Football's Zar Zavala Earns Rhodes Scholarship

Football's Zar Zavala Earns Rhodes Scholarship

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Football player Baltazar "Zar" Zavala is among four Harvard University students chosen as Rhodes Scholars representing the United States, as announced by Elliot F. Gerson, American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust. Thirty-two American men and women will be provided with all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England, and may be allowed funding in some instances for four years.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, candidates must be endorsed by their college or university. Over 1500 students each year seek their institution's endorsement; this year, 837 were endorsed by 309 different colleges and universities.

Zavala, a native of El Paso, Texas, becomes the sixth football player to earn the Scholarship. He is the 51st Harvard student-athlete to earn it and the second in as many seasons, joining former basketball player Darryl Finkton '10.

"I think football was the one thing I had that most other candidates did not," noted Zavala. "During my interview, one question was, 'Why do you play football at Harvard? There is no scholarship associated with it, and it seems to be quite a challenge.' I answered this question by explaining how playing Division I college football had always been a dream of mine, and that I was very fortunate to have that dream come true.

I also talked about how the challenges I have faced with football have given me intangible skills that show up in my other work: When other students are complaining about a nine a.m. classes, I can just smile knowing that I have been up since 6 a.m., when I crossed the river in zero degree weather to work out for two hours. When other students complain about it taking all week to do homework, I know that I was also able to do it as well – in addition to many hours I put into football and the 20 hours per week for labs.

These time management skills are not something you are born with, they are something you must develop after your first semester with the Crimson football program."

Zavala is a concentrator in engineering sciences and neurobiology. Zavala has been on three trips to the Dominican Republic with Engineers Without Borders to develop clean water systems. He has worked as a research assistant in neuroscience labs at Harvard and in Shanghai. Baltazar lived in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, for four years and emigrated to El Paso with his mother when he was young. At Oxford, Baltazar will do the M.Sc. in neuroscience.

"Playing football at Harvard has also taught me to overcome adversity," said Zavala. "As a walk-on, I came in significantly behind most of my teammates skill-wise and was constantly beaten in most drills. This has taught me how to overcome defeat and realize that, when you are not the best, it doesn't mean you can't have the same accomplishments. It just means you have to work a little harder for them."  

Zavala, who previously was awarded a Marshall Scholarship, (that he will turn down), is the only player from his graduating class at Eastwood High School to have played college football.

Mr. Gerson 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. The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904; those elected today will enter Oxford in October 2011.

The selection process:
After being endorsed by his/her university, the Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for interview. Gerson said, "applicants are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the Will of Cecil Rhodes. These criteria are high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor. These basic characteristics are directed at fulfilling Mr. Rhodes's hopes that the Rhodes Scholars would make an effective and positive contribution throughout the world. In Rhodes' words, his Scholars should 'esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim.'"

Applicants in the United States may apply either through the state where they are legally resident or where they have attended college for at least two years. The district committees met separately, on Friday and Saturday, November 19 and 20, in cities across the country.

Each district committee made a final selection of two Rhodes Scholars from the candidates of the state or states within the district. Two-hundred nine applicants from 88 different colleges and universities reached the final stage of the competition, including eight that had never before had a student win a Rhodes Scholarship. Gerson also reported, "in most years, we elect a winner from a college that had never before had a Rhodes Scholar, even after more than a century. This year we are pleased to announce first-time winners from Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and from the University of California, Irvine."

The thirty-two Rhodes Scholars chosen from the United States will join an international group of Scholars chosen from fourteen other jurisdictions around the world. In addition to the thirty-two Americans, Scholars are also selected from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, the nations of the Commonwealth Caribbean, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, Southern Africa (South Africa, plus Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland), Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Approximately 80 Scholars are selected worldwide each year, including several non-U.S. Scholars who have attended American colleges and universities.

With the elections announced today, 3,228 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships, representing 312 colleges and universities. Since 1976, women have been eligible to apply and 441 American women have now won the coveted scholarship. And for the third time since 1976, more women (17) than men (15) were elected. Men constituted 54% of the applicant pool. More than 1,800 American Rhodes Scholars are living in all parts of the U.S. and abroad. For the first time ever, South Dakota had two Rhodes Scholars elected in the same year.

The value of the Rhodes Scholarship varies depending on the academic field and the degree (B.A., master's, doctoral) chosen. The Rhodes Trust pays all college and university fees, provides a stipend to cover necessary expenses while in residence in Oxford as well as during vacations, and transportation to and from England. Mr. Gerson estimates that the total value of the Scholarship averages approximately US$50,000 per year.