Newest Rhodes Scholar from Shelton

By Marian Gail Brown
Connecticut Post

A Columbia University senior from Shelton, who grew up shuttling from the Midwest to Korea and back to the States, is among 32 Americans selected as a Rhodes Scholar.

R. Jisung Park, 22, a double major in economics and political science, who has already studied tropical rainforests in Australia and sustainable development, will continue his research in the environment and environmental policy, according to the Rhodes Trust, when he arrives at Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar.

"My very first exposure to the Rhodes Scholars was when I read Bill Clinton's autobiography a long time ago. It was a vague notion back then," Park said. Flash forward to Park's junior year at Columbia which found him traveling to Oxford to attend a year-long visiting student program. When he returned to Columbia, one of the Ivy League's deans suggested he apply to become a Rhodes Scholar. "I said, well, if you think so, sure," Park said, adding, "I was flattered."

Park was born in Athens, Ohio, the eldest son of Choon and Jin Young Park. His father is a geophysicist who recently formed a consulting business, and his mother, who holds a doctorate in education, is an educational consultant who assists students from Korea apply to American colleges and universities and adjust to college life in the United States. The family lives on Balsam Circle in Shelton.

"We celebrated with a dinner with him [Saturday] when he got the news," Jin Young Park said of her son. "We are very honored by this scholarship. Jisung has worked very hard for this and we are excited for him."

Park began the arduous process to becoming a Rhodes Scholar over the summer with the initial submission of his application. Friday night the Rhodes Trust committee held a reception at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, followed by a dinner. The next day, the seven-member committee interviewed finalists at the St. Regis, and made its selection public a few hours later.

"They told us around 4 o'clock. They made us wait. I was there with nine other candidates, a bunch of incredibly nice people, sitting around a wooden oval table in the library of the St. Regis Hotel. We were trying not to freak out every time we heard footsteps coming," Park said. "The committee members came in and my heart skipped a couple of beats when they told me. I am still on Cloud 10."

The Rhodes Trust committee interviewed Park about his ideas about sustainable development as it relates to climate change and a recent paper he wrote on deforestation in Brazil and its economic policy implications. "Climate change is the ultimate global public policy issue," Park said, adding that his interest in economics was sparked by a teacher of his at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

"He made economics riveting by showing how it was directly applicable to everything in our lives. The first day of class, he took out a pencil and asked us how many countries do you think were involved in the making of this pencil. We all shouted out our guesses. I don't remember the correct one. But I do remember him telling us that depending on the maker, it was anywhere from four to 12 countries. The point was this simple manufactured product is the product of a complex division of labor and economics that we take for granted," Park said. "All of our classes would start off with some anecdote and then he would apply that to an economic theory we were supposed to learn. That completely hooked me on economics, more so than a series of charts and graphs ever could."

The other Rhodes Scholar from Connecticut is Matthew L. Gethers III, of Waterbury. Gethers is a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he majors in biological engineering, working in a lab analyzing the effects of recombinant protein expression on host cell growth rate. He plans to study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford.

The Rhodes scholarship is the oldest of the international study awards available to American students. It provides two to three years of study abroad at Oxford University. British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes established the scholarship in 1902 through his will.

Park is one of 32 American students who will join a group of international scholars from 13 other countries for the next two to three years at Oxford.