CU Senior Wins Rhodes Scholarship

By Jacob Schneider
Columbia Spectator

For Jisung Park, CC ’09, Saturday afternoon ended like any other in his time at Columbia: he shot a game of hoops with a friend. But it was no ordinary Saturday. Earlier that day, Park had won a Rhodes Scholarship, a prestigious award that funds two or three years of study at Oxford, and provides access to a network of high-profile Rhodes alumni.

“I wanted to put things in perspective and not get carried away, and that [basketball] is what I do to get grounded,” Park said.

Park’s award marks the second consecutive year a Columbia student has won a Rhodes Scholarship, often considered academia’s most prestigious award, after a five-year drought for the school. Each year, around 80 scholarships are given worldwide, 32 of which are offered to students in the United States. Last year, Jason Bello and George Olive, both CC ‘08, won scholarships.

Eighteen Columbia students applied for the Rhodes this year, eight of whom were named finalists. Seven of the eight applied in the United States, but Park was the only one to be granted a scholarship yesterday. The other, who applied in Zimbabwe, will be notified in December.

Park will use his scholarship to work toward a master’s degree in nature, society, and environmental policy. This will allow him to pursue his passion for sustainable development which began during his childhood in Lawrence, Kan., and crystallized during research that he did in Australian rainforests during a gap year between high school and Columbia.

In Australia, Park recognized a key “market failure”: because the economic markets placed little value on the rainforests, there was little economic incentive to preserve them.

That motivated Park to research “how correctly designed economic policy with a sensitivity to the actual science could help ameliorate the failures,” he said. “I was skeptical at first, but I realized this can work. We can do this and targeted policies can work.”

At Columbia, Park met several professors who helped him hone his focus on sustainable development, from Earth Institute founder Jeffrey Sachs to economists Sunil Gulati, Xavier Sala-i-Martin, and Jagdish Bhagwati. Then, Park spent his junior year at Oxford, where he first became acquainted with the opportunities that the Rhodes could provide.

“When I first decided to go to the Oxford program, in my mind it was a good substitute for the Rhodes, which was kind of a long shot,” he joked.

Now his “long shot” has been realized, a fact that Associate Dean of Fellowships Programs Michael Pippenger said bodes well for Columbia.

“Jisung’s win is a win for the whole Columbia community, and I know that he’s happy to represent Columbia, and we’re really excited to have him represent us,” said Pippenger, who has been widely credited for Columbia’s recent success in earning high profile scholarships like the Rhodes.

“I’m really pleased about the continued success,” Pippenger added. “We can attribute it to the community working together with all of the students. It’s not just the work that we do in the fellowships office.”