UIC alumnus named second Rhodes Scholar for Saudi Arabia

Sami Alahmadi, UIC alumnus and 2020 Rhodes Scholar
Sami Alahmadi, UIC alumnus and 2020 Rhodes Scholar representing the Saudi Arabia constituency.

Twenty years after arriving in the United States, University of Illinois at Chicago alumnus and aspiring physician Sami Alahmadi has been selected as the second Rhodes Scholar to represent Saudi Arabia.

He also is the second UIC-affiliated scholar to be selected for the distinguished scholarship. Rudyard Sadleir, a UIC Honors College senior majoring in environmental geology, was chosen from the U.S. constituency in 2000.

Alahmadi, a 2018 UIC graduate in biological sciences and minor in Spanish from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is part of a cohort of more than 100 scholars from around the world to earn the honor over the past few weeks, making this the largest class of scholars in the history of the Rhodes Scholarship.

The scholarship, issued by the Rhodes Trust, is one of the most prestigious international scholarship programs and enables outstanding students from around the world who demonstrate high potential in learning and leading to study at the University of Oxford.

Having been a finalist in 2018, Alahmadi said the last year has been one of self-reflection. To go through the application process a second time and to be named a Rhodes Scholar this year is incredibly “humbling and fulfilling,” according to Alahmadi, who was born in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

“I am also especially honored to be able to represent Saudi Arabia and use my experiences as a Saudi to inform my interactions with my peers and in turn learn from their unique perspectives,” he said.

The former UIC Honors College member will go to England in September 2020 and receive at least two years of free tuition and fees, an annual stipend and travel to and from Oxford twice in an academic year. He will defer his medical education to pursue a master’s degree in global health sciences and epidemiology, as well as a master’s degree in public policy while at Oxford.

He still plans to pursue a medical career with the goal of reducing health disparities. 

Alahmadi, a resident of Hickory Hills, Illinois, and 2014 graduate of Stagg High School, conducted biomedical research as an undergraduate in the lab of Dr. Akira Yoshii, UIC assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology in the College of Medicine.

Since graduating, he has been investigating genetic risk factors associated with neurodegenerative disorders in the lab of Leon Tai, UIC assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology in the College of Medicine.

He also has been an active volunteer in Chicago’s low-income minority communities, where he assisted hospice patients at an inpatient unit on the South Side, worked at an immigration center that serves Mexican immigrants and refugees, and tutored at a writing center for Chicago Public School students. He also has campaigned for legislation to bridge social and health disparities for marginalized populations.

His experiences as an immigrant and working in Chicago have had a major influence on his decision to enter the medical profession and work with communities with limited access to health care, Alahmadi said.

“Working in these capacities really showed me how every aspect of their lives were intertwined with one another and I saw how access to care dictated a great deal of their access to other things like education, employment, social mobility, happiness, safety, etc.,” he said. “I also saw how these issues needed to be addressed at their core and ultimately became involved in political advocacy for legislation that would uplift these communities.”

Alahmadi considers his parents as the top influential factors that led to his selection as a Rhodes Scholar.

“Specifically, their unyielding support and sacrifices to provide me with quality education and development throughout my life, especially as immigrants in a foreign country, as well as their example of civic-mindedness, justice and giving of oneself that guided me throughout my life,” he said.

He also credits the university’s resources, such as the Office of External Fellowships, support and encouragement from professors in the sciences and humanities, and his community experiences.

“This achievement is as much mine as it is for all those involved,” he said. “I also hope to be a source of information and motivation for any other UIC student who wishes to pursue this incredible opportunity.”

Diversity within the student population and location in the heart of Chicago were key factors that led Alahmadi to select UIC for his undergraduate studies.

“Being in the city afforded me so many opportunities to do meaningful work in the nearby communities that were in great need. I could not be any happier with my decision to attend UIC and the growth it offered me as a person and future provider,” he said.

The Rhodes Scholarship for Saudi Arabia was launched in 2018 by the Rhodes Trust, in partnership with Muhammad Alagil, co-founder of Jarir Bookstores, and in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Education. Later that year, Majd Abdulghani, a geneticist at the University of Michigan’s Life Sciences Institute, was selected as the first Saudi Arabian Rhodes Scholar.

Anis Barmada, a UIC Honors College member majoring in biological sciences and chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Zuka’a Joudeh, a 2019 UIC graduate in political science and Germanic studies, were part of a select group of U.S. finalists for a 2020 Rhodes Scholarship. 

UIC’s Office of External Fellowships provides advising and assistance to current undergraduate and professional school students in finding and applying for a range of nationally and internationally competitive fellowships, scholarships and grants.

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