Robert Fisher (left), a 2015 Rhodes Scholar from UT Chattanooga, graduates in May. Photo by Jaimie Davis; Lindsay Lee (right), a 2014 Rhodes Scholar from UT Knoxville, is currently studying at the University of Oxford. Photo by Nick Myers
By Elizabeth A. Davis
Interviewing for the world’s most prestigious scholarship is nerve-wracking enough. Imagine if, after your interview to be a Rhodes Scholar, you were told the committee would take just an hour to decide your fate. But then the committee changed course and decided to interview some of the candidates a second time, and you interviewed again, not knowing whether a second interview was a good sign or not.
This is how Robert Fisher (Chattanooga ’15) spent Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014. It’s a day he will probably never forget. When his name was called for a third time that day, it was to announce he was one of 32 Americans selected to be a 2015 Rhodes Scholar.
“It’s not the kind of award you win by yourself,” he says, adding that his parents and mentors over many years led to that accomplishment. Another person who helped him prepare for the big day was Lindsay Lee (Knoxville ’14), one of last year’s winners.
Fisher consulted with Lee before applying, and she gave him some tips on the kinds of interview questions he might be asked. “He’s a brilliant, forward-thinking guy, and I was so excited to hear that he won the scholarship,” Lee says.
In the all-expenses-paid program, Rhodes Scholars study at the University of Oxford in England for two or three years with other winners from around the world. Scholars are chosen based on academic achievement as well as “character, commitment to others and the common good, and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead,” according to information from The Rhodes Trust. Fisher’s class was chosen from among 877 U.S. candidates.
Fisher is the third student from UTC and its predecessor, the University of Chattanooga, to earn the honor. Lee is the seventh honoree from UT Knoxville. To claim a Rhodes Scholar among its alumni is a boon for universities, particularly public ones. To have back-to-back winners within the UT System is certainly a triumph.
“The percentage of American Rhodes Scholars who come from public universities is fairly small, and the percentage of students from Southern public schools is even smaller. So it’s a rare and fantastic thing for someone to win from the UT System, especially two years in a row,” Lee says. “I think it shows that UT is on the right track and can create scholars who are just as capable as students from other schools if they are given the right support.”
Fisher says institutional support is a large part of what helps students from regional public universities compete for nationally competitive scholarships. “UTC provided me with seemingly countless opportunities to cultivate my leadership skills. I leveraged those opportunities and resulting skills to my advantage,” he says. “If UTC couldn’t provide an experience internally, faculty and staff regularly directed me to external programs and opportunities.”
The academic and leadership backgrounds of Lee and Fisher are impressive.
Lee, from Oak Ridge, was a Haslam Scholar, UT Knoxville’s most prestigious scholarship program. Lee, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 3, founded and was president of Campus Disability Advocates and created Disability Week on campus, and she participated in student government and was a columnist for The Daily Beacon student newspaper.
Lee began her time in Oxford last fall and is completing a one-year master’s degree in applied statistics. She plans to work on a second degree in September.
“I’m still not exactly sure what I’ll be doing after Oxford, but I’m hoping to use mathematical analysis to work toward better health policy for disabled people,” Lee says. “Getting to interact with all the other Rhodes Scholars has really opened my eyes to the diversity of the world and all the opportunities it contains.”
Fisher, who graduated in May, has been involved in student government since fifth grade, having served as president of his middle school, high school and UTC, as both a junior and senior. A native of Clarksville, Fisher learned about UTC from friends and was sold on the school when he was accepted to be a Brock Scholar, UTC’s most prestigious scholarship program.
Also a Truman Scholar, Fisher has been a student representative on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and served as a Presidential Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
Perhaps, like some other previous Rhodes Scholars, public office is in his future? Fisher, who plans to study comparative social policy, deftly evades the question: “I want to explore my career options and myself, how I can affect change in the lives of the people and places I value most.” Spoken like a true scholar.