Christopher D’Urso, a Colts Neck native and currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for graduate study at the University of Oxford. Considered one of the most prestigious academic honors, the Rhodes is highly competitive with more than 2,500 American students seeking endorsements this past year. The 32 American Rhodes Scholars were then selected from 866 students endorsed by 299 colleges and universities nationwide. According to the Rhodes Trust, the scholarship is worth about $68,000 per year.
“It has been a surreal experience, a feeling which still has not fully worn off and is difficult to find the right words to describe,” shares D’Urso. “They actually announce the winners in person in front of all of the finalists after a long day of interviews which added to the suspense. When I heard my name, I gasped and was in complete shock, especially knowing the talent and qualifications of the other finalists. I realized in that moment my life had changed. It has been so gratifying to see all the years of hard work pay off, and I cannot wait to see where this incredible adventure will take me.”
D’Urso has used his time at college to both excel and to make a difference. He is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in international relations with a minor in Hispanic studies, and also a master of public administration with a certificate in politics from the Fels Institute of Government. He has a perfect grade point average in both programs. Caring deeply about consumer protection, D’Urso testified before Congress in 2014 on revamping country of origin labeling laws. He is also the founding President of Penn CASE, a community service organization designed to provide consumer assistance, support, and education to Philadelphia residents and Penn students. To date the group has helped more than 1,500 individuals. He is also the co-chair of the University Honor Council, the editor-in-chief of the Sigma Iota Rho Journal of International Relations, and a member of the President and Provost’s Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community.
“The mission of the Rhodes Scholarship focuses on ‘fighting the world’s fight’, which has also been my life mission ever since my parents taught me at a young age how one person can make a difference,” says D’Urso. “I believe the Scholarship will truly prepare me for a career in public service by exposing me to new and international perspectives and broadening my experiences. After the Rhodes, I plan to attend law school with the hopes of becoming a federal prosecutor and ultimately entering national politics.”
Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England and may allow funding in some instances for four years. Elliot F. Gerson, American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, called the Rhodes Scholarships, “the oldest and best known award for international study, and arguably the most famous academic award available to American college graduates.” They were created in 1902 by the Will of Cecil Rhodes, British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer, and are provided in partnership with the Second Century Founders, John McCall MacBain O.C. and The Atlantic Philanthropies, and many other generous benefactors. The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904.
At Oxford, D’Urso plans to pursue criminology and criminal justice, as well as global governance and diplomacy. “I’m still in the process of deciding between a two-year Masters in criminology and a three-year doctorate in public policy or sociology,” he says. “Most importantly, I would like to explore new areas that I have not previously studied at Penn while continuing to pursue my passion for public service. I also hope to apply my experiences in consumer protection to help the citizens of Oxford. I am also eager to travel throughout the UK and Europe, which I have not previously visited, so I can learn more about their diverse cultures and history.”
Applicants are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the will of Cecil Rhodes, the first being academic excellence. However, there are many other required criteria. A Rhodes Scholar should also have great personal energy, ambition for impact, and an ability to work with others and to achieve one’s goals. In addition, a Rhodes Scholar should be committed to make a strong difference for good in the world, be concerned for the welfare of others, and be conscious of inequities. Finally, Gerson said, “A Rhodes Scholar should show great promise of leadership. In short, we seek outstanding young men and women of intellect, character, leadership, and commitment to service.”