From the Rocky Mountains to the rolling hills of the English countryside, a Rhodes Scholar from Erie will be studying at Oxford University.
Brian Wee, a Harvard student with a double major in chemical and physical biology and government, was named one of 32 Rhodes Scholars. The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the oldest scholarship programs in the United States, and pays for all the scholar’s school and travel expenses to study at Oxford University in England.
Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, said in a press release on Nov. 12 that the scholarship is “the oldest and best-known award for international study, and arguably the most famous academic award available to American college graduates.”
During a phone interview on Tuesday, Wee said that he always wanted to attend graduate school and even applied for medical school. At Oxford, Wee plans to pursue two master’s degrees in international health and tropical medicine and global governance and diplomacy. Wee said that he has always been drawn to the sciences and how innovation in science can help people, and how the government can harness those scientific discoveries to impact people’s lives.
Wee said he was overcome with excitement and disbelief when the scholars were announced. In order to apply to the scholarship, students must first apply to be endorsed by their university.
“It’s kinda weird, you have to apply to even apply,” Wee said.
Of the 2,500 students who applied, only 840 were endorsed and even fewer were interviewed. Wee called it an extremely competitive scholarship, full of personal statements, letters of recommendation and academic excellence. Gerson said that applicants are chosen based on their ambition for social impact and their commitment to making a difference.
During the virtual reception, before the interviews when students can talk amongst themselves, get to know the judges better and try to make a good impression, Wee was interrupted by a fire alarm.
“I was actually on Zoom, and the fire alarm went off in my dorm, right in the middle of it,” Wee said, “I ended up having to run out and run to like a nearby gym on campus and continue the call from there.”
Wee said that he is grateful that the judges were understanding of the situation.
While the judges are accomplished and asked him difficult questions, Wee said that he just stuck true to himself, and he’s glad that he did.
There were 15 other applicants in his district for the scholarship, Wee said, and that they are all talented, young individuals. After the interview and an hours-long deliberation, Wee was announced as a scholar. But the scholars are announced in alphabetical order by last name, and Wee waited in anticipation for the names to be called.
Wee said that mission has always been to do the best he can be. He said that his mother, who died from lung cancer when he was younger, was one of the most compassionate, brilliant and kind people that he ever got to meet.
“When she passed away, both my dad and I were just extremely devastated. But she left behind a single note, and on it, it said ‘go Brian, do the best you can,’” Wee said.
Wee has been living by that message ever since.
At Harvard, Wee studied the impacts of COVID-19 on individuals with underlying health conditions. He also helped organize the World Pre-Health Conference, where undergraduate and medical students tackle difficult questions about health. He also served as director at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and is co-president of the Harvard Pre-Medical Society and Harvard Undergraduate Global Health Forum.
Wee said those experiences have taught him how to be a good leader and how to use the resources he has to serve others.
While Wee still loves Colorado, he is excited to go to England. He said that while he knows nothing can compare to the Rocky Mountains, he is excited to go hiking at the Isle of Skye in Scotland or at Snowdonia National Park in Wales. He’s also excited to learn how to make traditional English meals, such as bangers and mash.
News Read More: Erie native to study at Oxford University as Rhodes Scholar