spoke to two of the driving forces behind the Center for Undergraduate
Research and Fellowships: Dr. Arthur Casciato, the centers director,
and Dr. Robert Barchi Gr72 M72 GM73, the provost. What follows is an
edited version of those two separate conversations.
Previous Gazetteer item | Next
Gazetteer item | Mar/Apr Contents | Gazette
the Big Scholarships
was just a coincidence
pair of Penn students won a Rhodes Scholarship and a Marshall Scholarship
last fall, a few months after the new Center for Undergraduate Research
and Fellowships (CURF) opened. After all, both Lipika Goyal (Rhodes) and
Ari Alexander (Marshall) are highly qualified and engaging students with
a proven commitment to research and helping others. They got their scholarships
the old-fashioned way: they earned them.
Goyal and Ari Alexander: Shooting for the stars.
But the fact
is that, despite the very high quality of its student body, Penn has traditionally
lagged behind its peers when it comes to these prestigious fellowshipsboth
in the number of applicants and in the number of winners. And while winning
was not the main reason for launching the centerwhich is located in the
Arts, Research and Culture House (ARCH) at 3601 Locust WalkProvost Robert
Barchi Gr72 M72 GM73 cheerfully acknowledged that he would certainly
consider it a measure of success if we had more students winning the Rhodes
Dr. Arthur Casciato,
CURFs director, was pleasantly astonished by the instant double win,
noting that only one other time in the Universitys history 1983had
I think what
it signals is that we can do much better in these kinds of prestigious
international competitions, he adds. This year has proved that the only
thing that keeps Penn from winning these things with the same regularity
as their peers is that Penn students dont apply. Its simply a matter
of numbersnot ability, talent, desire or anything else.
Goyal, he points
out, is the 16th Rhodes Scholar to come from Penn. Harvard, by contrast,
has produced 289 Rhodes Scholars; Yale, 203. Only eight Penn students
applied for the Marshall and the Rhodes this year. Compare that to Harvard,
which averages between 80 to 100 applications for the Rhodes, or Cornell,
which has something like 60, and one can see why Casciato sees a lot
of untapped potential at Penn.
I know there
are more talented people out there, he said. But if they dont apply,
they wont fly.
Whats the saying?
If you shoot for the stars, you land on the moon? said Goyal, a senior
from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, majoring in the biological basis of behavior.
Everyone should apply. You just never know. Someones got to win it.
And, she emphasized:
Even if you dont win a Rhodes, theres no losing. You learn so much.
Youre still a winner if you go through the process.
of improving healthcare to children in developing countries was given
an additional boost by Penns University Scholarships program, which funded
summer trips to Ghana (investigating malaria and sickle-cell anemia) and
New Delhi (studying zinc deficiency and the feasibility of a national
program to distribute zinc supplements). Thats been an enormous part
of my success at Penn, she says of the program, and a big part of my
trajectory towards the Rhodes.
Her own interest
in medicine was developed in utero, she says wryly, noting that her
mother is a doctor, as are a number of her friends. Medicine turns on
something inside of me that nothing else does.
In addition to
being a Benjamin Franklin Scholar, a writing advisor, and a Pennquest
leadernot to mention a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and at the
Hospital of the University of PennsylvaniaGoyal is also president of
the John Morgan Pre-Health Society. Thats been great, because you get
to reach a lot of pre-health students, she says. The only reason I got
to where I am is through talking to people whove been through what Ive
been through. A lot of people have helped me along the wayincluding
her parents, Casciato, and Clare Cowen, CURFs associate director for
to pursue a two-year masters degree in developmental studies, which includes
the economics, politics, history and social anthropology of developing
countries, though she concedes that theres a slight chance that she
might stretch that into the three-year doctorate. She also plans to apply
to medical school after her stint in Oxford, and acknowledges that she
has no idea where she will ultimately find herself.
I think these
two years at Oxford are going to be very telling and direction-giving
years, because Ill be studying a lot of major issues in the developing
world, she says, adding that where she ends up depends on where I can
make the most change.
Alexander, a senior American history major from Providence, Rhode Island,
was not a member of the fellowship scene at Penn. But like her, his driving
urge is to help people, and he has been deeply involved in campus organizations
devoted to increasing dialogue between different ethnic groups. After
spending a semester at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and working on a
kibbutz for half a year doing research on Palestinian refugees, Alexander
helped start a dialogue group of Arabs and Jews on campus and another
cross-cultural group called Confronting Cultural Issues on Campus; he
also co-chaired Alliance and Understanding, a group devoted to bringing
together the African-American and Jewish communities on campus. He also
served as the undergraduate student representative to President Rodins
Affirmative Action Council, and as a student consultant to the Penn Public
It was after
working as a counselor at a summer camp for Israeli and Palestinian youth
that he first thought about applying for a fellowshipalthough he originally
planned to apply for a Fulbright.
My idea was
to look at all the organizations that are bringing Israelis and Palestinians
together, and find out which are effective and which ones arent, and
why not, he recalls. It would be independent research, supervised by
professors, and when he went to meet with Cowen about applying, she suggested
he shoot for a Rhodes instead. After thinking about it some more, he decided
to apply for the Marshall, which allows you to choose any school in the
UK rather than Oxford, where he did not especially want to go. When he
found a program in comparative ethnic conflict at The Queens University
of Belfast, Northern Ireland, he applied for it. In fact, he also won
another scholarshipthe Mitchell, which would have sent him to Ireland
or Northern Ireland for a yearbut opted for the Marshall because of its
My courses will
only be for three nights a week, he explains. Ill also be interning
for a human-rights non-profit, and working as a bartender or waiter, and
also going out at night to the music scene and theater. I think that overall
that will be better than just sitting in the library every day.
After he finishes
the one-year program in Belfast, Alexander is considering either a one-year
program in modern Middle Eastern studies at Oxford or a masters in comparative
politics at the London School of Economics. Or he might decide to stay
in Belfast and do a second one-year program at Queens University.
is on wanting to understand more ways to help people, he says. Because
of my background and my interests, Ill probably end up doing that in
the Middle East, but theoretically, I could end up somewhere else.
to the resolution of conflict in the Middle East is the focus of his life,
says Casciatio, but in some ways he has genuine questions of himself:
Should I be going to school, or should I be going to the Middle East
to try to do something in a hands-on way? I think hes honestly answered
the question for himself that he needs to know more to be as effective
as he can be.
Winning the scholarship,
Alexander admits, hasnt sunk in at all. (When he got the call telling
him he had won, he thought it was a joke.) It was a strange experienceeveryone
around is more excited and happy than you are. You feel kind of dazed,
wondering whats going on, or if you deserve it, but everyone in your
worldyour professors, your friends, your familyare going nuts. So I
dont really feel like Ive internalized it. I have started to think about
it a lot, how much Im going to miss friends and family, but at the same
time how excited I am about the opportunity.
ARE FOR ALUMNI, TOO
graduates, especially recent ones, are also eligible to apply
for many scholarships, points out Clare Cowen, CURFs associate
director for international fellowships. In fact, Penn graduates
often make compelling candidates because of their additional work
and life experiences. Among those for which some alumni will be
eligible are the Rhodes, Marshall, Luce, Mitchell, Churchill, Fulbright,
Thouron and Gates Cambridge. Contact her at <email@example.com>
or check out (http://www.upenn.edu/curf/administeredbyCURF.html).
Previous Gazetteer item | Next
Gazetteer item | Mar/Apr Contents | Gazette
Copyright 2001 The Pennsylvania
Gazette Last modified 3/6/01