undergraduates won. The schools that were most represented among this year’s recipients were Yale with four scholars, and Brown, Princeton, and MIT with three each.

Fong and Sprung-Keyser will study at Oxford for two years beginning next fall. Sprung-Keyser plan to pursue a M.Phil in Economics, and Fong plans to take part in two separate Masters programs, a M.Sc. in Mathematics and Foundations in Computer Science and a M.Sc. in Computer Science.

Both pointed to the large amount of support they have received from the academic community, family, and friends.

Ruth Fong
Ruth C. Fong '15 is a computer science concentrator in Mather House.

Fong, who was out of town for her final interview, recalled celebrating over the phone with her friends who were at the Harvard-Yale game on Saturday. “I texted my roommates and my blockmates, and then a bunch of them started calling and screaming at the phone for a good minute and I couldn't tell who was speaking,” she said.

David D. Cox '00, Fong’s research adviser and an assistant professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Computer Science, spoke to her academic achievements. “I’m not at all surprised that Ruth was selected for the Rhodes,” he said. “She is uncommonly bright and she’s uncommonly ambitious, and that’s a powerful combination.”

University professor Lawrence H. Summers, an adviser to Sprung-Keyser, had equally laudatory things to say about his advisee.

"Ben will be a great Rhodes scholar.  He has done great in both curriculars and extra curriculars. I'm lucky to have had the privilege of advising him," Summers wrote in an email. "Ben is one of best economic undergraduates I have ever seen." 

Sprung-Keyser said he believes the relatively low number of Harvard winners this year is mainly due to chance, noting that Harvard students have historically been well-represented due to their high achievements and support from the school.

“Harvard has performed phenomenally well over the last couple of years,” he said. “Numbers fluctuate from any year to another year, but I don’t think this says anything about the University as a whole except [that] the remarkable track that we have overall is an indication of how remarkable these students are and of all the help we get along the way.”

Ben Sprung-Keyser
Ben D. Sprung-Keyser '15 is an economics concentrator in Kirkland House.

Fong and Sprung-Keyser missed Harvard-Yale on Saturday to spend the entire day interviewing in their respective regions. Both said that they didn’t go into the interview expecting to win, despite being finalists.

“It sounds cliche, but the truth is I've had an incredible amount of luck and incredible amount of help along the way,” Sprung-Keyser said. “Amazing professors, mentors, coaches, an amazing debate partner, a really incredible group of supportive friends, and family, and all of that stuff really matters and in many ways this is a team effort.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Nov. 24, 2014
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the city in which Ben D. Sprung-Keyser '15 interviewed for the Rhodes Scholarship. In fact, he interviewed in Boston, not New York.