UIC student, alumna reach Rhodes Scholar finalist stage

A University of Illinois at Chicago student and recent alumna were selected as finalists for the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious academic scholarships in the world.  

UIC senior Anis Barmada, from Mount Prospect, and UIC alumna Zuka’a Joudeh, from Palos Hills, were among 14 candidates from Illinois and Ohio who took part in the District 10 finalist interviews Nov. 22-23 at the Chicago History Museum. They also were in the class of 236 applicants from 90 different colleges and universities to reach the final stage of the Rhodes competition, which names only 32 awardees from across the country. Finalists were selected from a pool of 963 applicants who had been nominated by their colleges and universities. 

Barmada and Joudeh each received advising and assistance through UIC’s Office of External Fellowships, which supports current undergraduate and professional school students in finding and applying for a range of nationally and internationally competitive fellowships, scholarships and grants.

“Even though they were not ultimately selected, the process demonstrates that UIC students who make the most of their time here can compete with the best students from anywhere,” said Kim Germain, director of UIC’s Office of External Fellowships. “Anis and Zuka’a are both bound for great things in the future, even without the benefit of a Rhodes, and I am incredibly proud to have played a role in their journeys at and beyond UIC.”

Anis Barmada
UIC student and Rhodes Scholar finalist Anis Barmada. Photo: Joshua Clark.

Barmada, an Honors College member majoring in biological sciences and chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Joudeh, a 2019 UIC graduate in political science and Germanic studies, are the first UIC-affiliated scholars since 2015 to reach the finalist stage for the scholarship, which covers all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Rudyard Sadleir became the first UIC student to be selected for the honor in 2000.

Barmada considers his Rhodes candidacy a rewarding experience and credits various mentors for their guidance.

“Reflecting back on my experiences and having to articulate that in words is really helpful,” said Barmada, whose academic merit in science earned him a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for the 2019-2020 academic year. “It takes an institution to get to this level, not one person, and just building that connection with them is really rewarding.”

His future goals include earning a medical degree and Ph.D. in biochemistry for a career as a physician-scientist focused on combating currently incurable diseases, particularly rheumatoid arthritis.

Barmada, a Syrian immigrant and 2016 graduate of Wheeling High School, came to UIC as part of the President’s Award Program STEM Initiative, which is a selective peer and faculty network for students in STEM disciplines to do research, develop professional connections and prepare for graduate education.

He has been conducting research since his freshman year to develop a noninvasive biomarker assay for diabetic eye disease in the laboratory of Scott Shippy, UIC associate professor of chemistry and bioengineering. The work resulted in a published paper on which Barmada is the first author.

Barmada has further evaluated the method and employed it to study the mouse diabetic cornea as part of his Honors Capstone project and is first-author on another paper. He also conducted a year of theoretical mathematics research that introduced him to Python programming, computational analysis and algorithm design.

His studies have been supported by Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative and Honors College research grants, the chemistry department’s Herbert E. Paaren Summer Research Stipend, and other local scholarships and awards.

Zuka'a Joudeh
UIC alumna and Rhodes Scholar finalist Zuka’a Joudeh. Photo: Joshua Clark

In September, Joudeh started a Fulbright English teaching assistantship in Germany, where she works in a diverse school in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. She calls the Rhodes experience an “honor” and encourages all UIC students to seek out competitive fellowship opportunities to support their academic and career goals.

“My family is a low-income, working-class immigrant family,” said Joudeh, a 2015 graduate of Stagg High School. “I never would have thought in my entire life that I’d have the time to study abroad the first time, the second time, then the third time to do a Fulbright, and then the fourth time to come back to [interview for] the Rhodes.”

She remains focused seeking advance degrees in political science with a focus on comparative politics in the Middle East, in order to change policies and assist refugees and migrants.

While at UIC, study abroad scholarships, such as the Germanic studies department’s Max Kade Travel Grant, supported her work during two summers in Berlin, where she strengthened her German language skills at Humboldt University and volunteered with Arab refugees. The latter project, which included an internship, structured volunteer opportunities and an advanced language class, was made possible by the UIC Fruman and Marian Jacobson “Bridges” Scholarship.

She was a three-time recipient of the Chancellor’s Student Leadership Award for her work on campus as director of the UIC Undergraduate Student Government’s sustainability and infrastructure committee, as an ambassador for Students for the Advancement of Freedom, Equality and Human Rights, and as a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

A complete list of this year’s recipients is online at http://www.rhodesscholar.org.

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