Duke tennis player wins prestigious international scholarship

Posted November 23, 2008 12:14 p.m. EST
Updated November 23, 2008 4:09 p.m. EST

— A Duke University graduate and tennis player was among 32 Americans chosen as a Rhodes Scholar who will work towards an advanced degree at Oxford University in England.

Julia Parker Goyer, 23, of Birmingham, Ala., stood out for her work founding the Coach for College program, which sends student-athletes to teach middle schoolers in rural areas of developing countries.

Goyer, who graduated with a psychology major and neuroscience minor in May 2007, will pursue a masters of science in comparative and international education at Oxford.

"I'm hoping to learn more about the personnel, the educational systems and curricula of different countries in which we might implement the Coach for College program, in order to further enhance its impact," Goyer said.

Goyer is the 41st Duke student to win the Rhodes Scholarship, which pays tuition, fees and living expenses for two or three years –  a value of about $50,000 annually.

"Parker Goyer has been a top student-athlete and a pioneer in global-service learning. It's wonderfully fitting that she has been chosen for a Rhodes," Duke President Richard Brodhead said.

Two other 2008 Rhodes Scholars have North Carolina connections – Aisha Ihab Saad, of Cary, is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Alia Whitney-Johnson, of Leicester, is an alumna of the North Carolina School of Math and Science in Durham.

Whitney-Johnson, a civil and environmental-engineering major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was named one of the top 10 college women by Glamour Magazine in 2007.

After going on a tsnumai-relief mission to Sri Lanka in 2005, Whitney-Johnson founded a nonprofit business which seeks to empower young women made pregnant through rape and incest. The group has been backed by the World Bank.

Goyer came up with idea for a program like Coach for College during trips to Vietnam and Belize in summer 2007. She saw a lack of role models – particularly athletes – and of education infrastructure for youth in rural communities.

"The biggest idea is that student-athletes have great traits they develop through sports ... But they don’t always apply these traits which they perfect on the playing field in other settings," Goyer said in an interview with Duke Magazine.

"I want American student-athletes to realize that, by virtue of being highly skilled sports players in some of the best higher education institutions in the world, they have tremendous power to make a difference."

Named a Robertson Fellow – a joint program of Duke and UNC – after graduation, Goyer worked to bring her idea to fruition, while also working on a doctorate in education at Harvard University.

She secured $383,000 in funding from Duke, UNC, the National Collegiate Athletics Association and U.S. State Department – enough to fund Coach for College through 2009. The Duke Center for Civic Administration administers it.

This past summer, 20 student-athletes from Duke and UNC traveled to rural Vietnam. In two three-week sessions, they conducted sports clinics and taught academic subjects to younger students, alongside Vietnamese high-school and college students.

The hope, Goyer said, is that reaching middle schoolers through sports will help them develop the academic and life skills needed to complete college.