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NINDS Summer Student Wins Rhodes Scholarship

By Shannon E. Garnett

John Probasco, a three-time participant in the NINDS Summer Program for the Neurological Sciences, was recently chosen to receive a 2002 Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England.

"When I heard my name called I was overcome by a mixture of emotions, namely disbelief, shock and joy," said Probasco. "I see it as a form of recognition for what I have been able to do and a confirmation for what I hope to do in the future. I am excited with this opportunity to study in a new field in another country under a different system of learning."

The Rhodes scholarship was created in 1902 by the estate of British philanthropist Cecil Rhodes and is the oldest international study award available to American students. Probasco, a senior at the University of New Mexico (UNM) majoring in biochemistry, is one of 32 U.S. students to receive the scholarship, which provides for 2 or 3 years of study at Oxford. This year's winners were chosen from 925 applicants endorsed by 319 colleges and universities nationwide, and were selected based on high academic achievement, personal integrity and leadership potential.

John Probasco

"This award is also recognition for the time and belief that others, such as Dr. Eric Wassermann and Mr. Levon Parker, have placed in me," said Probasco.

He spent the summers of 1998, 1999 and 2000 in NINDS's brain stimulation unit (BSU), working with Wassermann, and won the Exceptional Summer Student Award all 3 years for his work in human motor cortex physiology.

"John is an exceptionally bright and motivated kid who truly deserves this thing," said Wassermann, who heads the BSU and served as Probasco's preceptor in the summer program.

While at NINDS, Probasco learned the fundamentals of a variety of scientific methods, including general intelligence inventories to test cognitive function, transcranial magnetic stimulation to study the human nervous system, and learning tasks to test an individual's ability to learn a pattern of stimuli and appropriate responses. The program also allowed him to interact with students from across the country who shared his interest in neurology. He credits the program — which offers a unique opportunity for students to get hands-on experience working with leading scientists in the institute's intramural division — with helping him decide to pursue a career in medicine.

Shown here during an annual NIH student poster session, John Probasco (l), a three-time participant in the NINDS Summer Program for the Neurological Sciences, was recently chosen to receive a 2002 Rhodes Scholarship.

"I would not trade the summers I spent at NINDS for any other experience. Through the summer program and the efforts of the preceptors, students are able to see first-hand how the principles and knowledge gleaned from basic science can be translated to medical reality. For this, there is no substitution," said Probasco.

At Oxford he will read for a bachelor of arts degree in a program that combines philosophy, psychology and physiology. The program explores the relationships between these three fields in relation to one's sense of self, personality and the link between mental health and physical well-being. In addition, the program offers the opportunity to study medical ethics. After Oxford, he plans to study for a medical degree and a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and then to pursue a career in science and public policy.

Currently Probasco works with a group of UNM researchers studying the cellular characteristics of oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy. Earlier, he received a Truman scholarship, an honor that recognizes students with leadership potential, intellectual ability and the likelihood of "making a difference."

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