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One of 32: Whitman Political Philosophy Major Receives Prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Elizabeth "Beth" Pearson, a Whitman College political philosophy major with an abiding interest in issues of global justice, is one of 32 U.S. students chosen as American Rhodes Scholars for 2005.

The oldest and most prestigious of the international post-graduate study award available to American students, the Rhodes scholarship provides for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

Pearson, a senior and member of Whitman’s national champion debate team, was chosen from a U.S. applicant pool of 904 students representing 341 colleges and universities. She is the daughter of Margaret and John Pearson of Indianola, Iowa.

“We are delighted for Beth,” Whitman president Thomas E. Cronin said. “She is an outstanding student, an excellent student leader, and one of the key reasons why the Whitman College Debate Team was No. 1 in the nation last year.”

“Whitman students have received dozens of post-graduate fellowships and scholarships in recent years, including those offered by the Watson, Fulbright, Truman and Beinecke  foundations,” Cronin added. “Having one of our students receive a Rhodes Scholarship is especially pleasing because the program is highly competitive and selective.”

Of the students chosen as American Rhodes Scholars for 2005, Pearson is one of only three students presently studying at a West Coast college or university. The other students are Joseph Jewell, of Stevensville, Mich., who is studying at the California Institute of Technology, and Sarah Schulman, who is at Stanford University.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen based on criteria set down in the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist. These criteria are high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor. The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904.

The Rhodes scholarship pays for college and university fees, transportation to and from England, and living expenses while in residence at Oxford. The total value averages about $35,000 per year.

Pearson will pursue a master’s degree in development studies at Oxford, where she plans to focus on social and economic conditions in Third World countries. Her studies begin in October, 2005, when she and other U.S. students will be joined by an international group of scholars chosen from 18 jurisdictions around the world. About 95 Rhodes Scholars are selected worldwide each year.

“Beth is well known across campus for the strength of her intellect, her boundless energy and enthusiasm, and her commitment to the study of philosophy and politics,” Whitman dean of faculty Pat Keef said. “Beth has a tremendous future ahead of her. She is an outstanding scholar, a young woman with the creativity and energy to make a mark on the world that stands before her.”

Two summers ago, Pearson worked as a project assistant for the University of Iowa Employment Policy Group, helping design, research and develop resources for employers to promote the hiring and retention of employees with disabilities.

Last summer, she served as a volunteer intern with Mobility International USA in Eugene, Ore., where she focused on promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in international development programs. She researched, wrote and edited the second edition of a manual for development organizations that provides practical strategies for including people with disabilities.

“I saw how activism could take shape on a worldwide level and I realized how barriers to participation in political debate were less related to apathy or cynicism than they were to poverty, lack of access to education, and pervasive civil conflict,” Pearson said. “I realized too that I was increasingly drawn to a field of study that was committed to removing these barriers as the necessary prerequisite to building communities where political conversation is possible.”

Her experiences last summer helped Pearson decide in favor of pursuing a master’s degree in development studies at Oxford, where she will study at the Queen Elizabeth House.

“The development studies degree is structured to provide a theoretical framework with which to evaluate contemporary processes of economic, social, and political transition in poor countries,” she said. “This multidisciplinary approach offers the resources to take the sort of political conversation I have been practicing at the undergraduate level to a global scale.”

Once she completes her studies at Oxford, Pearson plans to apply to the World Bank’s Junior Professional Associate program.

“Direct experience in the international development field will be an asset when I return to academics to earn my Ph.D. in Development Studies and go on to occupy a position with a government agency or a multilateral institution such as the United Nations Development Program.”

As Pearson reflects on her desire to work on issues of human rights, poverty and social justice, she at times recalls a question she once asked as a child.

“I asked my dad why people couldn’t just sit down around a table and work things out,” she said. “Years later, my desire for such political conversation has deepened rather than dissipated. As a global leader, I plan to use my nuanced perspective to foster a diverse sense of participation and the articulation of new kinds of possibilities and to create a world in which all people are fed, healthy, equal and free.”

A National Merit Scholar, Pearson entered Whitman in the fall of 2001 as a Claire B. Sherwood Scholar and William O. Douglas Scholar. The Sherwood scholarship, given to a select number of female students, recognizes leadership and academic achievement, and includes a career enrichment trip to New York City during the senior year. The Douglas scholarship is awarded to students based on high academic achievement in college preparatory work.

While at Whitman, she performed with the Whitman Wind Ensemble and has had poetry published in the campus literary magazine. A member of the Order of Waiilatpu, a senior honorary that recognizes scholarship and service at Whitman, Pearson has been active in student government, serving on a number of committees, and is working as a tutor this fall in the Whitman Writing Center.

As a member of the Whitman Speech & Debate Team, Pearson won the First Speaker Award this fall in a parliamentary debate tournament hosted by Reed College. She also has placed first in Persuasive Speaking and Impromptu Speaking events at other college tournaments. She twice has won the Dovell-Gose Oratory Contest at Whitman.


Pearson began working toward her Rhodes Scholarship application as a sophomore, after Julia Davis, director of Whitman’s Grants and Fellowships Office, asked if she might be interested in the program. "Beth’s immediate response was that, `It’s something that I’ve always wanted,’" Davis said. 

The Grants and Fellowships Office actively seeks to identify talented students in different fields and helps them to cultivate their interests and then supports them through the grant application process.


Dave Holden, Whitman News Service

509 527-5902; holden@whitman.edu

Published on Nov 22, 2004
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