Political Science Senior Vies for Rhodes Scholarship

Portrait photo
David Belcher

Senior David Belcher will take a break from his final quarter of political science and German studies this weekend to participate in the biggest honor yet of his accomplished academic career.

Belcher, who grew up in the Los Angeles County community of La Cañada, is one of 16 Southern California finalists being interviewed on Saturday for two Rhodes Scholarships.

“I’m beyond excited about it,” said Belcher, who graduates next month. “I feel so lucky to be have this opportunity to be considered, and to represent UC Davis in such a way.”

A total of 32 U.S. students are selected each year as Rhodes Scholars. The oldest of the world’s international fellowship awards, the scholarship covers two to three years of graduate studies at the University of Oxford in England.

Belcher is UC Davis’ third Rhodes Scholarship finalist in the past four years, and the second from the College of Letters and Science. Rajiv Narayan (B.A., critical economics, ’12) was a finalist in 2011.

Focus on alternate vote 

Selection as a Rhodes Scholarship finalist is the latest in a string of honors for 21-year-old Belcher. He was selected as a speaker for Dec. 12 commencement ceremony. Among other prizes, he has won: the UC Davis Political Science Undergraduate Scholarship, given annually to the overall top undergraduate in the major; the Bert & Phyllis Lamb Prize in Political Science, a national award given to students for papers that promote innovation in the field of political science; and the UC Davis Lawrence J. Andrews Award, given to a College of Letters and Science student who excels in both academics and extracurricular activities.

At Oxford, he hopes to study with professors who are experts on alternative electoral systems. He would like to explore whether switching to an alternate vote ballot, where voters rank candidates in order of preference, would improve voter turnout and increase the diversity of elected leaders.

Inspired to push limits, give back

A tri-athlete, Belcher has completed 110 races since he was 13, at one point ranking in the top 10 for his age group and earning All-American honors from USA Triathlon.

He has served three years as a justice on the court of the Associated Students of UC Davis. He volunteers as San Francisco Bay Area director of No Worries Now, a nonprofit organization that sponsors proms for teens with life-threatening illnesses.

Belcher said learning about his maternal grandparents’ flight from Ukraine to the U.S. during World War II inspired him to study ways to improve democratic representation. “My grandparents risked everything for a better life in democracy,” he wrote in applying for the Rhodes Scholarship. “They instilled in me a value of democratic principles and inspired me to strive to improve the well-being of my fellow man.”

Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science