Vijayasundaram Ramasamy, a public health studies major who graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2018 and led the team drafting the state of Kansas' COVID-19 reopening plan, has been named a Rhodes Scholar, one of the top awards available to American college students.
Ramasamy, from Overland Park, Kansas, is one of 32 students to win a Rhodes scholarship this year. The scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.
At Oxford, Ramasamy intends to pursue a Master of Science degree in Comparative Social Policy and a Master of Public Policy degree, hoping to improve his understanding of global public health in order to make government services work better. Working on public health during the pandemic has only underscored for him the critical importance of public service.
"It's been incredibly inspiring to see what public health workers are doing every day with so few resources and with such an incredible amount of pressure," he said. "It really solidified for me that I want to understand how people create sustainable health systems around the world and how we can defend government services in the United States."
At Johns Hopkins, Ramasamy graduated in three years, making the Dean's List every semester. Johns Hopkins sociology lecturer Ilil Benjamin was impressed that even at the age of 20, Ramasamy had the eloquence, intelligence, and poise of a seasoned academic.
"Vijay is a consummate idealist: he believes in the importance of policy as a mechanism of change," she said. "He also doesn't expect any miracle cures for social ills, and he knows that only painstaking policy work can create sustainable positive change. This is not simply a theory for him; he has lived and breathed this vision every day in his policy work at the Baltimore City Health Department and in the Governor of Kansas' office."
Despite his accomplishments, another striking quality Ramasamy possesses is humility.
"He doesn't like to draw attention to himself, and only wants to speak about policy and praise the work of other," Benjamin said. "This humble, selfless, and dedicated individual, who only wants to work behind the scenes to improve the lives of others is now being spotlighted, and it's a good thing, too, because the world needs more people like Vijay. He truly is going to change the world."
While at Johns Hopkins, Ramasamy volunteered with several social services programs focused on public health and worked in Baltimore's underserved neighborhoods, including at a healthcare case management non-profit.
Immediately after he graduated, his first job was with the city's health department. Former Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson taught Ramasamy one of his first courses in public health and inspired him to spend time at the city's syringe exchange program that began during Beilenson tenure with the city.
"Vijay is both one of the brightest students I have ever taught, as well as one of the nicest," Beilenson said. "He is a great intellect and a truly good egg."
At Johns Hopkins, Ramasamy was also co-president of the University Hindu Students Council, worked as a research and teaching assistant in public health, and was active in political campaigns.
Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, applicants must be endorsed by their college or university. This year more than 2,300 students began the application process; 953 were endorsed by 288 different colleges and universities. Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them virtually for interview. Johns Hopkins had four finalists this year.
Ramasamy, who wants to thank his teachers, mentor and parents for their help in being chosen for this scholarship, plans to enter Oxford in October 2021. He expects to then return to public service to help government build "the resources, and the trust and the access and the transparency it needs to solve the big problems." He's also not ruling out some day running for an elected office.
Students interested in applying for the Rhodes and other nationally competitive scholarships can contact the National Fellowships Program for more information.