College of Liberal Arts

Marshall Scholar Seeks to Improve Education Quality for Underserved Students

Dhananjay Jagannathan strives to make valuable contributions to public school systems

Photo of Dhananjay Jagannathan

Dhananjay Jagannathan

For Dhananjay Jagannathan, studying moral and political philosophy shaped both his academic career at UT and what may well be his life's work.

On the verge of graduating with a bachelor's degree in Plan II Honors, philosophy and classics, Jagannathan is excited about pursuing a career as a professor and dedicating his work to reforming inadequacies in public schools and higher education systems.

"For those working in a major university, there's a real opportunity to be an agent of social change because they have access to a position of privilege in our society - and people will listen to them," he said. "It's their responsibility to engage with people in the community, and I hope that I can contribute to solving important problems."

One of the most fascinating aspects of studying philosophy, says Jagannathan, is observing how ancient philosophers' visions of the world are useful for understanding contemporary social and political injustices, particularly in public school systems.

"We can certainly do better as a society in serving children everywhere than we do now," Jagannathan said. "And I think studying philosophy has helped me see this problem, in particular the close relationship between education and participatory democracy. Not having access to high quality education is a special kind of injustice because it really doesn't enable people to become full citizens."

While mentoring and tutoring local middle and high school students at KIPP Austin College Prep, a charter school dedicated to improving achievement for underserved students, Jagannathan became aware of his burgeoning interest in improving public school systems.

"I went to a very good high school, but people going to schools nearby were getting a very different education," he said. "The quality of education should not have to depend on how much money your family makes or where you live, but sadly, that seems to be the case. My hope is to change that."

A recipient of the Marshall Scholarship, one of the most competitive and prestigious merit scholarships available to undergraduates, he will spend the next two years studying ancient philosophy and classics at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England.

"I'm looking forward to living in an intense, exciting academic environment," he said. "A lot of the learning has got to happen by interacting with other students. You have to be a part of a lively community, full of workshops and philosophy clubs and reading groups. It's a commitment beyond sitting in a classroom and listening to the lecture."

The 21-year-old scholar from College Station is known by many of his peers and professors for his ambition and passion for learning. Larry Carver, director of Liberal Arts Honors and Professor of English, described Jagannathan as one of the most remarkable students he's met in 35 years of teaching.

"Dhananjay is a young man of remarkable intelligence, character and good humor," Carver said. "His knowledge is at once broad ranging and deep; he inspires fellow students and faculty alike. What I find most impressive, however, is the joy and love of learning Dhananjay brings to his work and to his life."

Jagannathan's numerous honors include the 2008 Beinecke Scholarship, the 2005 National Merit Scholarship and the 2006 Larry Temple Scholarship. He serves as member of honors societies Phi Beta Kappa and Eta Sigma Phi. He also participates in Junior Fellows, an honors research seminar for undergraduates, and Euthyphrones, a Greek reading group sponsored by the joint doctorate program in ancient philosophy.