Daughter of Afghan Refugees Selected as Southern’s First Rhodes Scholar

Daughter of Afghan Refugees Selected as Southern’s First Rhodes Scholar

Asma Rahimyar
Asma Rahimyar

Asma Rahimyar – a senior pursuing a double baccalaureate degree in political science and philosophy at Southern – will become the first Rhodes Scholar in the university’s history.

Rahimyar, a Trumbull resident and daughter of Afghan refugees, was among 32 Americans chosen for the prestigious award from an applicant pool exceeding 2,300, according to Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust.

The award is considered one of the most prestigious academic honors in the world. Applicants are chosen based on several criteria with academic excellence being the foremost. “We seek outstanding young people of intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service,” Gerson said.

Rahimyar said she is proud to represent her family, community and Southern.

“It’s exciting, overwhelming, and also very humbling,” she said. “I had no expectations of making it to this point.

“Southern has taught me how to keep my feet on the ground and reach for the stars,” Rahimyar continued. “So many of our students have life struggles outside of the classroom and it’s difficult for them to pursue their studies. They should know the sky’s the limit; there’s no limit to the extent of their aspirations.”

SCSU President Joe Bertolino said the award is a source of great pride for SCSU and all those who have supported Rahimyar throughout her “journey of great accomplishment,” noting that Rhodes Scholars are typically recipients from Yale, Harvard and other leading colleges and universities across the nation.

“Being named a Rhodes Scholar is a tribute to her outstanding qualities as a student and her passion for human rights,” he said. “And it is also testimony to the mission of empowerment and opportunity that we pursue at Southern, through a deep and enduring commitment to social justice.”

Rahimyar plans to pursue masters’ degrees in global governance and diplomacy, and in refugee and forced migration studies. She eventually hopes to obtain a doctoral degree and empower women in Afghanistan, while helping to rebuild that country through stable government.

Earlier this year, she was selected as a recipient of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship for outstanding potential for leadership, commitment to public service and academic excellence. She also has earned various other awards and serves as president of the Muslim Student Association. In addition, she has participated in a United Nations Conference on Cultural Diplomacy.

Patricia Olney, professor of political science and Rahimyar’s academic advisor who recommended her for the Rhodes Scholarship, pointed out that she also had won a competitive SCSU summer research grant of $3,000 to reconstruct the history of two Afghan villages suffering the ravages of wartime abuses during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s.

“It was these horrors her parents fled from to seek refuge in the United States and why she developed a passion for human rights, as well as refugee and immigrant rights,” Olney wrote in her letter of recommendation.

Olney said Rahimyar has compiled a remarkable 4.0 GPA, while also being very active in other activities.

“The flurry of extracurricular activity I see her so devoted to has always confounded me as she spends a minimum of six hours daily in the library and seems entirely devoted to her studies,” she continued. “Yet to Asma, academic and service activities are twin passions — neither of which can be compromised, including her many acts of kindness outside of her formal activities.”

Rahimyar will be among more than 100 students representing 60 countries who will attend Oxford University starting next October. The Rhodes Trust will pay for all of her college and university fees; provide a stipend for necessary expenses while at Oxford; and cover transportation costs to and from England.

Of the more than 2,300 applicants, 953 were endorsed by their college or university. Selection committees in each of 16 U.S. districts then invited the strongest applicants to appear before them virtually for an interview.

Two students were chosen in each of the 16 geographic districts, based on a student’s home address. Rahimyar joins a student from New Jersey attending the U.S. Naval Academy to represent District 2.