Latest batch of Rhodes scholars features a fan of Scottish history and a bungee-jumping sociologist

Monday, December 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. _ Rhett Martin doesn't even have a high school diploma, but he's nabbed one of education's most prestigious honors _ a Rhodes scholarship.

Martin, who hopes to receive a college degree from the University of Central Arkansas in May, became one of 32 American students to receive the scholarships, joining a cancer researcher, a Scottish enthusiast and a skydiving refugee worker from rural Iowa.

``I will try to do a little bit of everything, but concentrating on philosophy and philology _ languages,'' Martin said Sunday of his invitation to study at Oxford University.

The Rhodes scholarship, created in 1902 from the will of British philanthropist and colonialist Cecil Rhodes, is the oldest international study award available to American scholars.

The other 31 recipients were from Ivy League schools, or from universities and colleges of similar caliber _ service academies, major state universities or small, private liberal-arts colleges.

Harvard University led with five Rhodes scholars, while Duke and West Point had three each. Other scholarships went to students of Grinnell College in Iowa, Ripon College in Wisconsin and Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Martin has been attending Harvard himself this year, as a special honors program student. ``I wanted to take this year to hone my Latin and Greek,'' he said by phone from Atlanta.

Martin said he left Atkins High School after 11th grade and enrolled at the University of Central Arkansas because ``I was profoundly bored, and wasn't really disciplined enough to keep myself on track intellectually.''

In England, he'll join Zachary S. Morris, who got an inkling that he wanted to pursue a career in science at the age of 10 _ after he held his grandmother's hand as she died of cancer.

``It was kind of an eye-opening experience at the time,'' said Morris, who attends Ripon College. ``It really drew my attention to the medical field.''

John Probasco, of Rio Rancho, N.M., said he wants to use the scholarship to study medical ethics in a program that combines philosophy, psychology and physiology.

The 22-year-old, who has a 3.9 grade-point average at the University of New Mexico, said he hopes to return to his home state to practice medicine.

``John is a product of public education, so they must be doing something right,'' said his mother, Maria Probasco.

Princeton University student Lillian B. Pierce of Fallbrook, Calif., is the product of home-schooling. She learned to read as a baby and knew long division when she was 4.

Both she and her older brother won Rhodes scholarships. Lillian, 21, plans to work toward a master's degree in pure mathematics.

``I remember my mother showing me how to do long division,'' she said. ``I remember the feeling, thinking it was so amazing you could do these things to numbers. I remember saying, 'Give me more numbers.'''

Neil R. Brown, 22, of St. Charles, Iowa, is the first student of Interstate 35 Community High School to attend Harvard University, and the first to be chosen as a Rhodes Scholar.

Brown has bungee-jumped a 500-foot gorge in Nepal and skydived over the Namibian desert; but it was his work with refugees in those countries that led the sociology student to focus on development studies.

A love of history and a desire to show that there's more to Scotland than kilts helped set Elizabeth Angell on her way to Oxford. Angell, 20, of Bainbridge Island, Wash., heard Scottish music while in her teens and was hooked.

Angell, who entered the University of Washington at age 15, holds bachelor's degrees in history and international studies. She plans to earn a master's degree in modern history while studying at Oxford.

``We want to brag to everyone, but she asked us not to,'' said her father, Howard.