TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A University of South Florida undergraduate student is making school history as a finalist in one of the most recognized scholarships in the world.

The Rhodes Scholarship enables outstanding individuals to “spend up to three years in graduate studies at the University of Oxford in England as part of the oldest and perhaps most recognized scholarship program in the world,” USF said.

That’s why pure mathematics and microbiology double major, Alexander Mercier says he’s grateful.

“The Rhodes Scholarship committee looks for four criteria in a candidate: academic excellence, energy to use one’s talents to the fullest, duty and sympathy to the weak, and a moral force of character. I am honored that they found those four criteria in my application,” Mercier said.

The Rhodes selection committee awards 100 scholarships worldwide each year, with 32 available to students in the United States. Mercier is one of the 20 finalists competing for just two scholarship positions that will be awarded within a region encompassing Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

USF says Mercier discovered his interest in epidemiology, the study of disease, at a young age. His mother was diagnosed with Lyme disease and eventually led him to focus some of his most prominent research on preparing for the next pandemic.

While Mercier worked alongside USF faculty researchers, he discovered his interest in network sparsification, a method that uses mathematics to identify important connections in the spread of disease.

USF says his research could help scientists contain pandemics such as COVID-19 in the future.

“Alex aspires to pioneer new approaches to modeling disease spread by integrating data science, mathematics, biology and economics. The Rhodes Scholarship would help to build lifelong networks with other scholars and world leaders who, like Alex, care about using knowledge for social good,” Sayandeb Basu, director of USF’s Office of National Scholarships said.

Mercier will participate in his final interview with scholarship evaluators later this month and learn the outcome a few weeks later.