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December 6, 1999
Two Indians Among 32 US Rhodes Scholars
A P Kamath
Neelakash (Neel) Varshney, an electrical engineering major who wants to be a neuroscientist, became the first Rhodes Scholar winner for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
He spent the last summer volunteering in Boston with Physicians for Human Rights, an organization of health professionals, scientists, and concerned citizens that uses the knowledge and skills of the medical and forensic sciences to investigate and prevent violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Another winner Jasdip (Jesse) Kharbanda from University of Chicago, who, like Varshney, was born and raised in America, spent several months in India recently studying water depletion in Punjab and intends returning to India to work for organizations involved in economic and environmental improvement.
Varshney and Kharbhanda are among 32 American students named Sunday as Rhodes scholars for 2000.
The Rhodes program provides the oldest of international study awards available to American scholars, created in 1902 by the will of British philanthropist and colonialist Cecil Rhodes. With the 2000 class, 2,886 Americans have won Rhodes scholarships. This year's entries were judged from 935 applicants representing 323 colleges and universities.
One of the most coveted of the scholarships in America, the Rhodes scholarships for two or three years' study at Oxford University in England.
Varshney plans to study neuroscience at Oxford for two years and will return to UAB to earn his medical and Ph D degrees.
"I am enormously interested in how humans learn and remember," he says, adding that Alzheimer's disease is one of the areas he wants to concentrate on.
"I fully intend using my engineering background in computer modeling of the brain," he says.
Varshney, who wrote 'The Convergence of Medicine and the Telecommunication: Implications for Patient Care" for The Princeton Journal of Bioethics, is a recipient of a National Science Foundation grant and spent the past summer doing research at Boston University Brain and Vision Laboratory. At UAB he participates in basketball and soccer, and is named one of the top 16 swimmers in Alabama.
One of the neurosurgeons he admires most is Professor V S Ramachandran, the author of Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. Dr Ramachandran has also received a fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford.
It is not enough to become an expert in a subject, Varshney believes. It is important to communicate thoughts lucidly and with enthusiasm, he adds.
For Kharbanda, who majored in economics and developmental studies, interest in India came in a roundabout way.
He has been fascinated with American presidency from his childhood, he says.
"I read a lot about American presidents right from the start of American presidency," he says. "Since early American and British history is entwined, I started reading about Gladstone and other British politicians. And that eventually lead me reading about colonialism, imperialism, and poverty."
The Donnelley Foundation fellowship led him to Punjab where he studied environmental damage.
Kharbanda believes his two-year stay at Oxford will further hone his interest in developmental economics.
"One of the reasons I chose to study at University of Chicago is because of the freedom it offers to choose courses," he says. "While one majors in one or two subjects, one can study, for instance, music and mathematics."
At Oxford, too, he hopes to acquire more of a world-view while concentrating on his favorite areas.
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