Many students begin their college careers a bit uncertain about what direction they might head. The final decision often comes down to determining where their strengths and passions lie.
As a graduating senior, Louise Franke is still answering that question for herself.
She loves the humanities but envisions a career as a physician. A Clemson University Honors College student, she’s majoring in biochemistry but points to a political theory class her freshman year as life-changing, resulting in a minor in philosophy and political science. She has done research in the EPIC (Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center) laboratory while participating in both the Lyceum Program, which requires a political philosophy class each semester and biweekly Socratic sessions with a professor, and the Dixon Global Policy Scholars program, which brings students from different majors together to discuss and dissect broader policy issues.
She hasn’t wanted to close the door to any of those interests. And it has served her well.
Since 2006, Clemson has had six Rhodes finalists. This year, Franke has made history by being named the University’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar — one of 32 American students to receive the scholarship.
The Rhodes Scholarship is recognized worldwide as the top award for undergraduates. Scholars are selected through an intensive application and interview process and then spend two years at the University of Oxford, where Franke plans to pursue a B.A. in philosophy, politics and economics 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.
“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 community is an intellectual community where people care about ideas, about action and about the world.
Franke points to her first class in the Lyceum program with assistant professor Michael Hoffpauir as causing “a slight existential crisis.” In Franke’s only non-science course that semester, she was reading Plato, Aristotle (“all that kind of great ancient stuff”). She said she was “nodding along, writing my essays, but nothing was jarring to me.” But reading Machiavelli’s The Prince made her stop and think. Then she read Frederick Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals.
“I was just like, ‘What does this all mean?’” she said. “How could I not be studying Nietzsche for the rest of my life? I don’t understand it all, but what I do understand makes me know I have to understand more.”
Hoffpauir remembers Franke delving into subjects such as justice and considering what it means “for her — for caring for herself and for her caring for others. She became keenly aware that doing so requires her to work through her unexamined opinions and any bias she might have.”
Franke described that class as a “huge moment,” one she credits for pushing her to apply to the Hudson Institute Political Studies program in Washington, D.C., an experience she called “my favorite six weeks of my life.” Mornings consisted of three-hour seminars with 18 other students and a professor (“like the best professors in the country,” she said); afternoons, they met different influential figures (“We met Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That was amazing.”) and participated in policy workshops.
But when asked what she’s most passionate about, Franke gets less academic. “It sounds super cheesy,” she said, “but I think helping people more than anything.” She said the main thing she’s learned about herself is that she doesn’t want a job that is not constantly interacting with people.
“I think my goal is to go to med school right now. But I’m very, very open to something else happening.”