USF student studying disease control through mathematics may become school’s first Rhodes Scholar

At USF, 21-year-old Alexander Mercier of Odessa, majored in mathematics and microbiology, which lead him to start important research that may make him the school’s first Rhodes Scholar. 

"I would say I am stubborn and persistent," explained Mercier, who could hear as early as Saturday if he gets the coveted honor. 

He says the honor is due to more than just brains. Instead, it was persistence that made him an accomplished pianist. He says his biggest natural talent was drawing and he also has a love of art. But it was math that hooked him and he wouldn’t let go. He was studying how math may help control the spread of diseases.   

"I would sleep on the couch next to the computer," he shared. "I saw a gap in epidemiological research in the study of how diseases spread. I didn’t know at the time that it would become one of the most important topics in the world."

While his work is timely and important, there’s lots of competition. Eleven other finalists from this region of the country are also vying for the honor. They attend schools like MIT, Stanford and the University of Chicago. 

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Mercier feels he has as good a chance as any of the others and that USF has prepared him well. If he doesn’t win the honor and get to study expense-free at Oxford, he says he’ll have many options.

"I will continue to do the work that I enjoy and that I think will benefit people," he said.

Some are surprised that USF hasn’t had a previous Rhodes Scholar. However, many schools haven’t had one. Only 32 are selected each year from across the nation. USF has only been in existence since 1956. By contrast, the first classes at Oxford were held in 1096.


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