Rhodes State and District Interviews
Rhodes Interview, Oregon 2002
Candidate Applying to study Human Sciences
The Rhodes interview was one of the more memorable, if short-lived, of my college experiences. For twenty-four hours, I left behind my regular Willamette worries and became fully immersed in my Rhodes aspirations.
In 2002, there were two Oregon finalists from WU. The two of us are friends, and we had arranged to make the trip together. We checked into our hotel, showered and changed. I forgot my dress shoes (oops), but luckily my friend had an extra pair.
We arrived to the dinner at Reed College right on time and were greeted by the state selection committee and the other nine finalists (one did not make it). The committee had five members. Three members were past Rhodes Scholars (a Dean/philosopher, a neurosurgeon and an economics professor) while the remaining two (a lawyer and a biology professor/Dean), including the chairperson, were not. The committee was especially friendly and seemed to have reviewed our applications thoroughly. I had done research in organic chemistry and the biology professor had been to one of my regional presentations, which was a cool connection. During the three-course dinner, the finalists remained seated while the committee members rotated between courses.
At the table, we had conversations regarding anything from personal activities to global politics. The topics changed quickly and were driven significantly by the committee members. In addition to me and the other WU student, the finalists included: a medical student from NYU, a Reed graduate living in Mexico, another Reed graduate, a Georgetown graduate/Wall Street banker/past Oregon finalist, a Swarthmore senior, a soccer player from San Francisco U., a philosophy major from Texas Christian U., a math major from Stanford, and a linguistics major from the University of Pennsylvania. The group clearly had varied interests and backgrounds, which made the experience that much more unique.
I found the dinner to be enjoyable. Everyone had a chance to add to the conversation and tell the others about themselves. There was plenty of time for each of us to shine, and no one person at my table really overwhelmed the discussion. Despite the enjoyable evening, that night was painfully nerve-racking. Despite our better judgment, we stayed up until around 1 AM talking about the interviews and trying desperately to fall deeply asleep. It was no use.
The next morning, the poor night's sleep did not hinder my enthusiasm. I was too nervous to eat a substantial breakfast. My interview time was second (8:30 AM, I believe). I tried to act composed in front of the others, but inside I was racing with emotions and questions. I was thinking about my personal statement and all the times that I had been stumped during the WU mock interviews. I am a chemist and my confidence in discussing politics is not very high so my biggest fear was that I would be caught off-guard with political questions. I kept trying to relax and remember to be myself.
When I finally got into the interview, I immediately became relaxed. My adrenaline was high, but I felt highly controlled. The committee began with a few questions from my application that I was particularly comfortable answering. Some of the questions were meant to clarify things in the application and others tested my ability to discuss things out of my comfort zone. Still other questions were aimed at probing my truest intentions and the reasons that the Rhodes fit into that plan. The thirty-minute interview seemed to end quickly. I had a great sense of accomplishment for having performed well to such a tough and demanding audience. There were a few questions that I later thought of answering differently, but I do not believe they would have played a deciding factor. I had done well, and I felt very refreshed upon re-entering the waiting room.
The finalists rolled into the room at different times. Some of the people were still waiting for their interview while others were finished. We, mainly those finished with the interviews and free of anxiety, played monopoly and cranium. The finalists were very friendly for the most part. We had a good time teasing each other despite knowing that we were soon to be narrowed down for the District interviews. There was still a chance that we would have a second interview, but I did not think about that too much.
After we had all been interviewed, the committee spent about two hours deliberating. When they came into the room at around 5 PM, it seemed that time stood still. Everyone waited to find out if they would get another interview. We were all surprised when they announced that they had chosen the winners (the first time in recent history that did not require additional interviews). The banker, the Swarthmore student and the Reed graduate volunteering in Mexico were the three names called. The committee thanked us for our patience and for being strong Rhodes candidates. I was obviously hoping to have been chosen, but at the same time -- having spent the day with them -- I was well aware of the quality of my competition. On the drive home, I felt thankful for having had the experience and for the early-evening decision. At the District interviews that weekend, none of the three Oregon winners was chosen as a Rhodes Scholar.
I have since planned to attend graduate school in New York City, and I have arranged to meet up with one of the other finalists when I get there. I have also since competed for other awards that require interviews, and I compare all of these experiences against my Rhodes process. In these and other ways, I have no doubt that the Rhodes interview experience will continued to bless me well into the future.
Rhodes Interview, Oregon 2001
Candidate proposing to do Philosophy, Politics and Economics
The Rhodes dinner was scheduled for 6:00 to 9:00 PM at Reed College in Portland. I left Salem at about 4:00 PM on Tuesday. I had been to Reed previously, but had never driven there by myself. Dean Henberg included a map and directions in the packet he had sent to state finalists, so I thought it wouldn't be too difficult to get to Reed by 6:00, even taking rush hour traffic into consideration. I did in fact arrive at Reed before 6:00, but by fewer than five minutes.
It was pouring down rain during my drive from Salem to Portland, and traffic was stop and go from the Terwilliger Curves. On top of that, I missed the Water Avenue exit off the freeway, and ended up getting off by the Rose Quarter. So I had to spend an extra twenty minutes or so driving south along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Eventually, after much heart-pounding, I arrived at Reed and actually got inside the reception room before most members of the committee. My recommendation to future candidates is to allow a bit more travel time than I did, and plan to read or listen to news on the radio if you arrive early.
There were twelve state finalists, and only one of them beside me was female. She was already at the reception when I arrived, and when I walked in she rushed over and greeted me. It was nice to be so warmly welcomed, even though I didn't have the faintest idea who she was. It turned out that she was one of the two students who went on to a regional interview.
I started talking to Pam Jacklin, who is an attorney from Portland. A student from NYU was with us for part of the conversation, and he seemed to have a much easier time thinking of things to talk about than I did. He mentioned all sorts of books and theories that I had never heard of, which somewhat excluded me from the conversation. Also, I wouldn't say that I know much about law, so I was somewhat limited in the kinds of questions I could ask. I asked about Pam's specialty (I'm fairly sure she indicated that she wanted to be called by her first name), which she said was employment law. I wasn't sure what that meant exactly, so I asked if it had to do with labor unions, because I've had experience with unions. It turns out that it doesn't really directly relate, so it probably sounded like I was rehashing my resume, something to avoid.
Dean Henberg then introduced himself. He seemed very friendly and sincere. I had included in my activity list my research on the Wheatland Ferry. Dean Henberg said that he was interested in that because he likes to go on the ferry. I was nervous, I guess, and I thought he said "prairie" instead of "ferry."
Pam called us all to attention by tapping a water glass with a piece of silverware. She explained the process and announced the interview times that had been randomly selected for each of us. I was extremely grateful that my interview was to be at 10:45 the next morning rather than 8:00! She also said that some members of the committee had previously been acquainted with a few of the candidates, but explained that they determined the relationships were not so close to preclude a fair assessment of all of us. Also, Dean Henberg said that if any of us had been awarded a Marshall Scholarship and planned to pursue that regardless of the outcome of the Rhodes Scholarship, that we should withdraw from the selection process out of fairness to the other candidates.
After these announcements, we took our seats for dinner. There were name cards on the tables, so I didn't have to worry about deciding where to sit. There were three candidates (including me) at my table, and one or two committee members. The committee members changed tables between courses.
The food was good, and fewer people drank wine than I had anticipated. Over dinner we talked about community service, international relations, the situation in Afghanistan, indigenous people in Latin America, the German school system, the connection between mathematics and economics, and guns, among other things. One candidate came from NYU and discussed what it was like to be living in New York on September 11. The committee had seated me next to a candidate with whom I had quite a bit in common: involvement in community service and passion for peace and social justice. Obviously that was intentional, but in a way I had trouble feeling a strong connection because I felt that everyone was being just a bit fake in order to sound good and make intelligent conversation.
I had tried to get kind of angry before meeting the committee in order to stand up for my beliefs (I can be too willing to accept other ideas sometimes), but that tactic wasn't particularly appropriate at dinner. Except for some amount of artificiality, the dinner was very normal, perhaps similar to eating with a professor and some fellow students. Most people seemed genuinely interested in getting to know each other and enjoying thought-provoking conversation. I was somewhat prepared to go in and staunchly defend my ideas, but that wasn't really necessary until the interview (and not to the degree I had expected).
My suggestion for dinner is to plan to ask questions, listen, and be willing to share your thoughts. I may have been too quiet at dinner, but my theory is that it's better to be too quiet than to say something without foundation or reason. Some committee members were better than others at soliciting my opinion and getting me involved in the conversation. After dinner we headed out to get some sleep.
The next day I arrived at about 10:00, and my interview was at 10:45. Approximately six candidates were also there at that time, reading newspapers and talking around a large table in our waiting room for the day. They were in good spirits, and did not seem to be trying to intimidate one another. Pam Jacklin came in to get each of us when it was time for our interview, and she was very friendly.
The committee was in a room down the hall, seated around a fairly small table that was covered with a white tablecloth. They had bottled water and glasses, which they offered me when I entered. I poured myself some water and they started asking me questions. They did not seem to want to start an argument, as they indicated they would.
I can't remember all of the questions now, but here are some of them:
Most of the questions were almost directly out of my personal statement, and the ones that weren't were things I had at least thought about previously. Overall my Rhodes interview was much less confrontational than my Marshall interview. I didn't get the feeling that committee members for the Rhodes were playing devil's advocate, because they started questions with "what would you say to this argument…" rather than stating it as their own opinion, as the Marshall committee did.
The interview went by very quickly; it was actuallyfun. Some other candidates also indicated that it wasn't nearly as challenging as they expected. While a few other students interviewed, we had a small debate about free trade, and also made plans to go to lunch together. We didn't have to be back until 3:30, so we had time to drive to a pizza restaurant not far from Reed. It was nice to have somewhat more casual conversation with the candidates, but it all still seemed a bit artificial.
The committee had asked us to be back by 3:30 for possible second interviews. Prior to that time I walked around a bit (to my car to see if I had brought a good book, which I couldn't find), and tried to calm down. I was probably more nervous for the possible second interview than the first, because I didn't know whether they would call me or not. I felt as though I couldn't let my guard down, which was tiring.
Every once in a while a committee member came in to let us know that it was going to be a while, and when they were starting second interviews. It was a long wait, though. I didn't have anything of my own to read, so I read other people's newspapers and books, and talked with the other candidates. Toward the end we also resorted to swapping brain-teasers, doing crossword puzzles, and asking trivia questions (name the four U.S. presidents whose last names end with vowels). I also played hangman with a football player from the University of Oregon. The candidates were mostly very interesting people, so it was fun to get to know them and hear about their lives. One was going to get married soon and told us the story of proposing to his fiancé, one had testified in front of the Oregon Legislature during high school, and many were studying very interesting topics in college.
The committee ended up calling four out of the twelve candidates back for second interviews, and did so in the same order as the original interviews. Two of these people ended up getting selected for a regional interview. I was glad not to have been chosen for a second interview, because I was a bit of a nervous wreck and had lost some of my initial confidence during the long wait. I suppose I could have gone out in the hallway in order to have some time to myself, but it seemed like I should stay in the room as much as possible. We joked that all of the candidates turned to look whenever anyone opened the door, in nervous anticipation that it would be a committee member. So we were surprised once when the major from the Oregon National Guard did not come in by the door but instead through an adjoining room that was mostly separated by one of the sliding partitions, except for one panel.
Although the dinner and interview day were somewhat stressful and artificial, I am glad that I went. It was fun to meet so many highly intelligent and accomplished people. We discussed very interesting and thought-provoking topics, and I was pleasantly surprised that I did not feel particularly intellectually intimidated by students from Harvard and West Point. In fact I knew some things that they did not, and it was a good reminder that people are the same regardless of what kind of labels are attached to them. The committee members were warm and genuinely respectful, and encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. in economics and continue my "excellent" work.
Rhodes Interview, Oregon 2000
Candidate proposing to do Philosophy, Politics and Economics
Looking back on last night…
The night was finally here… the Rhodes reception. I arrived early at Reed College and met a fellow contestant in the hall. He was nervous in that annoying way-he tried to act distinguished and say, "Ah, yes, I am Mr. Harvard." Then another contestant joined us who was from Georgetown. He and I had a good time talking about Portland, it was a much more relaxed conversation.
Eventually Marvin Henberg (Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Linfield College) asked us to go ahead and enter the dining room. It was a small (too small for comfort) room that looked over a beautiful stream on campus. All of the finalists began filing in and received their nametags. The special arrangement was bizarre. Everyone was herded in a very small corner between the makeshift coat closet (and later, interview room) and the beverage table. I was having a great time talking with the panel members and had a few laughs with them about my yoga class.
On to dinner… the seating arrangements were all pre-arranged. I was seated next to the two people I met earlier in the hallway. The panel members were to rotate tables after each course had been served. The stars were aligned for me and most of the salad discussion centered around health care. Somehow "Big Bear," the huge stuffed animal I took with me into a surgery when I was six, became a metaphor throughout the night about patient/doctor interactions. "Mr. Harvard" was being a resume rattler and I caught the panel member smirking about it. The acoustics in the room were terrible and conversations started happening with only half of the table. Lucky me! The judges sat next to me and I got to have a few one-on-one conversations. The neurosurgeon panel member that I truly believed would slaughter my universal health care loving self was Canadian! He repeatedly told me how he believed in the need for universal health care. Also the economist, Mary King, turned out to be a "toughy" but not terrifying. She was interested in my upcoming trip to South Africa and jokingly told me that she would teach me some moves that she had learned in an African dance class. I was disappointed that I did not get to talk to Marvin Henberg more but I was expecting to tap into his love for philosophy during the interview. Pam, a lawyer, and I talked about a future for me in law. Incredibly, her cousin is Dennis Thompson. He was the main source I used in my Carson Grant research on deliberative democracy. I tried to keep my jaw from hitting the floor. She was pleased with my excitement and joked that she should have him autograph a book for me during next year's Thanksgiving dinner. I am not quite sure how to explain my feelings. I just felt at ease and very out-going. For instance, when we sat down, someone said, "Oh, you're at the head of the table." I replied, "That's just the way I like it!" I was spared international questions-hallelujah! At the end of the evening I felt incredibly energized. I did not feel out of my league or inferior to the other policy wonks and pre-meds. Encouraging, indeed.
I slept wonderfully and for some bizarre reason I felt the need to tell my interview panel this at 9AM. The biologist was trying her best to be the "bad cop" but she ended up bursting into a smile when I referred to my brother chaining himself to a tree. Funding health care was the first and main focus. I explained the valiant effort of the Oregon Health Plan and its rationing mechanism. My neurosurgeon asked if he could change the topic and I said, "Oh, please do!" (I felt like health care was covered at length in my application and I wanted them to know about my other interests, too). He wanted to know my views on the current political situation, the party system, the electoral college, etc. Then Marvin chimed in about my Liberalism and its Critics course. He was pleased that I knew about Rawls and asked me to define liberalism. My neurosurgeon then told me about his experience listening to a guest lecture by John Rawls at Oxford. He then seemed to give me a compliment by saying that he believed that I would really take Oxford for all it had to offer. What a saint! There were a few questions about the salmon vs. the river dams thrown at me. I remember relating my childhood stories about fishing for salmon with my dad and how I wanted future Oregonians to have these kind of memories yet if the dams were to be closed to protect salmon, other job opportunities would have to be offered. Marvin closed the interview with offering me $100 and asking me what I would do with it for fun.
I have never felt so under control during this intense of an experience. My heart rate was steady and my blood sugar was perfect J. Afterwards I really felt like I had engaged in a give and take conversation. Brace yourself for a sentimental statement-but I do believe this. Win or lose, this scholarship cannot take away the confidence that I have gained from my experience. I was in a room with the top eleven student scholars in Oregon and I held my own and thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I will still have my smiles and confidence even if I am not a Rhodes Scholar.