On the Rhode to Oxford

Dec. 6, 2005, midnight | By Lois Bangiolo | 18 years, 6 months ago

Two Blair graduates receive prestigious scholarship

It was 9:45 p.m. on a Friday when Rahul Satija received a call that would lead him to Atlanta and, later, on a path to Oxford University. He was informed that he was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship and that his interview would be held in Georgia.

Two weeks later, on Nov. 19, he was experiencing "what was probably the most intellectually intense 25 minutes of my life" — the interview. Question topics, different for every applicant, ranged from his field of study, genomics, to explaining "intelligent design in terms of Hinduism and how Duke [University]'s culture would change if the campus moved to the Midwest," Satija says.

Two hours of deliberation later, the selection committee was ready to announce the winners of the district VI Rhodes Scholarship. The committee members themselves, all former Rhodes Scholars, except one, came out of the room and read two names. Satija's was one of them.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, William Hwang was having an experience much like Satija's. He too was named a Rhodes Scholar.

Satija and Hwang, both graduates of Montgomery Blair High School, had just won one of the world's most prestigious academic awards – the Rhodes Scholarship, given to only 32 American students each year.

The criteria

Rhodes Scholarships date back to 1902, when they were created in British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes' will. Rhodes Scholars must meet the four requirements Rhodes outlined in his will: high academic achievement, demonstrated leadership ability, high level of moral character and "energy to use one's talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for and success in sports."

Recipients of the Rhodes Scholarship are entitled to two or three years' study at Oxford University — provided by the scholarship, which includes not only tuition and room and board, but also a stipend and travel expenses.

This year, 903 U.S. students applied for a Rhodes Scholarship, and 216 of which were selected as semifinalists. This annual international scholarship is awarded to approximately 85 students worldwide.

Two out of 3,708

Hwang and Satija now join 3,708 U.S. students from 307 colleges and universities who have been named Rhodes Scholars since 1904. Notable winners include senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), writer and activist Jonathan Kozol, former president Bill Clinton and Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr., the publisher and CEO of The Washington Post.

Alumni of the Blair Magnet Program, Hwang and Satija are classmates again at Duke University, where they both are currently seniors. Hwang is a triple major in electrical and computer engineering, biomedical engineering and physics, and Satija is double majoring in biology and music and minoring in math.

Their accomplishments are outstanding, a typical characteristic of Rhodes Scholars. This year the Rhodes Scholars include one who is publishing a children's book and another who is a member of the U.S. junior national rowing team.

In academics, Hwang and Satija have succeeded far beyond earning outstanding grades, with numerous awards and other scholarships filling their repertoire. Satija won the highest award given by Duke University, the Faculty Scholar Award, which is given to only three Duke students annually. Hwang is a fourth year Angier B. Duke Scholar, who, along with Satija, has also received the Goldwater Scholarship, a national merit-based scholarship for "academic excellence and demonstrated potential for a career in research," and the Marshall scholarship.

In addition to his strong academic record, Satija is also an accomplished musician. A violinist for the past 18 years, he was awarded the AJ Fletcher Music Scholarship, a music performance scholarship given to one incoming Duke student each year. He is the concertmaster of the Duke Symphony Orchestra and winner of both the Durham Symphony Orchestra and the Duke Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competitions.

Satija has also taken his love of music outside of the band room, teaching inner city children the fundamentals of violin playing, passing on to them his joy of playing as well as serving his community.

Hwang also is a member of the Duke Symphony Orchestra, in which he plays first violin. He is also a setter and outside hitter for Duke's national champion men's volleyball team at Duke. For the community, he founded a non-profit organization United InnoWorks Inc., an outreach education program for youth from underprivileged backgrounds.

Looking back at Blair

Both scholars' accomplishments were evident while they attended Blair. Hwang was captain and MVP of the boy's varsity volleyball team and captain of the indoor track team for two years, which lead to his award as the school's Best Scholar Athlete in 2002. He was also a member of the Chinese Club, Physics Club and Symphony orchestra. Satija also excelled at athletics, playing three years on the boys tennis team as captain, #1 singles player and MVP in those years. He also participated in math team and ARML, American Regions Math League, a math competition, for all four years at Blair.

In the classroom, they stood out just as much as in sports and music. "They were both exceptionally wonderful students in every way – intelligent, insightful, extremely responsive to class instruction, very communicative and really wonderful people all around," says Judith Smith, who taught both students AP English.

In biology, Hwang had one of the best lab books teacher Angelique Bosse has ever seen from her students. "It was fortunate for me that he left his very thorough and very neat lab notebook behind, and I still use it for reference to this day when we do labs," Bosse says.

They both agree that their time at Blair prepared them well for college and beyond. Satija even has a story he likes to tell about his midterm in a computer science class at Duke. "They asked us to draw a circuit diagram for an LED Digit. We had actually done the same thing five years earlier in Ms. Piper's 9th grade CS class, except instead of just drawing it, we had also implement it with a pencil box," says Satija.

It was those types kinds of classes and topics, as well as outstanding teachers, that made Hwang look back on his education at Blair as "phenomenal." "The amazing teachers, coachers, peers and administrators there have produced something truly unique," Hwang says. "The research, presentation, problem-solving, analytical, writing, work ethic and communication skills I developed at Blair have been invaluable."

A Future at Oxford

Now, the two will be taking a big next step in their academic careers at Oxford University, where they will both be pursuing doctoral degrees, Satija in bioinformatics and Hwang in biological physics. One of the advantages of completing a degree in England, according to Satija, is the shorter amount of time involved. It will be "pure research"; they will not have to take classes or be TAs (teaching assistants), graduate student duties of the U.S. that increase the time it takes to receive a degree. Hwang, who has already attended Oxford for a summer program as a Lord Rothermere scholarship recipient in 2004, where he studied Shakespeare, is looking forward to returning to "intellectual atmosphere and vibrant culture there," Hwang says.

He feels "incredibly honored" to have won this scholarship. Despite his impressive array of awards and accomplishments that attest to his work ethic and drive, he feels that the origins of this success came from those around him. "What makes me the most happy about this is the joy it has brought to my family, teachers and friends who have always been so supportive of me," he says. "Without them, none of the opportunities I have today would be possible, and to them I'll be eternally grateful."

See www.rhodesscholar.org for further information.

Lois Bangiolo. Lois Bangiolo was born on March 14, pi day, an auspicious date as she is now in the math-science magnet. In addition to writing for Silver Chips Online she runs track and is secretary of the MBHS Key Club. More »

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