College of Science

Upstate biochemistry senior named Clemson’s first Rhodes Scholar

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Louise Franke, a Clemson senior from Spartanburg, S.C., made University history today when she became the first Clemson student named a Rhodes Scholar.

Franke, an Honors College student majoring in biochemistry with minors in political science and philosophy, is one of 32 American Rhodes Scholars selected through an intensive application and interview process.

“The Rhodes community is an intellectual community where people care about ideas, about action and about the world,” said Franke. “It’s a group of people that fight the world’s fight, and the fact that I’m now part of that blows my mind. It’s a dream come true.”

The Rhodes Scholarship provides for study at the University of Oxford and is recognized worldwide as the top undergraduate award for college students.

“Congratulations to Louise on this incredible achievement. I am very proud of her, not only for this prestigious honor, but also because of her desire to use her education to make a difference in the world,” said Clemson University President Jim Clements. “The Rhodes Scholarship will provide her with an amazing opportunity, and I am grateful to our faculty and staff who have taught and supported her along the way. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for her.”

Clemson has had six Rhodes finalists since 2006, including two this year, but Franke is the first to be named a Rhodes Scholar.

“Louise’s success speaks volumes about the high quality of our students and their work ethics, as well as the dedication of our faculty to our students,” said Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “In my 45 years of higher education experience, this stands out as one of the highest pinnacles of excellence.”

Franke plans to pursue a B.A. in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford before earning a joint M.D. and Ph.D. in bioethics. Her goal is to practice as a physician while forging a career as a bioethicist in the public policy and academic realms.

“What a spectacular day for Clemson! Thomas Green Clemson excelled in science and loved the classics — he pursued postgraduate education at some of the oldest institutions in Europe. How perfect is it that Louise Franke, who also excels in science and is inspired by ethics, will pursue her dream at Oxford University,” said College of Science Dean Cynthia Y. Young. “We all look forward to seeing the impact she will have on our world and especially on her home state of South Carolina.”

Bringing philosophy into the laboratory

When Franke started her first year as a Clemson undergraduate student, she explored every option in her path.

She wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but also loved studying the humanities. Ultimately, she chose both.

“I’ve been lucky to study both biochemistry and the humanities during my Clemson career, but until this year, I never imagined that there was a way for me to apply both of them to my career,” said Franke. “Studying at Oxford gives me an opportunity to combine the practical with the theoretical, so I could focus on both of my passions while also doing something for the world.”

Her work as a researcher in the Ingram-Smith lab in the Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center (EPIC) the energy metabolism of the pathogenic protist Entamoeba histolytica.

She also serves as the College of Science representative to the Clemson Student Ethics Commission, where she helps foster ethics education on campus.

Alison Starr-Moss, a senior lecturer and director of advising in the College of Science’s Department of Genetics and Biochemistry, says that Franke has consistently demonstrated an aptitude for connecting content across disciplines. 

“Louise is gifted not only with academic ability but also passion for interdisciplinary study. Her degree and co-curricular activities have fostered a unique vision for the intersection of medicine, bioethics and policy, and Louise has already impacted our campus community,” said Starr-Moss. “The award of the Rhodes Scholarship will give Louise a voice on an international stage and provide a step to the advancement of science, bioethics and human health. I could not be prouder.”

Franke explores public policy in detail as a Dixon Global Policy Scholar, a select program for students interested in enhancing their knowledge of issues that shape the world. The program brings students from different majors together to discuss broader policy issues, something Franke said broadened her understanding of different impacts.

“You’ll have someone from bioengineering and someone from computer science or environmental studies or political science all contributing to how different issues apply to their fields,” said Franke. “Those discussions are some of my favorite Clemson experiences so far because they helped me see the importance of interdisciplinary work and how it can positively impact public policy development.”

The Lyceum Scholars program, which offers a required political philosophy class each semester, also allowed Franke to apply a philosophical lens to her studies in and out of the lab. She was part of a group of only 10 scholars across campus selected to participate, which also involves biweekly Socratic sessions with a professor of political philosophy.

William Lasser, executive director of the Honors College, said these programs were developed specifically for students like Franke who have the potential to compete for major scholarships, such as the Rhodes.

 “Louise is the epitome of a Clemson Honors student. She has an intense intellectual curiosity, an extraordinary range of interests and a passion for really making a difference,” said Lasser. “She has taken full advantage of every opportunity available to her as a Clemson Honors student, and I have no doubt that she will continue to excel at Oxford University and beyond.”

In addition to being a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, Franke was named a Political Studies Fellow at the Hudson Institute in 2019, where she participated in rigorous study of politics and political philosophy.

She is actively engaged in the campus community at Clemson, serving as president pro-tempore on Clemson’s Undergraduate Student Senate, a position that is second in rank in the senate body. She also leads the senate’s driving committee, which works to cultivate a positive atmosphere between senators, the student body and University administration.

“I am forever grateful to Clemson University, the Clemson Honors College, the Lyceum Program, Clemson Undergraduate Student Government, the Office of Major Fellowships, and the genetics and biochemistry, political science and philosophy departments for providing so many incredible opportunities, mentors, the greatest of friends and the most wonderful four years I could ever have imagined,” said Franke. “This also wouldn’t have been possible without my friends and family, who always believed in me.”

The Rhodes Scholarship

The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest and most prestigious scholarship available to American College students. The award provides financial support for students as they complete postgraduate degrees at the University of Oxford.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen based on academic excellence; the energy to use their talents to the fullest; attributes such as truth, courage, kindness and devotion to duty; and moral force of character and the instinct to lead.

These are qualities that Franke demonstrates in spades, according to Robyn Curtis. As the director of Clemson’s Office of Major Fellowships, she supports students through the application process for significant fellowship opportunities, including the Rhodes.

“I met Louise as a first-year student interviewing for the Dixon Global Policy Scholars program,” said Curtis. “It has been wonderful to watch her development throughout her time at Clemson and I am delighted to see her receive this well-deserved honor.”

Students applying for a Rhodes Scholarship must first be endorsed by their college or university. More than 2,300 students started the application process this year, with 826 of those students being endorsed by 247 different colleges and universities.

Committees of Selection in 16 districts across the U.S. then chose a combined total of 235 finalists to interview. This year, two Clemson finalists were selected for the first time in the University’s history, including Clemson senior Ronnie Clevenstine.

Franke and Clevenstine were the only finalists in their district from a public college or university.

Clevenstine, a National Scholar and Honors College senior majoring in economics with minors in political science and sustainability, is a 2021 Truman Scholar. She was also a finalist for the prestigious Marshall Scholarship, which provides financial support for a postgraduate degree at a United Kingdom institution of the student’s choice.

Office of Major Fellowships

Students interested in applying for the Rhodes Scholarship or learning about other nationally and internationally competitive programs should contact the Office of Major Fellowships at 864-656-9704 or fellowships@clemson.edu.