Alumna Stephanie Bryson was named a 2012 Rhodes Scholar, the first graduate of Cal State Long Beach to be selected for the internationally renowned program.
The Rhodes Trust named 80 recipients worldwide from among more than 800 applicants, selecting 32 from the United States to this year’s Rhodes class that begins studies at Oxford University in October.
Bryson, however, would not be considered your typical Rhodes Scholar. In fact, it would probably surprise more than a few people to learn that she once considered dropping out of high school.
The San Diego County native, who grew up swimming and surfing in the Pacific Ocean, thought of foregoing an education to become a professional surfer, much to the chagrin of her parents, both university professors.
“I went through a period of strong rebellion, ditched a lot of classes [often to go surfing]…and got bad grades,” Bryson told one reporter, noting that she once had a very un-Rhodes-like 2.3 grade point average. “I thought that I would be living in Hawaii, surfing every day and hanging out with a lot of other surfers,” she told another reporter.
But two points helped turn her academic life around. The first took place between her junior and senior years in high school when she took a summer job as a Del Mar lifeguard. The work, which she has done nearly every summer since, showed her the importance of discipline and instilled in her a sense of responsibility.
The second was Bryson’s choice of CSULB as her college destination. She had no idea what she wanted to study, but she started taking classes that interested her and found professors who challenged her. Then, after a chance discussion with a classmate who told her about international studies, she thought, “Wow, I could major in the world.”
And that’s exactly what she did…in outstanding fashion.
Bryson was named the 2011 Outstanding Graduate for CSULB’s College of Liberal Arts, earning dual bachelor’s degrees in German and international studies along with a minor in political science and an honors diploma.
“My time at Cal State Long Beach and in the California system of public higher education was so instrumental in this process. I would not be a Rhodes Scholar if I hadn’t gone to CSULB,” said Bryson, who noted that she was the only applicant from a state school during her Rhodes interview, sitting next to candidates from Stanford, Yale and MIT. “I had great faculty support for all of my academic endeavors and I participated in campus clubs like the Model United Nations and the German Club. Participating in these organizations was instrumental in me following my dreams.”
During her undergraduate studies, Bryson acquired some of the most prestigious pre-professional experiences in international affairs while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average and a spot on the President’s List every semester. Among her scholarships and awards, she studied for a year at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, under the Remembrance and Future Fund Berlin Scholarship. While there, she participated in a U.S.-German forum for young leaders and served as an American cultural ambassador for the U.S. Embassy in Berlin. In fall 2010, she interned with the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.
Bryson is pursuing a master’s degree in German and European studies at Georgetown University, but will put that on hold while she studies for a master’s or a doctorate at Oxford.
She’d like to pursue a career in diplomacy or foreign policy advising, telling one reporter: “If a future president was to appoint me secretary of state, I would be more than happy to accept that.”