MEDIA CONTACT:  April Seehafer, Director, WSU Distinguished Scholarships Program, Office of Undergraduate Education, 509-335-8239, seehafer@wsu.edu

Beverly Makhani, Director, Communications, WSU Office of Undergraduate Education, 509-335-6679, makhani@wsu.edu

Portrait photo of Rhodes finalist Ryan SummersPULLMAN, Wash.—Washington State University computer engineering, German, and Honors College student Ryan Summers interviewed Nov. 17-18 in Seattle as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship, arguably the oldest and best known of the prestigious scholarships available to American college graduates.

WSU has had 10 Rhodes Scholars from 1907 to 1956. Prior to Summers, the most recent finalist was in 1984.

“The interview process was fascinating, plus I made new friends,” Summers said Sunday.

“It’s all been a great experience.  From the time I first thought of applying, I have had amazing support from my family, friends, and so many at WSU along the way. I am very thankful.”

WSU President Kirk Schulz said, “Ryan is an exceptional and well-rounded individual who already has a patent, national awards, and international collaborations, and on behalf of WSU, I am proud that he became a finalist for this highly competitive international scholarship.”

In a September endorsement letter to the Rhodes Trust, Schulz wrote, “Mr. Summers is committed to leading us into a new technological age where computers communicate with each other intelligently and adaptively in integrated systems… He envisions drones communicating with firefighters’ computers on the ground to more effectively and safely extinguish vast, destructive forest fires… He also sees a future where cars not only drive themselves but ‘talk’ with other vehicles and recalculate routes based on traffic congestion.

“I predict Mr. Summers will play a leading role developing pervasive autonomous technology that makes life easier, safer, and more efficient for humanity.”

Highly Competitive Field

Summers, who will graduate with a B.S. in computer engineering on Dec. 9, rose to the top of the Rhodes’s strong field of applicants. For the 2018 cohort, the trust reports that 2,500 students sought their institution’s endorsement; 866 were endorsed by 299 colleges; and, in September, 228 applicants from 100 different schools reached the final interview stage, divided among 16 U.S. districts. Following interviews, two from each district—32 total—were elected to the next cohort of American Rhodes Scholars. Summers was invited by the 14th district, for individuals from Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.

Rhodes Scholarships cover all expenses for two or three years of study at Oxford University in England. Depending on the student’s field, the total value of a Rhodes Scholarship averages around $68,000 per year toward graduate education.

Resolve and Ambition

“Ryan has worked closely with our office and committees for more than two years while strengthening his resume and, thus, his eligibility for top awards, but ultimately becoming a Rhodes finalist is the result of his own hard work, tenacity, and sharp focus on his goals,” said April Seehafer, director of the WSU Distinguished Scholarships Program. Its new “opportunity fund” helped to send Summers to Seattle for the Rhodes district events.

Added Robin Bond, Honors College assistant dean, “Ryan is very impressive. He understands cutting-edge technology and also appreciates the broad social impacts of innovation. The breadth of Ryan’s accomplishments is a testament to his remarkable intellect, curiosity, and energy. I have no doubt that he will make significant contributions in the field of autonomous design.”

Career Goals

Summers said applying and interviewing for the Rhodes further clarified his goals. “I want to do things to make the world a better place.”

The only engineer among the District 14 Rhodes finalists, he is interested in pervasive computing, which, he explained, is how computers can be implemented into many parts of our lives to improve the quality of life. Part of his career will be focused on building and improving self-driving cars.

“I believe that such cars, by communicating with each other, have the potential to save 30,000 lives in one year in America alone,” said Summers.

 But first, early in 2018, he will return to Germany and attend the Technische Universität Dresden, taking classes to complete WSU requirements for a language and culture degree in German. In August, he plans to return to California for a job at SpaceX. Three summers of internship experiences took him originally to Germany and the aerospace manufacturing and space-transport-services company.

“In the future, maybe I’ll start a company with friends from the Palouse Robosub Club,” said Summers. “We have talked about a robotics startup, one that uses ‘swarming algorithms’ so that robots—on their own—work together.”

His advice for future distinguished scholarships applicants?

“Don’t hesitate to take on a lot, and really big projects, because nothing’s impossible.”