Sam Patterson, UMBC’s newest Rhodes Scholar, plans to transform transportation

Published: Nov 22, 2020

Sam Patterson '21 (Sam Patterson '21. Photo by Marlayna Demond '11 for UMBC.)

Sam Patterson ’21, M29, is now the second student in UMBC history to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. Only 32 American students are awarded the prestigious scholarship each year, which supports graduate study at the University of Oxford in England. 

Patterson will pursue an M.Sc. in the Nature, Society, and Environmental Governance program at Oxford focusing on the economics of transportation. This research area will take full advantage of his three undergraduate degrees from UMBC. This spring, Patterson will earn bachelor of science degrees in mathematics and statistics and a bachelor of arts in economics. 

A Meyerhoff Scholar and member of the Honors College, Patterson has steadily nurtured his interest in transportation economics at UMBC and through intensive summer internships. He conducted research supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation at Harvard University with the Harvard Leadership Alliance and at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Most recently, at the National Bureau of Economic Research, he evaluated trends in transportation changes in urban centers due to the pandemic.

A strong network of support has been a cornerstone of Patterson’s UMBC experience. “From the Meyerhoff Scholars program to the Honors College to Dr. Householder to Naomi Mburu [UMBC’s first Rhodes Scholar] to my recommenders and mock interviewers and beyond, I’ve never had so many people on my team before, pushing me to achieve something I’m pursuing,” Patterson shares.

A commitment to equity

Patterson’s mentors all point out how his intelligence, drive, and charisma are balanced by a deep humility and desire to pursue the common good—a core expectation of Rhodes Scholars.

“Sam has an exceptionally fine mind, and couples to it diligence and determination,” shares Simon Stacey, director of the UMBC Honors College. “He has a genuine capacity for identification with others, and a deep commitment to justice, equity, and equality.”

That commitment translates to Patterson’s research—current and future—in transportation economics. “Sam has a strong interest in economic research that can inform the debate on public policy questions,” says Tim Gindling, professor of economics.

“Sam is a deep critical thinker who looks at car culture and considers its effects not only on the environment, but also in how it shapes access to education, work, healthcare, food, and culture,” adds April Householder, director of prestigious scholarships. “He raises questions about how class and race intersect with suburban and city planning to limit people’s lives.”

Community connections

Sam’s instructors also appreciate the way he approaches his coursework, which goes far beyond how he maintains a 4.0 GPA. “His obvious interest and earnest engagement inspire students around him, contributing to the classroom community,” shares Liz Stanwyck, senior lecturer in mathematics and statistics. “He was equally comfortable in applied and theoretical classes, always willing to speak up but also a great listener, drawing his peers out and helping to develop ideas.”

Beyond the classroom, Patterson is a dedicated community member who values connecting with and supporting others. He performs and produces music and has volunteered with Creative Coders, an afterschool program that teaches coding skills to middle school students.

As a newcomer to Baltimore when he joined the UMBC community four years ago, Patterson has taken full advantage of the opportunities the area offers and managed to maintain interests outside of his demanding academic schedule.

“I found new hobbies, interests, and activities that I hadn’t really considered before; now they’re key to keeping me relaxed and centered,” Patterson shares. “Producing music with Retriever Music Society and running their instrumental group, JOIS, has been one of my greatest pleasures here. Going down to Arbutus and perusing the shelves of Now and Then Music and Universal Comics has been essential to my weekends and birthdays.”

A transformative opportunity

Originally from Marietta, Georgia, Patterson’s education and internships have taken him around the U.S. However, he has never traveled abroad, so the Rhodes Scholarship offers a unique opportunity for him to broaden his perspective by studying in the U.K. and visiting other European countries. He hopes to further deepen his understanding of challenges—and potential solutions—related to a range of transportation systems. 

“I’m so excited to go to the U.K.! I think it will do wonders for my research when I experience the European perspective on public transportation and its place in society and sustainability,” Patterson says. “There are so many brilliant academics at Oxford that I’m raring to meet. I just feel so fortunate to be where I am and to be going where I’m going.”

After Oxford, Patterson already has plans to attend Harvard University for a Ph.D. Before he gets there, though, Patterson and his mentors have no doubt the Rhodes experience will be transformative.

“The Rhodes Scholarship is a life-changing opportunity for exceptional young people with the potential to make a difference for good in the world. Sam has that mixture of grit and excellence that is the best of what UMBC represents,” Householder says. “His experience in the U.K. will enrich not only his academic path, but also his personal journey in so many profound ways. I can’t wait to see what he will accomplish.”

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