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Leading the Way

Two USC students have been selected as 2004 Marshall Scholars.

Nilay U. Vora, an interdisciplinary studies and mathematics major, and pre-medical student David M. Chacko are two of 40 students chosen from across the nation for the Marshall Scholarship, which allows them to spend two years in graduate school at a British university with all expenses paid by the British government.

The program gives the coveted award to U.S. students who excel in academics, as well as leadership, and have an interest in international affairs.

That description fits Vora, said Alison Dundes Renteln, associate professor of political science at the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, who has served as Vora’s faculty adviser and recommended him for the scholarship.

“He has been a student leader in many areas,” Renteln said. “And he’s an intellectual gem.”

Vora, a senior in the USC College who has shown a commitment to social justice in all of his scholastic and extracurricular activities, Renteln said, helped organize seminars in residence halls about Islamic law and Islamic thinking.

Renteln also invited him to join her graduate seminar on health and human rights when he was a junior. His paper about prisoners with AIDS and the failure of prisons to protect their human rights was “of publishable quality,” she said.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Dallas, Vora came to USC as a pre-medical student but switched to a double major focusing on statistics and interdisciplinary studies of human rights and non-violence. He will graduate in May.

Vora said he was “pretty excited” when the program called to let him know about the award.

As a Marshall Scholar, he will attend the London School of Economics, where he plans on earning a M.S. degree in human rights. In his second year as a scholar, he expects to move to Ireland, where he will take part in a master’s program in law focused on human rights and criminal justice at Queen’s College in Belfast.

Vora aspires to a career in international law specializing in human rights issues. “It would be great to work in a place like the Center for Constitutional Rights or the International Criminal Courts,” he said

At USC, Vora’s work with the Students Coalition Against Labor Exploitation and the national student group United Students Against Sweatshops led him to get involved with labor issues in a number of Mexican factories.

Working with the support of the AFL-CIO, Vora then spearheaded the latter group’s filing of a complaint about the factory conditions under NAFTA rules.

A Detour for Chacko

The Marshall Scholarship will represent a detour on the way to medical school for Chacko, who hopes to become a leader in health policy, as well as a physician to the medically underserved.

Chacko wants to address what he sees as the enormous challenges facing Americans today—balancing issues of cost, access and fair distribution of health services.

Currently a student in the Baccalaureate/MD Program at the College and the honors business program at the USC Marshall School of Business, Chacko plans to use the two-year scholarship to study comparative social policy at the University of Oxford, where he aims to earn a master’s in philosophy.

He will focus on studying health care systems and policies from around the world at Oxford.

“By studying the health policies of different countries, I hope to learn what has worked and what still needs to be improved in our own health care system,” Chacko said.

It will be a return trip for Chacko, who spent last summer in a study abroad program at the University of Cambridge, where he developed an affection for the country and the “tutorial” system of education.

“Master’s students in England work very closely with faculty in their field. I am hoping to learn a lot from [the professors there],” said Chacko, who won a full-tuition award to USC as a USC Trustee Scholar.

He is also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and a Dean Schaefer Scholar, among other honors.

Chacko’s dual interests in medicine and health policy led him to study both biology and business administration at USC, where he has earned a 4.0 grade-point average.

Since his freshman year, he has been a starting defender on the USC men’s soccer team. As a member of an Indian cultural group, he performs traditional dances and models customary attire.

He also has done original biomedical research. Working with neurobiologist Albert Herrera, professor of biology at the College, he studied the development of neuromuscular junctions in the frog.

Chacko is the co-founder and program manager of the Collegiate Med Volunteers program at the L.A. County-USC Medical Center, which now counts 150 students from 17 universities among its members.

He has volunteered in clinics in rural India and in the emergency rooms of Los Angeles.

“David is one of the most amazing all-around students I’ve ever had,” said Catherine Sugar, USC assistant professor of information and operations management, who recommended him for the award.

“He’s wonderful in the classroom, he’s a great student leader, a marvelous soccer player,” Sugar said. “Many students at USC are incredibly strong in one or two dimensions. David is strong in all dimensions. He is like three star students rolled into one.”

At this year’s homecoming, Chacko was named “Mr. USC” as part of the USC Order of the Torch—a program that recognizes seniors who demonstrate the diversity and spirit of USC.

The Marshall Scholarships began in 1953 as a gesture of thanks from the British government for U.S. assistance in rebuilding Europe after World War II. The scholarships are named after George C. Marshall, the former U.S. general and secretary of state.

The scholars are considered the potential leaders, opinion-formers and decision-makers of tomorrow.

The program is designed to give them a deeper understanding and appreciation of British values and the British way of life. It also establishes ties between the peoples of Britain and the United States.

Former Marshall Scholars include Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman.

Leading the Way

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