UO alum Duncan MacDonald-Korth: Improving the lives of others

UO alum and former tennis team captain Duncan MacDonald-Korth (anthropology, 2011) has aced his way to the international round of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

The highly competitive, full-cost award is offered to outstanding applicants from countries outside the United Kingdom who wish to pursue full-time postgraduate degrees in any subjects available at the University of Cambridge. The scholarship is awarded to those who show leadership potential, a commitment to improving the lives of others and are a good fit for the desired program of study.

The program’s mission is to build a global network of future leaders – perfect for MacDonald-Korth, who has a firm grip on his goals.

The Miami native is currently finishing his second year as a master's student in social anthropology at the University of Oxford, writing his thesis on financial anthropology. He has been accepted to Cambridge, where he hopes to pursue his doctorate working on an anthropological project within the Scott Polar Research Institute under renowned anthropologist Piers Vitebsky.

MacDonald-Korth says the Scott Polar Research Institute is essentially the only of its kind in the world.

“It is a collection of natural and social scientists together under one roof addressing all things that have to do with the Arctic and Antarctic – from climate change and oil drilling to indigenous land rights claims," he says. "The holistic nature of the department was really appealing to me.”

If he attends, MacDonald-Korth will work on a project that “examines the interplay between oil companies, indigenous groups, natural resources, climate change and a resurgence in shamanism in the Arctic,” he says. “My fieldwork will be multi-sited between an oil company in Geneva and among the Evenki people in Yakutia, Siberia, Russia.”

MacDonald-Korth has also been accepted to Oxford University and to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and if he chooses to go to either of those universities, he will continue his doctoral studies in social anthropology.

MacDonald-Korth has already come far, and credits many of his victories to UO anthropology professor Jon Erlandson, Knight Professor of Arts and Sciences and executive director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

“He, in particular, has been a real academic mentor for me,” MacDonald-Korth says.

At the UO, MacDonald-Korth “proved himself to be an outstanding student and leader committed to helping find creative and appropriate solutions to some of the many challenges we face as a species,” Erlandson says. "Along with his scholarly and athletic achievements, he has served his communities in a variety of ways, from helping the homeless to mentoring underprivileged or disabled youth, and serving on both local and national committees representing NCAA student athletes.”

Erlandson points to MacDonald-Korth’s being named to the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the NCAA Leadership Conference, the All Pac-10 Academic First Team, and the National Scholar-Athlete by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association as examples of his high achievements.

MacDonald-Korth was captain of the UO men's tennis team for three years, and also earned Pac-10 All-Academic first team recognition for three straight years with an impressive track record. He married Rita Kollo (now Rita MacDonald-Korth), the former captain of the UO women’s basketball team.

“We met in rehab when her foot was broken and my shoulder injured and started dating right away,” says MacDonald-Korth. “Nine months later we got married and it has been absolutely wonderful since.”

Rita MacDonald-Korth, a Hungarian who was a first team all-star at the European Championships in 2008, turned down a contract to play pro basketball in Germany so she could stay with Duncan MacDonald-Korth in Eugene until he graduated.

Now, as MacDonald-Korth looks to the future, he knows that just making it to the international round of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship is “a tremendous opportunity, and I think a small achievement in itself.”

Erlandson agrees.

“Duncan is an intelligent, articulate, talented, charismatic and self-motivated young man – an emerging star as a teacher, scholar and community leader," he says. "I was deeply impressed with his thoughtful and articulate vision of using his anthropological and business training to help improve the lives of people around the world.”

- by Aria Seligmann, UO Office of Strategic Communications