Two MIT seniors in brain and cognitive sciences who plan to attend medical school have won Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships.
The Marshall winner is Jasper J. Chen of Seattle, who will receive SB degrees in linguistics and philosophy and in brain and cognitive science. The Rhodes winner is Susanna B. Mierau of Wichita, KS, who will receive the SB in brain and cognitive sciences with a minor in biology. Both plan to pursue graduate studies at Oxford University.
Mr. Chen, a Burchard Scholar and former member of Air Force ROTC, plans to study in the psychology, philosophy and physiology program at Oxford. He will concentrate on psychoneuroimmunology, which concerns the relation of illnesses to interactions of the brain, immune system and psychological factors.
Ms. Mierau, who plays French horn in the MIT Symphony Orchestra and is captain of the women's sailing team, hopes to work in the laboratory of the neuroscience group at Oxford's Institute of Molecular Medicine. After she receives the PhD in neuroscience, she plans to go on to medical school and subsequently do clinical work, research and teach in a medical school.
"I chose to study neuroscience because I was fascinated with how simple everyday processes like vision were really amazing feats by our brains to transform patterns of light into seeing objects, depth and people we love," she said.
Marshall scho-lars, who may attend one of several British universities, must demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and a capacity to make a significant contribution to society. The scholarships, awarded every year since 1953, are awarded by the United Kingdom as a national gesture of thanks to the US for aid received under the post-World War II Marshall Plan.
Rhodes Scholars, all of whom attend Oxford, are chosen for their intellectual and academic ability, integrity, respect for others, and ability to lead and to use talents fully. The estate of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and colonialist, established the scholarships in 1902.
Mr. Chen said he was surprised when the British Consulate General called him at his room in the Phi Beta Epsilon fraternity to deliver the good news late Monday afternoon. "My heart hadn't beat that fast in quite a while," he said. "I was extremely delighted and told the administrator I would accept the scholarship right then and there. I was honestly not expecting to win the scholarship, as there are an incredible number of extraordinary candidates out there." He immediately called his father at work in Seattle before completing the final laboratory report he had been working on.
Mr. Chen is the co-director and a founding member of the MIT chapter of Best Buddies, which pairs college students with mentally challenged persons. He was also a founding member of the Harvard-MIT chapter of the Arnold Air National Honor Society and won the AFROTC Sons of the American Revolution Silver Medal for Outstanding Leadership in 1997. He is president and has served as community service chair of his fraternity, and is captain of PBE's intramural soccer team.
He was program director of Project Health at MIT and an emergency room volunteer at Children's Hospital. During the summer of 1998, he was an intern at the Alliance for Health Reform in Washington, where he discovered that "medicine's reach may ultimately lie in the hands of legislative power." He also did UROP research on the contractile behavior of periodontal ligament fibroblasts with Professor Myron Spector in the MIT-Harvard Divison of Health Sciences and Technology last spring. This led him to realize that a clinician's power to serve his patients hinges directly on the rate of basic research in the biomedical sciences, he said.
"Improving health care access for all Americans is my highest ambition," said Mr. Chen. "I aim to provide for America's underprivileged as a primary care physician in a medically under-served area as well as to endeavor to solve their problems through legislating to regulate health care delivery. I want to be a driving force behind an ambitious social change: the eradication of society's acceptance that some ill-fated individuals are to remain medically inaccessible. I am committed to defending and upholding the inalienable right of America's needy to have adequate health care."
Ms. Mierau joined other candidates last week at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, awaiting the decision. After three hours, the committee emerged to announce the winners. She did not get a chance to spread the happy news until she returned to her room in East Campus several hours later.
"I went immediately to the airport to catch an earlier flight back to Boston since I had to leave for Yale the next morning with the MIT Symphony Orchestra," she said. "When I got back to MIT around midnight, I called my parents and friends to let them know the good news and then promptly fell asleep."
Ms. Mierau, a William J. Kosinar scholarship winner, coached the Science Olympiad team at a Cambridge public school and mentored 13-year-old girls in science in 1998. A two-time MVP on the sailing team, she has received MIT's highest athletic honor, the Straight T award, and the Louise Sedlacek Award for most inspiring crew member.
Ms. Mierau was president of the board of the Protestant Student Community in 1998-99 and has been a choir member for four years. She has also been vice president and housing chair for the East Campus dormitory for four years.
She was a research assistant in the Clinical Research Center in 1998 on a study of memory systems involving an amnesia victim famous in the field of psychology for his inability to develop long-term memory after the removal of his hippocampus in the 1950s to cure epilepsy. The next year, she was a research assistant on a study of the molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease at the Genetics and Aging Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Traveling 1,655 miles from Wichita to MIT was the easy part of the trip she made to college four years ago. "I experienced culture shock as I was confronted with large crowds on the subway, Boston drivers and very liberal views here at the Institute," she said.
Hoping to survive, she excelled. "This ability to try new things and then work to thrive in a new situation is a skill that will allow me to take full advantage of a scholarship to study in England," she wrote in her application. "Coming over a thousand miles already to MIT has proven to me that I can do well and enjoy living in a new environment, and I look forward to the adventure."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 15, 1999.