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Jonathan Robbins Becomes the University's Eighth Student to Win the Prestigious Luce Scholarship
 
Jonathan Robbins
Photo by Matt Kelly

March 16, 2005

By Matt Kelly

Jonathan L. Robbins, 22, a political and social thought major at the University of Virginia, is one of 15 winners of the 2005 Luce Scholarship, designed to increase awareness of Asia among future U.S. leaders.

Robbins is a global health scholar who said he is planning a career in international health policy, “translating research into policy initiatives.” With the Luce Scholarship, which provides a $22,000 stipend and housing allowance, Robbins will spend a year in Asia or Southeast Asia working in a public health job. The Luce Foundation stresses that the internship is designed more for the students to have an Asian cultural experience than to excel in their chosen field.

“This will be a year of practical adventure,” said Robbins, who added that he would like to work on the HIV/AIDS problems in Thailand. He already has pursued this type of research when he traveled to Botswana in 2004, some of which is published in the undergraduate research journal, Oculus.

During his undergraduate years at U.Va. thus far, Robbins has founded the Student Interpreter Service, which trains undergraduates as clinical interpreters in Spanish to volunteer in U.Va.’s Medical Center. He also volunteers weekly in pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Milagros Huerta’s clinic, which promotes healthier lifestyles for overweight children. And in 2003, he was one of two official U.Va. delegates to the World Student Summit, Society and Health Committee in Singapore.

Robbins, a U.Va. biology minor who is fluent in French, and conversational in Spanish and Setswana, the official language of Botswana, also has been named to the Raven Society, received intermediate honors, been inducted into the Golden Key Honor Society, and currently lives on the Lawn.

Despite his many accomplishments, he said he was surprised when he found out he had won a scholarship, thinking perhaps someone was playing a joke on him.

“In the final round of interviews, all the applicants were sharp,” Robbins said.

He was competing with students from such schools as Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Tulane. Robbins was inspired to seek a Luce Scholarship by Ryann Collins, U.Va.’s last Luce winner, who was a fourth-year student at U.Va.’s International Residence College when Robbins was a first-year student there.

Robbins’ family lives in Iowa City, after spending many years in Richmond, where Jonathan Robbins graduated from Douglas Freeman High School in the summer of 2000. His interest in global health was triggered in 1998 when, as a 15-year-old, he accompanied his father, a counseling psychologist, on a trip to South Africa, where he visited a clinic treating AIDS patients.

“I was struck by the absence of medical treatment,” he said. “People got the disease and they died.”

Since then, he has researched AIDS and the medical reaction in Africa, spending the summer of 2004 in Botswana examining community home-based care for HIV infected patients, and the use of antiretroviral therapy in treating the disease. His research in Botswana was underwritten by U.Va.’s Center for Global Health and Institute for Practical Ethics.

Beginning in the fall of 2003, he worked as a research assistant to Dr. Janine C. Jagger, director at the International Health Care Worker Safety Center, where he conducted bibliographic research on the spread of AIDS through improper medical treatment.

“He’s an exceptional person,” Jagger said. “He has a vast curiosity of the world and other cultures.”

Professor James F. Childress, director of the Institute for Practical Ethics, said Robbins was an outstanding choice for the Luce Scholarship.

“As a Luce Fellow he will represent the [United States] and U.Va. well," said Childress, who cited Robbins’ broad academic training, international experience and “wonderful personality.”

“Jonathan's record of academic excellence and service are exemplary,” said Nicole F. Hurd, assistant dean and director of the Center for Undergraduate Excellence.

“He has worked to build bridges of understanding and compassionate care both at U.Va. and abroad, and I am sure he will continue this exceptional work when he goes to Asia as a Luce Scholar.”

Jonathan D. Arras, the Porterfield Professor of Bioethics, taught Robbins in several classes and praised him as “a student of remarkable intellectual gifts, extraordinary human qualities, and a steadfast commitment to making the world a better place.”

“He is totally engaged in the issues and is always eager to debate the merits of the texts we cover, but he never raises his hand merely to hear himself talk,” Arras said.

The Luce Scholarship, started in 1974 and administered by the Henry Luce Foundation in New York City, is a national competition in which 15 recipients are selected annually. This year’s winners were chosen from a pool of 115 candidates.

Robbins, who will graduate in May, is U.Va.’s eighth Luce Scholar.

   
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