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onCampus--Ohio State's faculty/staff news

Vol. 38, No. 18

By: Adam King

Ohio State celebrates first female Rhodes Scholar

Jessica Hanzlik is university’s fifth overall scholarship winner

Jessica Hanzlik is convinced that fortune, as much as anything, helped her become Ohio State’s fifth Rhodes Scholar. But David Tomasko, director of the Honors Collegium, knows otherwise.

The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the most prestigious honors available for college seniors worldwide; only 32 Americans each year are chosen to spend two years in graduate school at Oxford University in England.

Hanzlik, who is majoring in physics and French, is OSU’s first female Rhodes Scholar and first overall since Buckeyes tight end Mike Lanese was honored in 1986.

“What I think the committee saw in Jessica was an opportunity to invest in a young woman who will make a change in the world as a physicist,” Tomasko said. “She is a female in a male-dominated field with both the capacity and interest to engage gender issues in the academy.”

The university established the Honors Collegium nearly five years ago to coordinate the identification, nurturing and nomination of students for prestigious scholarships and fellowships like the Rhodes, Marshall and Truman.
With that in mind, Hanzlik said the award isn’t just a reflection of her own abilities.

“It provides external validation of what I’ve always claimed — that the education I’ve received at OSU within the classroom, in the lab and through extracurricular opportunities cannot be surpassed at any other school,” said Hanzlik, who has studied in France and Canada and conducted high-energy physics research. “I guess what distinguishes this award from most of the others, besides that it is recognized both inside and outside the academic community, is that it goes beyond just me.”

Students are selected who demonstrate superior academic ability, leadership and the potential to make an effective and positive contribution throughout the world.

“With the increasing quality of OSU’s undergraduate student body over the past decade, we now have more students who are competitive for these prestigious awards,” Tomasko said. “Having a Rhodes Scholar certainly raises our profile across the country.”

Hanzlik, 21, plans to earn her doctorate in particle physics, both because of her love of science and to put some teeth behind her passion to open the field to more women. Hanzlik started the Women in Physics and Women in Math and Science student organizations to promote gender equity.

“This award will help me with both of these goals,” she said. “I will have access to the excellent scholars and superb resources at Oxford, which will provide me with great training. And I hope that the label of Rhodes Scholar will give my efforts to fight for the gender’s equal access to science just a little bit more force.”

Hanzlik, the only Ohioan selected, was actually surprised she made it through the rigorous interview process. Asked if she deserved the award, Hanzlik admitted it was a tough question to answer.

“I have been shocked at every step of the application process to have moved onward,” she said. “At the interviews, what I realized is that every single one of the students there was a highly qualified candidate. I was both inspired and intimidated to hear about all of their travels and research and goals and dreams.

“I’m convinced that at some point, it’s really just luck as to who wins. I don’t know if anything really set me apart. We are all driven to make a difference, and we all clearly loved not only the fields we were studying but also just learning more about the world in general. Meeting all the other students was, for me, absolutely the best part of the process.”

For more information and an official press release, visit rhodesscholar.org.

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