Physics, German double major named Rhodes Scholar finalist

Topics: College of Sciences and Humanities, Honors College

November 3, 2011

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Ball State senior Will Jay has been named a Rhodes Scholar finalist.

Ball State University senior Will Jay has been named a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. If he wins, Jay would become the first student in university history to receive the prestigious international award.

Jay, a double major in physics and German who graduates in 2012, will participate in final interviews with members of the Rhodes selection committee on Nov. 19 in Indianapolis. The committee will decide that evening on up to two regional winners.

"It's an incredible honor to be named a finalist, and I'm excited by the news," said Jay, an Honors College Scholar and native of Logansport, Ind. "There was a sigh of relief when I got that email from the committee, letting me know I'd made it this far."

Third finalist in two years

Founded in 1902, the Rhodes Scholarship was created by British philanthropist Cecil J. Rhodes. About 80 scholars worldwide are selected and given the opportunity to do graduate work for up to three years at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Jay is the third Ball State finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship in the last two years. 2011 Ball State graduates Abigail Shemoel, a landscape architecture major, and Matt Tancos, a biology major, were finalists for the award last year.

Jay said he would like to focus his graduate studies on theoretical or mathematical physics. His career goal is to earn his doctorate, conduct research in quantum field theory or elementary particles and teach at the university level.

Dual major makes for distinctive qualifications

Ron Warner, professor of German, said Jay's dual major in physics and German places him in a distinctive position to become a Rhodes Scholar. He describes Jay as one of his most "unforgettable students" in a teaching career spanning 45 years.

"Will possesses skills and interests across a diverse range of disciplines," said Warner, "and I believe it is his experience with a foreign language, literature and culture that is an integral part of what qualifies him for this award."

Jay agrees double majoring has broadened his perspective. "The cold elegance of mathematics and physics provides a contrast to the beautiful imperfections—even contradictions—offered by a foreign language," he said. "Besides, you can't beat reading Einstein in the original!"

In his 1,000-word personal statement for the scholarship, he positioned himself as a Renaissance man. "I wanted to describe myself as someone with the capacity to do many things well, who's benefited not just from the hard sciences and math, but from my humanities, Honors College and language courses at Ball State," Jay added.

In his final semesters as an undergraduate, Jay's been working with Ball State's Ranjith Wijesinghe, associate professor of physics and astronomy, on research involving the human brain. He has submitted manuscripts for publication to two different journals and presented at several scientific conferences, experiences Jay credits to the one-on-one attention he's received from professors such as Wijesinghe.

"With the focus of Ball State's physics program at the undergraduate level, I've been afforded opportunities here that I wouldn't have gotten at other schools, where the research emphasis is in graduate work," he said.

If Jay wins the Rhodes, he would add the accomplishment to an already impressive resume that includes a cumulative GPA of 3.99 and a Goldwater Scholarship, which he received earlier this year. 

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