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Billy Rathje, University of Puget Sound student, named Rhodes scholar elect

Billy Rathje co-wrote a musical.

And developed a mobile app to give self-guided tours of his university.

After he used linguistics in biology research as a high schooler.

It’s his mixing and matching of interests that the 22-year-old University of Puget Sound student thinks may have been valuable in his selection Saturday as a Rhodes scholar elect.

He’s the school’s first recipient of the prestigious award since 1987, and the third in UPS history.

“I’ve just enjoyed pursuing ideas that cross boundaries and disciplines,” he said Sunday.

Rathje was one of 32 scholars chosen across the country. He will head to England in October to study computer science at Oxford University through the program.

The Lake Oswego, Oregon, native expects to spend about two years at Oxford, earning his master’s degree in computer science.

He’ll graduate from UPS in May, with degrees in English literature and computer science.

“I think what’s extraordinary about Billy is his remarkable degree of accomplishment in both, and his ability to see the relationship between the two,” UPS President Ron Thomas said. “He’s perhaps the most gracious and humble human being I’ve ever met, as well as being brilliant and accomplished.”

Rathje was quick to thank his mentors at UPS, and friends and family who supported him through the Rhodes application process.

He was also offered a British Marshall Scholarship to study for a graduate degree in the United Kingdom, and is believed to be the first student chosen for the honor at UPS, but could accept only one of the awards.

It was before college that Rathje started combining humanities and computers. In high school, he did research with Oregon Health & Science University; his research applied linguistics principles to search files containing protein sequences.

“I’d love to bring my humanities and English literature background more strongly into the teaching of computer science,” he said of his future plans.

Developers of content for mobile devices and apps will especially benefit from those skills, he believes.

“That’s why I think computer scientists will also want to be very strong communicators going forward,” Rathje said.

He thinks the project he’ll focus on at Oxford might involve model-checking, in which he’d develop mathematical models of computer programs, to make sure the programs are working correctly and to get more information about them.

It’s a theory that can be used to evaluate self-driving cars, for example, he said.

“That’s some exciting work that they’re really only doing at Oxford right now,” he added.

But first, the cross-disciplinary fiend will say goodbye to the UPS community as he finishes his senior year and his senior thesis: a historical analysis of Shakespeare.

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