Ten African American College Students Named Rhodes Scholars

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Ten African-American college students have won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, more than at any other single time in the scholarship’s 115 years in the United States, a Rhodes Trust official announced Nov. 18.

The scholarship, considered one of oldest and most famous awards for international study for Americans, covers all expenses and offers stipends for two or three years of postgraduate study at the University of Oxford in England. The total value of the scholarship averages $68,000 a year.

The 10 African-American winners include Naomi Mburu of Ellicott City, Md., a senior in Chemical Engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The first Rhodes Scholar from UMBC, she has co-authored two peer-reviewed journal articles and delivered 11 research presentations and won the 2016 National Society of Black Engineers Regional Conference Award for best oral presentation. She has interned at Intel and conducted research at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and supports STEM education in volunteer and leadership roles. At Oxford, she will seek a doctorate in Engineering Science.

Fairfax native Simone Askew, a senior at the United States Military Academy, is the first African-American woman to become the Brigade Commander of United States Corps of Cadets, the top leadership position which manages the performance and development of 4,400 cadets at West Point. Her thesis centered on rape as a tool of genocide and mass atrocity. She will study evidence-based social intervention at Oxford.  

Camille Borders is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis and was active during the Ferguson, Mo. riots of 2014, eventually founding Washington University Students in Solidarity to respond to incidents of racial profiling and police brutality. At Oxford, she plans to seek a Masters in Philosophy in Social and Economic History.

Also a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, Jasmine Brown has studied neuroscience in an effort to identify protective genes against cognitive defects caused by West Nile-induced encephalitis. She has also studied cancer research, pulmonary research and behavioral science, and will seek a doctorate in Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics.

Harvard College Senior Tania N. Fabo of Saugus, Massachusetts, was born in Germany to Cameroonian parents and is an immigrant in the U.S. She’s spent her college career researching cancer and is president of the Harvard Society of Black Scientists and Engineers. She will study oncology at Oxford.

JaVaughn T. “JT” Flowers of Portland, graduated from Yale University with a degree in political science. As a Truman Scholar at Yale, he compiled a thesis that investigated gaps in Portland’s sanctuary city policy for undocumented immigrants. He also played varsity basketball and spent time in an organization that supports low-income students in their academic and professional lives. Flowers, a first-generation college student, returned to Portland after graduation to work in Democratic U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s field office. At Oxford, he will study comparative social policy.

Chelsea Jackson, of Lithonia, Georgia, is a senior at Emory University where she is a Truman Scholar, cofounder of the Atlanta Black Students United and helped revive the campus NAACP. She will study criminology and criminal justice at Oxford.

Thamara V. Jean, a senior at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, is the school’s first Rhodes Scholar. The Brooklyn native is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, according to NBC, and completed her senior thesis in her junior year on the Black Lives Matter movement that was later published in The Journal of Politics and Society. After that, she did research in the Harvard African-American Studies Department on 1960s-era Black nationalism. She will study political theory at Oxford.

Temple University’s first Rhodes Scholar, Hazim Hardeman of Philadelphia graduated in May and currently works as a substitute teacher in the Philadelphia School District. His diverse research interests include issues of critical pedagogy, race and politics, and African-American intellectual history. He will seek a Master’s Degree in Higher Education at Oxford.

Jordan Thomas is a senior at Princeton University and plans to seek a Master’s Degree in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation, an extension of his work with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Legal Group.

The 32 American winners were drawn from 866 applicants who were endorsed by 299 colleges and universities. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County was one of four institutions to have a winner for the first time.

The diverse class of winners includes African and Asian immigrants, Muslim, Asian and Latino Americans, and a transgender man.

“This year’s selections—independently elected by 16 committees around the country meeting simultaneously—reflects the rich diversity of America,” American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust Elliot Gerson said in a statement. “They plan to study a wide range of fields across the social sciences, biological and medical sciences, physical sciences and mathematics, and the humanities.”

The Americans will join Rhodes Scholars from 64 other countries at Oxford next October. The trust will select about 100 Rhodes Scholars worldwide.

The scholarship was created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes, a British philanthropist and mining magnate who has been called an architect of apartheid—making the selection of this year’s unprecedented number of African-American recipients all the more important. Despite Rhodes’ personal history of White supremacy and aggressive British colonialism, the scholarships which bear his name have earned a legacy of their own as one of the academic world’s most important achievements.

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