With his ascension to the presidency, former Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton has renewed media interest in what is considered the most prestigious academic honor in the English-speaking world.
At MSU, of course, interest in Rhodes Scholars has never waned. MSU boasts the best record of any public university in the country, with 11 Rhodes Scholars in the past 20 years alone. This year, when Rujuta Bhatt won the coveted scholarship, it reaffirmed one of MSU's outstanding traditions.
Bhatt was one of 32 winners chosen from 1,275 applicants from 350 U.S. colleges and universities. She will graduate from MSU in May with dual degrees in international relations and biochemistry.
"I want to be involved in public policy as a medical specialist," explains the native of Warren, NJ. "I've always been fascinated by international affairs since going to Brussels in 1987-88 as an exchange student. I'm into international politics with Model United Nations. I also have an interest in science."
Rujuta was accepted by prestigious schools like Princeton, Duke and Cornell. But she chose MSU after visiting the campus to compete for an Alumni Distinguished Scholarship, which she won. She says she liked MSU because it gave her to opportunity to combine her twin interests in policy and medicine. Also, she notes, she was able to take piano classes to further her avocation.
"What really stood out was the friendliness of the people," she recalls. "Everyone was very willing to show me around and tell me about MSU. I met the dean of James Madison College, the associate dean of natural science, and Debbie Moriarty, who heads the piano program. I was very impressed. Here I was as a prospective student and getting personal attention."
After knowing MSU as a student, her initial impressions were more than confirmed.
"The professors at MSU take a greater interest in students than at other major universities," she observes. "At least mine have, especially at James Madison College (JMC). The professors are very interested in teaching. They do good research too. There's a good balance."
Rujuta singles out her academic advisor Michael Schecter, chairperson of international relations at JMC, for singular praise. "There are so many good things I can say it's difficult to know where to start," she says. "Mike is very dedicated. Anything you need, even if he doesn't know, he'll find out. He's advised me not only about James Madison but also about medicine. He cares about students and puts in time above and beyond what one might expect."
Rujuta credits many others at MSU, like Ronald Dorr and Richard Zinman, for her success, which has led to her winning two other prestigious scholarships, the Marshall and the Truman. She has opted for the Rhodes, which calls "more well-rounded."
Last summer, she had the opportunity to work in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, which she chose over Tokyo and Paris. "India is probably the best place in the Third World to get a variety of excperiences in the field," she explains. Working in the economics department, she analyzed, among other things, the medical equipment industry.
Says Donald Lammers, director of MSU's Honors College: "Rujuta has achieved an extraordinarily high degree of integration of her intellectual interests, her social concerns and her career objectives."
Several former MSU Rhodes Scholars, including fellow JMC alumni Dena Skran and Ron Tenpas, gave her helpful advice for Oxford, where she will work toward's a master's degree in politics. After that she plans to return to the U.S. to attend medical school. She has already been accepted at Johns Hopkins--one of 120 from 3,500 applicants--and is waiting to hear from Harvard.
Socially, she enjoys sports and spending time with friends. She fenced in high school, plays intramural soccer, and enjoys biking, swimming and tennis. "I'm not into going to bars," she says. "I like to spend quiet time with friends."
Her avocation, piano, also consumes time. How, one wonders, does she manage to excel at so many things simultaneously?
"The thing that goes sometimes," she says with a smile, "is sleep."