Trusting the Process

A graphic highlighting Jenny Park as a Rhodes Scholarship finalist.

The past year has been one of growth and self-discovery for Jenny Park. It’s also been a year of celebration for the University of Missouri senior.

Park began the year by being named a Goldwater Scholar. One of four Tigers to receive the award, the Goldwater Scholarship is one of the most prestigious national scholarships in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the United States. Park is ending the year with another illustrious honor – she was named a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.

“I was very surprised and also thrilled to hear that I had been named a finalist,” said Park, who is a double major in biological sciences and psychology at Mizzou. Park is also pursuing the Honors Certificate. “When I saw the email that I was a finalist, all I could think about was how incredibly grateful I am for the support I have received. My faculty mentors, the dedicated staff in the Office of Global and National Fellowships, my family and friends were all so helpful throughout the process.”

The Rhodes Scholarship is an international postgraduate award to study at the University of Oxford. Rhodes Scholars are young leaders of outstanding intellect and character who are motivated to engage with global challenges, committed to the service of others, and show promise of becoming value-driven, principled leaders for the world’s future.

“It’s been a very rewarding process,” Park said. “Self-reflection can be difficult. It’s easy to embrace your strengths and the experiences that led you to the successes. But you also have to learn to embrace your weaknesses. You must think through ways to tackle them and improve. No one is a finished product. That type of growth is a life-long process.”

Nearly 1,000 students apply for the Rhodes Scholarship and around 200 finalists from across the country are named. A total of 32 scholarships are awarded.

“Working with Jenny, what I’m most proud of is that she is able to fully engage with the process,” said Nina Wilson-Keenan, an advisor in the Office of Global and National Fellowships who worked with Park throughout the application process. “She’s gone through that self-reflection and has truly explored how all her interests do fit together and how those interests can be part of her future. There’s nothing she has to leave behind.

“I’m extremely happy for Jenny. It is wonderful that she was recognized for this honor, but she’s amazing no matter what. She’s a superstar.”

The application for the Rhodes Scholarship includes several parts, including a personal statement and an academic statement. Those pieces allowed Park to dive into her passions and showcase her growth as a student and an individual.

“These applications can be a long, arduous process, as they involve a lot of introspection and reflection,” Park said. “You have to weave your past experiences and passions together and think about the life you want to live in the future. It’s such a deeply meaningful process, though, as it really fosters self-growth and awareness. Putting those thoughts on paper helps you develop a stronger sense of direction and truly boosts your confidence about the future. The process aids you in creating a more concrete idea of who you are and what specific contribution you hope to make to society.”

While Park said the application was daunting at times, her past experience of applying for the Goldwater Scholarship, as well as encouragement and guidance from the Office of Global and National Fellowships, made the process much more manageable.

“My one-on-one meetings with my Fellowships advisors oftentimes turned into therapeutic sessions where I would talk through the items in the application that weren’t working or parts I found confusing,” Park said. “It is so nice to have a group that walks through the process with you and offers so much support.”

Park actually spent a semester in England last year, where she participated in Oxford’s Direct Enrollment program and studied neuroscience overseas. She was paired with professors for one-on-one study and dove into higher-level neuroscience courses.

Park has had an interest in neurodegenerative diseases since high school and has furthered that passion while at Mizzou through the participation in different organizations and undergraduate research. Park has also pursued her passions in advocating for immigrants and refugees while at MU. She created the Mizzou Empowers Refugees and Immigrants (MERI) organization, which is focused on refugee and immigrant advocacy and offers tutoring to students as well. She also leads People Advocating for Growth and Empowerment (P.A.G.E.), a book club that features high school students from several states, as well as South Korea. That group was started during the pandemic and the money paid by the participants is donated to the City of Refuge.

“I always knew I had those two pillars of passions, but I didn’t quite know how to integrate them together,” Park said. “My time at MU really solidified my interest in working at the intersection of these fields. There is definitely a need for accessibility in healthcare for immigrants and refugees. I’m passionate about developing diagnostic tools and improving interventions for neurodegenerative diseases; however, those advances aren’t always accessible for everyone. Mizzou helped me see how I can advocate for others while developing these vital tools.”

“There is always a human element in everything Jenny does,” Wilson-Keenan added. “Looking at neuroscience, she’s always thinking about the outcomes and the people who will be impacted by what she is doing. She has a very holistic view of the field. And she also has an awareness of the barriers that people can have to getting quality care.”

Fellowships are life-changing opportunities for students. However, when students are selected for these competitive awards, they sometimes face financial barriers that can prevent them from participating. Rhodes finalist interviews, for instance, last the weekend, requiring students to travel to their interview site and spend three nights in a hotel. By donating to the Fellowships Student Support Fund, your money will fill these critical gaps and help every student pursue these tremendous opportunities, regardless of their financial means.