Senior Andrew Serazin has been many places the past four years: West Africa to research malaria; Tucson, Arizona, to live in the Biosphere; Johannesburg, South Africa, to attend a United Nations’ summit on sustainable development.
Next fall he’ll settle down for at least two years in England when he becomes Notre Dame’s 14th Rhodes Scholar.
As one of 32 Americans selected for the prestigious award from a pool of more than 900 applicants, Serazin will be attending the University of Oxford on a full scholarship valued at approximately $30,000 per year. The biology major, who last fall became the youngest lead author of an article published in the prestigious scholarly journal Science, plans to earn a master’s degree and possibly a doctorate in bioscience.
Serazin’s road to the Rhodes Scholarship began last spring when he started work on the program’s challenging written application. (One question from a past application: “Name a Shakespearean play that you would recommend to both George Bush and Saddam Hussein.”) He was encouraged to apply by biology professor and former Rhodes Scholar David Lodge. After his interviews at the University and state levels, a panel of faculty members and former Rhodes scholars named him a finalist. Finally, in early December he traveled to Chicago for a meeting with a six-person selection committee in charge of the Midwest.
“They have this cocktail party the night before the interviews where you shmooze and try not to look too awkward,” Serazin recalls.
The interview was the next day: a mere 15 minutes of questions about current events, literature, his academic courses. Within hours he was told he’d been selected.
Created in 1902, the Rhodes Scholarship program is named for British philanthropist and colonial pioneer Cecil Rhodes, who wanted to bring together outstanding students from countries around the world to study at Oxford, regardless of their fields of academic interest. The criteria he set in his will included high academic achievement but also integrity, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and “physical vigor,” the last perhaps explaining why a large number of student-athletes have been Rhodes Scholars. The program each year selects 98 scholars, 32 of whom are American. Serazin will be a member of the 100th class.
Serazin’s distinction in biological sciences began in high school when he obtained a summer job at the public health department near his hometown of Elyira, Ohio, west of Cleveland. During the summer of 2000 he interned at the National Institute for Health Care Management in Washington, D.C. Then, during his sophomore year, he started working with mentor Nora J. Besansky, professor of biological sciences, on a project involving malaria mosquito genomics. He would later travel with Besansky to Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa, to study mosquitoes’ role in the transmission of malaria.
“[The place] really got inside me,” says Serazin, who returned to West Africa this past August for research and hopes to visit again someday. “Poor people there are a lot different than poor people here.” Forty-five percent of Burkina Faso’s population lives below the poverty line.
Serazin’s historic article in Science, co-written with Besanski, described their two years of work sequencing the genome of Anopheles gambiae, the primary mosquito species that transmits the malaria parasite to humans.
But Serazin insists that the scientific aspect of his research is not his main concern.
“When I wake up in the morning, malaria is not the first thing on my mind—at least not the science side of it. I think about what we can do to make drugs available to people.”
Serazin’s long-term goals involve higher education and public policy, not laboratory research. After he completes his doctorate, which will keep him in Oxford for at least three years, he plans to explore another side of research: how to approach such global problems as malaria by combining the efforts of scientists and policy-makers.
In the meantime, he is still trying to decide what to do this summer—work for a policy and research group in Washington, D.C.; or follow a lifelong interest of his father and grandfather and take a job in a carpentry shop.