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Njoroge, Basu Win Rhodes

By Richa Maheshwari


MIT students Sanjay Basu ’02 and Paul K. Njoroge G have been identified as Rhodes Scholars for the year 2002.

After four days of exhausting interviews and pretentious cocktail parties, Basu was told he was one of the four Rhodes Scholars from the Northeast region, and one of 32 from the nation. He plans to study Developmental Studies at Oxford University, where the Rhodes Scholarship will cover his tuition and grant him a living stipend.

Basu applied for the Rhodes Scholarship program through Massachusetts, rather than his home state, Illinois, so he could interview closer to MIT. Njoroge, a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, is a Rhodes Scholar for Kenya, his home country. He could not be reached for comment.

The last round of interviews occurred at the Boston University Castle, where Basu was asked questions that ranged from describing a political situation across the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan to the product of 24 and 36.

“They try to tear down your philosophies so you have to be able to stand up for yourself very well. Since this was originally for people wanting to go into political office, a lot of the criterion is being able to present yourself in that way,” Basu said. He added that he felt “awkward and strange” throughout the cocktail parties.

To help him prepare for this, past Rhodes scholar Pardis Sabeti conducted mock interviews for MIT’s candidates. Basu, however, found the actual interviews to be more intimidating.

“I was surprised when I found out. I wasn’t expecting it given the quality of the candidates competing for the award,” Basu said.

Basu’s accomplishments praised

It isn’t like Basu to brag about himself. Lucky for him, others will do it for him.

“He is an institution builder while he remains modest and unassuming,” said Lawrence Vale, Associate Professor and Associate Head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and advisor to Rhode Scholar candidates.

As a second term freshman, he founded and edited the MIT Undergraduate Research Journal (MURJ), a publication that allows students to write about science and ethics. The University of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) have subsequently adapted this format for science writing. Basu has written and published research on the relationship between epidemiology and poverty, and on Alzheimer’s disease.

Basu’s interest in development was influenced by Institute Professor Noam A. Chomsky’s speech on Kosovo during his freshman year.

“That speech angered me on the state of world affairs,” Basu said. Thus, his self-entitled career in “saving the world” began.

UTR one of Basu’s projects

Last year, Basu started an entirely student-based organization devoted to humanitarian aid for global problems, called United Trauma Relief (UTR). Every month, operating from his dorm room, Sanjay mails out approximately 16,000 doses of AIDS drugs to serve desperate patients in Haiti and Tanzania.

“The unused cocktail regimens in the United States end up in the landfills, and I just wanted to put them to good use,” Basu said.

In the last year, UTR also assisted in relief for Afghan refugees, earthquake victims, Sudanese famine victims and sweatshop disaster relief for Afghan refugees,

“Sanjay’s best quality is his humility in all he is doing,” said Vinod Rao ’02, a member of UTR. “The very nature of the group, United Trauma Relief, indicates that he is working hard for the service of others. I am amazed by how much we have been able to accomplish under his guidance.”

“I'm really glad that someone whose achievements have so much to do with helping others was chosen for this honor, and I think he really deserves it,” Julia R. de Kadt, ’02 said.

Basu’s commitment to the community is evident in more ways than one. He worked with rural AIDS patients on the Burmese border, volunteers at a soup kitchen every month, and will teach a class on AIDS during this year’s Independent Activities Period (IAP).

“In a decade of assisting Rhodes and Marshall candidates from MIT, I have never met anyone more likely to make a palpable difference in the world than Sanjay Basu,” Vale said.

Emma Brunskill, an MIT graduate student, won a Rhodes Scholarship in 2000. Susanna B. Mireau ’00, who, like Basu, majored in Brain and Cognitive Sciences, won a Rhodes Scholarship, in 1999. Both are currently at Oxford University.