STARKVILLE, Miss.--A Mississippi State English and philosophy double-major from Vicksburg is a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.
University senior Donald M. "Field" Brown will interview next week in St. Louis, Mo., for what widely is considered the world's most celebrated and prestigious international fellowship. The 2010 Vicksburg High School graduate hopes to gain one of only two regional slots available to become a Rhodes Scholar.
Each year, 32 young Americans are chosen on the basis of demonstrated scholarly achievements, character, commitment to others and the common good, and leadership potential.
The scholarships are provided by the Rhodes Trust, a British charity established in the will of businessman and mining magnate Cecil J. Rhodes. The goal is to promote international understanding and provide full financial support for students pursuing graduate degrees at the University of Oxford, the first of its kind in the English-speaking world and one of the world's leading institutions of higher learning.
Brown, the son of Willie and Cynthia Brown, said he is particularly interested in studying post-World War II African-American literature. He said both English and philosophy are related to his love of studying ideas.
"English is the narrative form; literature deals with everyday people and how they relate to ideas," Brown said. "Philosophy is the systematic study of ideas, and the two go together."
Brown said that, while the prospect of continuing his studies at Oxford is thrilling, the reality of gaining the fellowship would be life changing.
"So many great minds have walked the halls of Oxford, including tons of writers and a lot of important thinkers who have shaped the western world," Brown said.
If selected, he plans to pursue master's of studies degrees in both American literature and modern English literature. Specifically, he is interested in trans-Atlantic interactions within literature, particularly how McCarthyism scare tactics of the 1950s and the Cold War affected which books were promoted.
Chris Snyder, dean of MSU's Shackouls Honors College, said Brown has shown a commitment to doing extra work, taking risks and putting academics first during his tenure as a Mississippi State student.
"Field is a burgeoning intellectual with great humility, faith and a strong family foundation," Snyder said.
Brown said he has loved reading since early childhood and hopes to eventually teach literature in a university setting. He said it was when his family read Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" together years ago that he realized the power of books.
He said that as the book's classic plot unfolded, his father had an unexpected response.
"My dad started crying. I was really surprised that a book could cause that type of emotion in my dad, who is not an emotional person," Brown said. "Books are very powerful."
His parents both emphasized education to Brown and his older brother Willie Brown Jr., an MSU engineering graduate who was a Distinguished Scholar--the top honor awarded to entering freshmen. He went on to earn a master's degree in psychology from the university before joining MSU's nationally recognized Social Science Research Center.
In addition to discussing books together, Brown said his family often enjoyed watching "Jeopardy," the long-running television game show in which contestants are tested on general knowledge.
Brown entered MSU after graduating third in his high school class and enrolled in the university's Shackouls Honors College. He also came as an accomplished high school athlete--a ranked tennis player.
Snyder said Brown quickly became a leader in several campus organizations. In addition to co-founding "The Streetcar," a literary magazine, Brown served as president of the Philosophy and Religion Club, was a member of the MSU Roadrunners student recruiting team and was active in intramural sports.
Brown credited Snyder and Thomas Anderson, associate professor of English and director of the Office of Prestigious External Scholarships, for his pursuit of a Rhodes Scholarship. He said in addition to assisting him with the scholarship process, the two professors have encouraged him in many ways, as have several other English and philosophy faculty members.
Mississippi State, Brown said, has offered him the best undergraduate experience possible.
"I couldn't be in a better position if I had gone anywhere else," he said. He added that his professors have given him "concrete ways to be the best in my field.
"That's all you can ask from a college education," he said.
While he plans to always return to his home state, prior study abroad experiences have shown him that he would enjoy the opportunity to study at Oxford.
"It's one of those things that if you become a part of, you are part of for life. Nobody can take it away from you," he said.
For more information about Mississippi State University, see www.msstate.edu.