Six MIT students win Marshall and Rhodes scholarships

Virginia Corless

Three MIT students are among the 40 Marshall Scholars who will study at Oxford and Cambridge universities next year. Another three students won Rhodes Scholarships to study at Oxford University, joining a group of 47 North American scholars selected from more than 900 candidates.

"This record represents by any measure an astonishing success rate compared to other U.S. colleges and universities; it is a testimony to the extraordinary talent and accomplishment of MIT students," said Professor Linn Hobbs, chair of the MIT Foreign Scholarships Committee. This year's result meets MIT's previous high-water mark set in 1999 of four Marshall and two Rhodes Scholars.

Virginia Corless, Brian Mazzeo and Jessica Lee are the MIT winners of Marshall Scholarships. Elizabeth Masiello, Laurel Yong-Hwa Lee and Javed Samuel are new Rhodes Scholars at MIT.

Both prestigious scholarship programs select candidates from an intensely competitive field on similar criteria--outstanding scholarship, noteworthy service and potential for future contribution to national or international welfare.

"MIT students are beginning to realize just how competitive they can be when they do apply," said Joanne Straggas, administrator of the Foreign Scholarships Office at MIT. "One MIT student who applied to both Marshall and Rhodes programs this year was rewarded with interviews in both competitions." The other scholarship programs with MIT applicants--Gates, Churchill, Fulbright, DAAD--make their selections later this autumn or early next year. Ninety MIT students applied for foreign scholarships, more than in any previous year.

Marshall Scholarships, first awarded in 1954, are named for Gen. George C. Marshall, architect of the European Recovery Act. The scholarships constitute Britain's official thank-you for U.S. assistance following World War II. Forty scholarships are now awarded annually to U.S. citizens, tenable at any U.K. university.

Rhodes Scholarships, first awarded in 1904, are a legacy of Cecil Rhodes, the 1881 Oxford University alumnus and founder of the DeBeers diamond mining company, who became the entrepreneurial embodiment of British colonial expansion into Africa. Of the 89 scholarships currently awarded annually to students from 24 countries, 32 go to U.S. citizens for study at Rhodes' alma mater.

MIT's Foreign Scholarships Committee comprises 18 members of the faculty, student body and academic staff, most of whom are former holders of Marshall, Rhodes, Fulbright and other major foreign scholarships or who administer MIT programs abroad. Additional information is available at

Marshall Scholars

-Virginia Corless, a senior from Skagway, Alaska, has been awarded a Marshall Scholarship to pursue doctoral research in astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. Corless is a physics major minoring in Applied International Studies. Her primary research interest is cosmology; her senior thesis seeks to establish limits on dark matter smoothness in certain galaxy clusters. Corless won MIT's history essay prize; she also is an actress who has starred in MIT Theater Guild productions. She has lived in seven different places in the U.S., thanks to her father who is an historian with the National Park Service. Her own travels took her to Chengdu, China, where she taught biology to high school students and acquired a parallel interest in development studies that will figure in her long-term career intentions.

-Brian Mazzeo, a senior from Davie, Fla., has been awarded a Marshall Scholarship to pursue a two-year M.Phil. degree in engineering at the University of Cambridge, studying thin-film electro-materials. Mazzeo is an electrical engineering and computer science major who has held five research internships, including one at Milliken Research Corp. that resulted in four patent applications. His interest is in applying electronic system approaches and active device technologies to electrically active textile design. He is also an accomplished violinist and plays in the MIT Chamber Orchestra. Mazzeo can lay claim to Cuban and Japanese heritages. Committed to the service of others, he spent two years as a missionary to Bolivia, and worked with Hispanic immigrants at Centro Presente in Cambridge. At MIT, he coordinates a tutoring program for fellow students.

-Jessica Lee, a senior from San Mateo, Calif., has been awarded a Marshall Scholarship to pursue graduate studies in environmental conservation at Oxford University. Lee is a biology major with a minor in chemistry. She is also a Burchard Scholar who presides over MIT's Share a Vital Earth (SAVE) organization and helped organize and run MIT's Earth Day. Her interest in ecosystems began in high school with a four-week summer internship at an organic farm in Frankfurt, Germany. She has since studied with the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City, Calif., and the Max-Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. At MIT, she has carried out research on E. coli, the tobacco plant's viral defense mechanisms, and on cyanobacteria and cyanophage in the open oceans. Lee speaks French, German and English, is an accomplished ballroom dancer and has played the piano since age four. She designed and taught a popular course in kitchen chemistry and baking during IAP.

Rhodes Scholars

-Elizabeth Masiello, a second-year graduate student from Solebury, Penn., has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study information technology at Oxford University's Internet Institute. Masiello is concerned about the societal implications of technological innovations in information systems. She is enrolled in the Technology and Policy master's program in MIT's Engineering Systems Division (ESD). Masiello is a 2003 magna cum laude graduate of Wellesley College, where she majored in computer science, minored in economics, and conducted research on genomics at the Whitehead Institute. Her senior thesis considered the privacy implications of biometric surveillance. She was an athlete and team captain accorded NCAA All-American status for four years in field hockey. She has used her sports leadership experience to found a new organization at MIT, Team Up for Education (TU4E), which provides encouragement and assistance to talented high school athletes.

-Laurel Yong-Hwa Lee, a senior from Bothell, Wash., has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to pursue a doctorate in clinical medicine at Oxford University. Lee came to the U.S. at age 16 from Korea. Now a pre-med double-major in brain and cognitive sciences and biology, Lee conducts research at MIT's Center for Cancer Research and at the National Institutes of Health's Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. A turning point in her medical career aspirations occurred two years ago when she volunteered in a shelter for abandoned women and children and a hospital emergency room in Honduras. She became convinced that thorough research training is crucial to the eradication of indigenous infectious disease. Lee rows for MIT's varsity lightweight crew team, was selected a Burchard Scholar, and is a nationally recognized violinist. She was selected as one of Glamour Magazine's "Top 10 College Women" in its October issue.

-Javed Samuel, who comes to MIT from Vieux-Fort, St. Lucia, is a first-year graduate student in the M.Eng. program of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He earned bachelor's degrees in computer science and engineering and in management/operations research, with minors in mathematics and economics. He has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study for an M.Sc. degree in mathematical modeling and scientific computing at Oxford. Samuel's academic interests include computational geometry, cryptography, scientific computing and quantitative finance. His M.Eng. thesis is on geometric embeddings. His interest in combining these fields is both academic and entrepreneurial. His undergraduate research experience included peer-to-peer file-sharing, an interactive bulletin boards for use in developing countries, and analyzing a combinatorial game. He is active in the MIT Caribbean Club and the MIT Protestant Student Community, and has been involved in tutoring both at MIT and in St. Lucia.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 1, 2004 (download PDF).

Topics: Awards, honors and fellowships, Students

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