In the 3rd grade, Christopher D’Urso convinced his parents to take him to Washington DC. He was coming off a high after watching National Treasure. Maybe he went in the hopes of finding the hidden treasure Nicholas Cage’s character spends the movie hunting. He got to witness both the Supreme Court and Congress in session instead. Suddenly, he just knew: he was going to work in government.
Fast forward 13 years, and Christopher is on his way to making his dream of becoming a federal prosecutor a reality. As one of Penn’s two Rhodes Scholars, he’s moving to England to pursue a doctorate degree at Oxford University, where he plans to study criminology and criminal justice, as well as global governance and diplomacy. And where to afterwards? Yale Law School. He remembers the initial rush after the Rhodes awards ceremony, sitting in the car calling his parents and relatives: “It’s amazing, you know. Your life really changes in that moment—it’s surreal,” Christopher says. “I mean, it’s just one thing in my life that I’ve done, but, like, it’s an honor, and it’s really cool.”
Born and raised in Colts Neck, New Jersey, Christopher has always had a passion for all things legal. Before Penn, he interned as an investigative aid for the Monmouth County Department of Consumer Affairs, the local consumer protection program for his county. “I started working there the July after Superstorm Sandy hit,” he says. “While I was there I got to see how people can be taken advantage of by fraudulent individuals and businesses.”
In high school he was in the political science track, and then in college he declared as an International Relations major, a Hispanic studies minor, and then later achieved his Masters of Public Administration (with a certificate in politics from the Fels Institute of Government). Christopher’s combined ability to lead and balance a full plate of academic and extracurricular responsibilities is part of what made him such a competitive candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious international achievements for an undergraduate. On campus, he holds the role of: Editor–In–Chief of the Sigma Iota Rho (the national honor society for International Studies) Journal of International Relations, two–term co–chair of the University Honor Council, and member of the Task Force on a Safe and Responsible Campus Community. Additionally, he’s the founder of CASE (Consumer Assistance, Support, and Education), a proactive consumer outreach program centered in Philadelphia.
Even as a pre–frosh, Christopher's was already thinking about civic service at Penn. “I knew about Penn’s reputation of being the ‘civic ivy’ and that public service is such a big thing,” he says, only half–kidding. That September, he reached out and got a meeting with the executive director of the Fox Leadership Program. “I was like ‘hey, I have this interest in doing a thing that’s more proactive combined with my passion for consumer protection, how do I do that?’”
After reaching out to the Philadelphia Attorney General’s Office and Mayor’s Office, he was surprised to learn the city of Philadelphia has no proactive consumer outreach programs, so he decided to start one. From there, he recruited a small group of fellow students and together they started Penn CASE, which sponsors workshops, panels, and presentations at civic organizations on campus and within the city of Philadelphia.
“I had no idea where this was going to go,” Christopher says. “To see the response that we got, not only from Penn ... but some of the requests from people [for programs] we’ve gotten and people knowing what you do and who you are—you never think that you’re going to reach that point.”
Although Christopher is graduating, his dedication to Penn CASE is his legacy and that lasting impact extends beyond Penn to the Philadelphia community. Penn CASE transitioned their leadership in December, but Christopher still continues to work on new initiatives and ways that the club can reach out to more and more people who need their help.
“I really do hope that the work I’ve done with CASE will be my legacy at Penn,” Christopher said. “I didn’t want to create this and then have it die. I know the people on board know the importance of the work we do, and continue that vision.”
Read about the rest of the students profiled for 34th Street Magazine's Penn 10 project here.