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UMD Senior Receives Prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

November 23, 2014

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland senior Fang Cao has been named a Rhodes Scholar, winning the world’s oldest and most prestigious award for international study. The Rhodes Scholarship is widely considered to be the most esteemed academic award available to college graduates.

Fang CaoCao is one of only 32 students from across the nation named a Rhodes Scholar by the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, Elliot F. Gerson. The scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford, and may allow funding in some instances for four years. The total value of the scholarship averages $50,000 per year.

Cao—who is majoring in biological sciences, with a specialization in physiology and neurobiology, and is a member of the Integrated Life Sciences program in the Honors College—plans to use the scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in medical anthropology at the University of Oxford in England. His long-term plans include a career in medicine and public health policy.

“The Rhodes Scholarship shows Fang’s exemplary academic and research achievements as well as his inspiring community service,” says UMD President Wallace D. Loh. “He brings distinction to the University of Maryland and I’m sure he’ll continue to do so as an alumnus in the years to come.”

Cao has extensive leadership and community service accomplishments, and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. He was the first UMD student to be awarded both a Goldwater scholarship and a Truman scholarship. In addition, he has received a Howard Hughes Medical Institute undergraduate research fellowship, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) intramural training research award and an NIH exceptional summer intern award. He has conducted molecular and computational neuroscience research in the laboratories of Jeffrey Smith at NIH and Daniel Butts in UMD’s Department of Biology. He was also selected to serve as one of four UMD representatives to present at the 2013 Meeting of the Minds regional conference.

As a sophomore, Cao founded a program at a local high school to tutor disadvantaged minority students in college-level biology. With Cao’s help, the school’s average AP biology exam score improved. Inspired by these results, Cao founded an additional tutoring program at the school to help students obtain their high school diploma and consider attending community and four-year colleges. The program now boasts two-dozen UMD students serving as mentors.

He is a member of the W.E.B. Du Bois Honor Society, Omicron Delta Kappa and the university’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Education Academic Excellence Society. Cao also enjoys swimming and playing soccer. Born in China, he emigrated to London at age five, and to the U.S. at seven.

“My desire to become a physician and advocate, dedicated to improving healthcare opportunities for underserved communities across America fueled my interest in the Rhodes Scholarship,” said Cao. “I’m thankful to all of the wonderful mentors, teachers and advisers I’ve met since I stepped onto the University of Maryland campus who helped me earn this prestigious award.”

The Rhodes Scholarships were created in 1902 by the Will of Cecil Rhodes, British philanthropist and African colonial pioneer, and are provided in partnership with the Second Century Founder, John McCall MacBain and other generous benefactors. The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904; those elected today will enter Oxford in October 2015. The 32 Rhodes Scholars chosen from the United States will join an international group of scholars chosen from 14 jurisdictions around the world.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen for high academic achievement, integrity of character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership, and physical vigor, according to Elliot Gerson, American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust.

Gerson said “these basic characteristics are directed at fulfilling Mr. Rhodes’s hopes that the Rhodes Scholars would make an important and positive contribution throughout the world. In Rhodes’ words, his Scholars should 'esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim.'"

Two-hundred seven applicants from 86 different colleges and universities reached the final stage of the competition. Mohammad Zia, a member of the Honors College and an individual studies major interested in global diplomacy and Middle Eastern affairs, was named a Rhodes Scholarship finalist this year. As a Boren Scholar, he is currently studying Arabic in Jordan and started a company that employs refugee women. Zia was born in Saudi Arabia to an Afghan mother and Pakistani father, before moving to the U.S.

“Mohammad’s entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to community outreach serves as an example to us all. It is an honor to be named a Rhodes Scholar finalist and it is truly remarkable that the University of Maryland had two finalists this year,” says President Loh.

Approximately 80 Scholars are selected worldwide each year.

Additional information and the full list of the newly elected United States Rhodes Scholars are available at